Western Line weekend frequencies finally improved

It’s been a long time coming but Auckland Transport has finally announced that they will improve the abysmal weekend frequencies on the Western Line. Currently trains only run out west hourly on weekends and on Sundays don’t go past Henderson meaning people like myself who live further out have had no options. The changes will come into operation after the long weekend for labour day. In addition there are a couple of new services and changes.

Auckland Transport says it is increasing commuter train services particularly on the Western Line at weekends.

On Tuesday 29 October new timetables will be introduced for train services including doubling weekend services to the west to cope with demand.

Auckland Transport’s Group Manager Public Transport, Mark Lambert, says “Public demand for enhanced Western Line schedules has been evident for several years, and now that electrification work is nearly complete it’s a suitable time to improve weekend schedules.”

The Western Line will get half hourly services on Saturday and Sunday between Britomart and Swanson westbound from 8am to 6pm and eastbound from 9.20am to 7.20pm. Currently there is an hourly service on the weekend (and only as far as Henderson on a Sunday).

These changes will also extend Sunday services to Sturges Rd, Ranui and Swanson stations.

And there are changes on other lines including:

  • Earlier services from Papakura on the weekends (currently first service is 7.10am, new services at 6.15am and 6.45am on both Saturday and Sunday). These earlier services affect Papakura, Takanini, Te Mahia, Manurewa, Homai, Puhinui, Papatoetoe and Middlemore.
  • Onehunga services are re-timed with some services leaving earlier than currently. This follows improvements to service delivery over the past nine months and will help to further improve punctuality across the network
  • An extra night service to Onehunga on Saturday and Sunday nights:
    • Sunday departing Britomart 10.11pm, arriving Onehunga 10.51pm. Currently the last service arrives at 9.06pm.
    • Saturday departing Britomart 11.41pm, arriving Onehunga 12.06am. Currently the last service arrives at 11.06pm.
  • An extra service to and from Onehunga mid-morning Monday to Friday.
  • An extra service from Manukau departing at 9.08am Monday to Friday.

As well as the timetable changes, buses will replace trains on some weekends and evenings to enable KiwiRail to continue to prepare the Auckland rail network for the arrival of the new electric trains. Auckland Transport asks train users to please check the timetable before travelling.

I’m guessing it is most likely a funding issue but it would have been nice to see some improved off peak frequencies during the weekdays too. Again out west we only get a half hourly service during the middle of the day while on the Onehunga line it is hourly off peak.

The next timetable change will be in April when our electric trains start running on the Onehunga line and we are also likely to see another change later in 2014 when they start on the Manukau line. Those electric trains will also free up some of the old diesels which can hopefully be used to boost the frequencies out west during the peak.

EMU at Wiri

These won’t be seen until next year

In other news it appears that the rollout of AT HOP to buses is about to recommence with Northstar switching over on Sunday. About time we saw that rolling out again.

How far the rail timetable has come

Following on from my post this morning from looking at timetables I thought it would be worthwhile to show just how much the timetable has evolved since before Britomart. Here are the timetables that were brought in during 1998.

Western Line

Southern Lines

As you can see both timetables are pretty sparse compared to now. About the only thing that hasn’t changed is the frequency of the Saturday services on the Western line which are still stuck at hourly.

October Rail Timetable Changes

The new train timetables starting the 15th October are now out. Here is what AT has to say in a press release:

Minor changes to train timetables from 15 October

Auckland Transport and its operator, Veolia Transport, said today new train timetables will come into effect from Monday 15 October. The times of most Monday to Friday services are changing.

The timetables are being amended in response to customer feedback and include:

  • spreading the timing of services better at peak times to help reduce overcrowding of some trains
  • making better allowance for freight trains sharing the tracks with commuter trains to improve the punctuality of passenger services
  • allowing for increased boarding time required at busy stations to improve the punctuality of services
  • four more return trips to Pukekohe each day, the first service leaving half an hour earlier
  • there will be no changes made to weekend timetables given on-going requirements for weekend closures for engineering works as part of the electrification of the network.

Auckland Transport’s Public Transport Manager, Mark Lambert says, “While the times of most Monday to Friday services will be changing, there are no major changes to frequency on any line or to the number of services being offered.

“All midweek services have been reviewed and retimed accordingly to provide a more even spread of service, particularly during the peaks which results in a better service offering and more choice for the majority of customers.

Veolia Transport’s Acting Manager Director, Craig Inger says, “Veolia is focusing on a better customer experience, particularly at peak times. As part of this, new train berthing arrangements have been put in place at Britomart. This means that most trains on each line will berth at a specific platform at peak times which will make it easier and faster for customers heading to catch their train”.

New timetables are available at www.AT.co.nz/timetables  and will be at stations from 15 October. Customers are advised to check online for details relating to their train services.

We first heard mention of this new timetable a while ago we also saw in AT board reports suggestions that the timetable would be recast to address timekeeping issues. With that in mind I decided to have a look through them to see just how many changes there have been.

Starting with the western line as it is the easiest and also the line I use, there has been no time added to the services from what I can see with most times just tweaked and services arriving a minute or two earlier or later although the last services of the day are a bit earlier than they used to be. There are also now 6 less services that run during the weekdays. Previously these ran from Britomart to Henderson only at the end of the morning peak and back from Henderson again at the start of the evening peak. They were positioning runs to send the trains to the stabling yard at Henderson that were put into service along the way.

The Southern and Eastern lines have a few more changes to them though. Like the western line, many times, including running times have been tweaked, but not by much. A trip from Papakura to Britomart via Newmarket is scheduled to take exactly the same amount of time  however the times between some of the stations have changed and the table below shows the differences (e.g. Papakura to Takanini is now scheduled to take 1 minute less). All up not to bad and it will be interesting to see if it actually makes a difference to the performance stats for the eastern line which has lagged behind the other lines in recent months.

As mentioned in the press release above, there are no changes to the weekend timetables which while understandable from the infrastructure works, is still a shame that there hasn’t at least been an extension to Sunday services out west which terminate at Henderson rather than Swanson. If you are a regular user of the trains and like to catch a specific service it would pay to check out the changes www.AT.co.nz/timetables.

On the topic of timetables, the draft Regional Public Transport Plan suggests the frequencies that we will eventually see on the rail network and I was pleasantly surprised, they are listed below:

Possible October rail timetable changes

Over at the Campaign for Better Transport forum, “kaiwhara” has noted a few things that could end up becoming part of a new train timetable from October onwards:

  • No ADL’s on weekdays will go south of Manukau.
  • Of the 5 sets that run peak time Manukau services, 2 are 4 car sets, one being an ADK, the other a pair of ADL’s. The 8:08 and 8:28 arrivals into Britomart will be an ADK and ADL4 respectively. Manukau trains will operate a clockface timetable in peak periods every 20 minutes. The two Newmarket services from Manukau will no longer run.
  • A number of existing empty trains have been converted to Services.
  • Pukekohe trains off peak will become an Hourly service – all off peak services to Pukekohe will be operated by SA’s.
  • The SX utilisation will go up significantly, with the set running two return services to Pukekohe in the morning, and a round trip to Papakura in the evening.
  • Limited Stop services are withdrawn, however frequency from Papakura has increased slightly in the same time period.
  • The gaps between Pukekohe services in the Afternoon Peak have been reduced.
  • 2 ADL’s and an ADK will return to Westfield during the day – currently none do this. However a couple extra SA sets will remain on the road – this will likely require overnight refueling at Henderson and Papakura.
  • Off Peak Manukau and Onehunga services remain at Hourly Frequencies. While the wait at Manukau has unfortunately been retained, both routes have been retimed to be more sensibly placed at junctions.
  • Several of the first and last trains have been removed. The 5:20 service from Papakura departs 10 minutes later, however the 5:40 service remains at the same time. the 22:40 service ex Britomart is removed due to poor loadings.
  • Papakura off peak services do run to a clockface timetable, however the gaps between services is no longer 15 minutes, now being 10,20,10,20. However, the Manukau and Onehunga services fill these gaps, so each line on the Loop gets a train roughly every 20 minutes.
  • The first train in from West arrives at 6:00, 30 minutes before current. This train starts at Henderson however, and the first train in from Swanson no longer runs.
  • Current Henderson Trains during the day are now Swanson services, those that do terminate return to Henderson Stabling empty, and vice versa.
  • Ovenight SA allocations have changed. Henderson gets 6 SA’s, Britomart has no stablers, Papakura drops to 4 sets (betting this is to allow refueling), Pukekohe retains 3, Westfield keeps the remainder.
  • Weekend services remain more or less as current.

Until the electric trains arrive all timetable changes are something of a ‘rearranging deck-chairs’, but it’s still disappointing that no significant improvements are proposed at the weekend. Remember that weekend trains on the Western Line still only run hourly, and on Sundays only as far as Henderson. And also remember that there are no Pukekohe trains at all on the weekend. Goodness knows why we can’t improve these things in the very near future – it’s not like we need anymore trains.

Rail timetable improvements from March

Auckland Transport’s CE report for today’s board meeting confirms that increases in train frequency – and the opening of the Manukau station – will occur in March (let’s hope at the very beginning of March to take advantage of the year’s busiest month).

Planning is being finalised for the introduction of an enhanced passenger rail timetable for March 2012 as a step change towards the planned service levels set out in the Rail Development Plan. Due to constraints on train movements at Britomart it is not possible to make adjustments to the timetable on one route without affecting the arrivals and departures of trains on all other lines. Therefore, rather than a piecemeal approach that would require frequent service changes, the opportunity has been taken to develop a robust timetable that includes many of the planned service improvements that were assumed to be in place ahead of the introduction of electric trains.

I’m glad that a full review of the rail timetable is occurring. We will be stuck with this timetable for quite a long time (with perhaps only the opportunity to increase off-peak frequencies) so it makes sense to get it completely right. These are the main elements of the improvements:

  • Introduction of train services to Manukau, following the completion of track and signalling works by KiwiRail in the second half of 2011. Initial service offering will be 3 trains an hour during the peak and two trains an hour at all other times.
  • Introduction of 6 trains an hour from Henderson during the peak Monday to Friday on the Western Line. The infrastructure works to allow this level of service were completed in August 2010 and patronage has now grown to a level that warrants this service capacity.
  • Western Line services will operate a half-hourly service between Swanson and Britomart during the core of the day on both Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Onehunga Line services will be increased to half-hourly throughout the day and at a weekend, to accommodate further growth.
  • Increased frequency of services from Pukekohe to every 60 minutes during the day midweek in response to customer demand.

The peak time improvements (western line to six trains per hour and Manukau station services) were well signalled a long time ago, and effectively mean the completion of Project DART. I’m also very happy to see that some thought has gone into improving off-peak frequencies – when there are trains available. Getting half hour frequencies on the Western Line on weekends is incredibly overdue, as is the extension of Sunday services to Swanson (they currently terminate at Henderson). I’m also really pleased to see Onehunga trains going to half-hourly services all the time (except evenings I guess).

One thing that’s probably worth Auckland Transport emphasising is that this is not only the “mature” timetable pre-electrification, but it’s also pretty close to our mature timetable post-electrification (probably more trains will go to Manukau and further on the Western Line). That’s because, with the two extra trains into Britomart from the west, we have used up our final two slots. Until we get the City Rail Link built, this is it.

Removing expensive bus/rail duplication

The weekend election results confirmed that money will be tight for public transport over the next three years. The proposed Government Policy Statement cuts PT infrastructure funding quite dramatically and while PT services (subsidies) funding increases, this will largely be eaten up by repayment for Auckland’s electric trains and the increased track access fee. With patronage continuing to grow, and therefore putting pressure on the need for more services in some areas, we are going to need to look really carefully at places where we can find efficiencies in the PT network.

The most obvious candidates are where our bus network currently duplicates the rail network. Somewhat unsurprisingly, given the historic ineptness of the rail network, our bus system pretty much ignores the fact that we now have trains. Even where buses go past train stations the timing of their services typically fails to align. More commonly we have situations like at Onehunga – where the bus station is hidden behind the shops (horrible public transport must be hidden!) rather than being next to the new train station.

There are a few obvious examples of rail/bus duplication – with the 135 bus service and the Western Rail line being a classic case: The red line shows the Western Line, the blue line indicates the route of the 135 bus between Swanson and Britomart. At peak times, while it takes the train around an hour to make this journey (and it should be a lot faster than that!), the 135 route takes a lot longer: I can’t imagine many passengers willingly choosing to take the bus for the whole length of their journey if they’re in the outer parts of the route – unless it’s because of something like a lack of integrated ticketing or the lack of a feeder bus to get them to the nearest station. Surely most routes serving the Ranui/Swanson/Sunnyvale area should be feeder buses into Henderson and/or New Lynn stations? Most of their trip length is to get between New Lynn and downtown, something a train can obviously do much quicker.

Another classic example of pointless duplication can be found for bus services between Papakura and the city centre. Consider the map below – with once again blue being the bus route and red being the railway line:Added to this, there are a number of express buses from Papakura that travel up the motorway at peak times – although even they struggle to do the Papakura-town trip quicker than the train, which has a similar length of journey to Swanson-Britomart at around 50 minutes.

Here are all the Papakura buses in the morning peak:The time it takes some of these buses to make their trips is simply extraordinary. The 473 bus leave Red Hill at the eye-wateringly early time of 6.10am but doesn’t make it into town until after 8.00. The 471 leaves Pahurehure at 6.45 and takes almost two hours to make it into town. Even the express buses are timed to do their trip at around an hour and a quarter – 25 minutes slower than the train.

Now obviously everyone catching these buses (assuming people catch them) isn’t travelling the whole length of the route – many might simply be travelling to Manukau City for work or between stops along Great South Road – but having these buses do such incredibly long routes means that the vehicle and driver are basically occupied for the entire peak period within a single trip. In the three hours or so it might take to do a return trip between Papakura and the city (and I’m guessing most of the express buses run back empty and not in service), you could run that same bus on a feeder route three or four times at least. The “80” route already serves this purpose throughout Papakura, although it runs at stupidly low frequencies – presumably to discourage people from using it: I’m sure that with the resources currently wasted on long-haul bus services out to Swanson and Papakura we could have a far more attractive feeder bus system and probably still have a heap of money left over to plough into areas where we actually need to boost frequencies to cope with increasing patronage. The people of Papakura and Swanson would end up with a better, more frequent and faster service. The rest of the city would save money and be able to reallocate those funds to where it’s most needed.

It’s a clear win-win for everyone except the bus operator – who is currently making a tonne of money for operating empty buses all over Auckland.

My Outer Link regret

I first heard about the bus route that has become the “Outer Link” quite a long time ago, late last year I think – as kindly some people at Auckland Transport sought my ideas on what they were proposing. My initial response was fairly mixed: positive about the fact that the route links together so many places, provides for so many trips – particularly trips that public transport doesn’t traditionally provide for, by offering decent frequencies seven days a week and through its “loop” structure. But at the same time I was also a bit sceptical about aspects of the proposal, in particular my concerns about whether it could keep to time or whether the buses would “bunch” together – like happened on the LINK bus route, though to an even greater extent because of the longer route.

This is what I said once the plan was released for consultation on that matter:

Essentially, I think that unless we have some well-targeted and necessary infrastructure upgrades along the route of the outer loop, it will not be possible for such a long, looping route to be reliable. What Auckland Transport really should be doing is driving a few buses around the route during peak times, identifying where the delay points are and investigating measures to deal with those delay points. 

I repeated this concern about reliability and bunching in my submission – as I think a number of other people said. After all, these issues are inherent to loop routes (hence why the London Circle Tube Line was changed recently to more of a spiral route).

Well so far I haven’t had any problems with the reliability of the buses, or with the bunching of buses, I am somewhat concerned about the way in which Auckland Transport is avoiding bunching becoming a problem – by providing extremely generous timings for buses to reach certain “time points” around the Outer Link’s routes, then leaving the bus to sit at these various stops for what seems like an age before continuing their journey.

From what I’ve seen so far, on the quarter of the route that I’ve used (between town and Pt Chevalier), it seems that there are three time points even on that small part of the route: at Westmere shops, at Ponsonby and in town just outside the Civic theatre. In some respects the more time-points the better, as theoretically the wait at each time point should be minimised, but what I’ve seen so far is that the waits can be pretty long. Two examples include a 6 minute wait at Westmere shops for my outbound Outer Link on Sunday and a wait this evening at the Wellesley Street stop which seemed just about as long (it was long enough for the driver to have a cigarette while he waited to catch up to his scheduled slot).

Now I understand the point of the time-points, as without them you will undoubtedly end up with buses bunching and not being at all reliable, but I wonder if Auckland Transport has taken their response to that concern a bit too far. It’s incredibly frustrating sitting there waiting for the bus to simply catch up to its scheduled time while cars zip past you. So perhaps I’m starting to regret the huge deal I made out of wondering whether the Outer Link buses would bunch and be reliable – as we’ve now gone to the opposite extreme.

But what’s the solution? Auckland Transport might be wondering why I can’t just shut up as I’m never happy – and I can perhaps see the logic in that. Ultimately though, I think this was why I found myself so concerned about such a massive loop route, because either the buses would bunch and become unreliable or we would end up having to wait huge lengths of time all throughout the route, with the timetable reflecting a very conservative speed of the bus (I mean how on earth could the bus get six minutes ahead of its time between Ponsonby and Westmere on a Sunday for example). I think that the real solution will actually require a bit of work: eliminating the bottlenecks so that we don’t have to be so conservative with our timetable (through providing bus lanes at key points of the route), having traffic lights respond to the buses so that especially if they’re running at all behind times, the lights immediately go green enabling the bus to catch up. Once again that would ensure that the timetable doesn’t have to be so conservative (leading to huge waiting times).

Those are long term things though, in the short term I hope that Auckland Transport does keep a close eye on how long the buses are sitting at the various timepoints around the route, analyse whether it’s really necessary to have the timetable being so conservative (particular during off-peak times when travel times should be pretty standard) that the buses are constantly getting ahead of their schedule. In the meanwhile, I think I’ll probably avoid the Outer Link and try to get the 005 as much as possible – speed is important.

The Outer LINK timetable

I must say I was a bit disappointed when I found out that Auckland Transport wouldn’t be publishing a timetable for the Outer Link bus service, which begins this Sunday. While not having a timetable encourages “turn up and go” use of the service, at a bus every 15 minutes I think its frequencies are somewhat pushing the limit of proper ‘turn up and go’. Things should work a bit better for the Inner Link, which will run every 10 minutes.

All the Outer Link’s timetable has is this:

And this information on the frequencies: While there’s no published timetable, if you dig through the MAXX website you do find all the arrival times for the service at each stop along its route, if you change the date to August 22nd or beyond. This has enabled me to construct the Monday-Friday timetable for the service. You can download the timetable here in Excel format, or view over the break. Continue reading The Outer LINK timetable

The new bus timetables

Some of the timetables for the routes of the Central Flagship Project bus changes have been uploaded to the MAXX website – they take effect from August 21. We have:

The 020 and 005 timetables.

The 030 and 005 timetables.

The 010 and 011 timetables. 

The timetable for the Outer Link route, the City Link the the changed route of the existing Link (which will be known as the Inner Link) haven’t yet been uploaded, so they’re something to look forward to seeing with some interest. I do hope that we get a proper timetable for the Outer Link, as its 15 minute frequencies are a bit beyond the “turn up and go” frequencies of the existing Link Bus (which has a pretty weird timetable).

Looking first at the 020 route – a route that I still have a number of concerns about – we see some good things, such as alignment between the inter-peak weekday times and those on Saturdays. We also see some nice simplicity to the timing of the services – with equal gaps most of the time. However, I must say I’m a tad worried that we might see some capacity issues on this route at peak times. For buses arriving in the city between 8am and 9am, there are going to be seven services:

 This compares with the current situation where there are seven or eight (depending on whether you want to be flexible about three minutes or not) peak time services arriving in town between 8am and 9am along Richmond Road alone, plus a further four 034/035 buses plus a further four 015 services. While the new 030 route will take some of the demand along Williamson Avenue, it only runs once every half an hour – even at peak times. I’m not sure how busy these services get, but there is a pretty big reduction in peak time capacity for much of this route – so it will be interesting to see how it copes.

The other thing that’s a bit disappointing about the timetable for the 020 is its slowness. One of the main reasons for the changes to Western Bays services was to speed things up by shifting them off Queen Street an onto Albert Street. Yet trips from Westmere and Richmond Road seem to now take around the same length of time to get to Britomart as they will under the new timetable. Hence the need for my proposed 020X route I think.

The other timetables seem fairly unsurprising – with the new 010 route (extended to Wynyard Quarter) operating throughout the day rather than just at peak times, as it does now. It would be nice if this bus ran at weekends too – so that it was easy for people to get to the various activities being constructed down at the Wynyard Quarter when they have the opportunity to do so – at the weekend. Frequencies for the 030 are pretty pathetic, but will be supplemented by the Outer Link and the 005 (which I think I will keep using most of the time).

I suppose the two things I will really be interested in, come implementation of these bus changes, is whether the 020 can cope with its passenger loadings at peak times and whether the Outer Link can stick to its timetable without having enormously long “holds”.

Guest Post: The West is being won, but is the South being lost?

This is a Guest Post by regular CBT forum contributor Jodi Johnston. If any readers wish to contribute a guest post please email the admin – details under “contact us”.

Background

For people who have seen my postings on the CBT Forum, this will all be familiar material to you all, and I do apologise that you have to see this again. For people who are not regular viewers of the CBT Forum, I hope you enjoy the following piece.

Over the past twenty years, starting with the introduction of the ex-Perth DMUs in 1993, there has been a sea change in the suburban rail system in Auckland. We have seen improvements throughout the network, and especially so on the formerly neglected Western Line, where the line has been duplicated over the last few years and the passengers have benefited from service improvements. Unfortunately, this has come to some degree at the cost of the Southern and Eastern Line which has not benefitted to the same degree in spite of having over twice the number of passengers as the Western Line. This imbalance came to a head in September 2010 when the Western Line got the benefit of four six-car SA train sets, while the Southern and Eastern Line got very little in the way of capacity improvements, with only the section between Auckland and Penrose benefitting to any degree. As the next section will show, this imbalance has been building for some time.

The Present Situation

Before launching into the main part of the piece, it would pay to look at some of the recent history around timetabling for the Southern and Eastern Line. Since September 2005, the peak timetable has essentially stayed the same for passengers south of Otahuhu. The specific times have changed slightly, a game of musical chairs has been played with rolling stock, and the stopping patterns have been tweaked, but it is relatively easy to trace the ancestry of today’s services with their 2005 predecesors. Any improvements to the service for Southern and Eastern Line passengers has largely been confined to those passengers north of Otahuhu were a large number of short runner services have been instituted, in part to deal with loadings, and in part due to media outcries.

The last additional service that was instituted south of Otahuhu was in April 2007 when a short runner service running via Glen Innes became a Limited Stop service with an origin in Pukekohe. This service was specifically started to alleviate heavy loadings on the Silver Fern, and became reasonably popular fairly quickly. The last improvement in capacity for those passengers south of Otahuhu was in July 2009 when the Silver Fern was replaced with a four-car SA train. Between 2005 and 2009, there had been limited capacity improvements for those passengers south of Otahuhu, mostly related to when the three-car SA trains were extended to become four-car SA trains in 2008.

What makes the situation all the more horrifying is the fact that four of the stations south of Otahuhu are among the busiest stations in Auckland. Papakura Station with 3333 passengers a day as of 2009 was the 3rd busiest station in Auckland; Manurewa was 4th with 3083 passengers a day; Papatoetoe was 6th with 2432 passengers a day and Middlemore was 8th with 2246 passengers a day.

Obviously raw statistics does not say much without personal observation. Before looking at that, I would note that most overseas rail and metro systems are comfortable with passengers standing for up to twenty to thirty minutes. In the case of the Southern and Eastern Line, that puts the threshold anywhere between Sylvia Park, Penrose and Middlemore for Auckland bound passengers, and between Middlemore and Puhinui for Newmarket bound passengers (for those who are interested, that puts the threshold for the Western Line anywhere between Baldwin Avenue and New Lynn for Auckland bound passengers, and between Avondale and Glen Eden for Newmarket bound passengers).

Given those parameters, looking at the services as they pass Westfield Station is a good measure of loadings on services on the Southern and Eastern Line. I took the opportunity to observe these services on a Wednesday morning peak in October prior to the end of the Second Semester, so this would be an approximate measure of loadings on a typical morning peak when workers, University students and school students are likely to use the train. Unfortunately, this day did coincide with a teacher’s strike day, so there would have been fewer school students than normal on the train services that day.

It was pretty obvious from the beginning that there currently is a strain on some of the services heading from Papakura and Pukekohe. The major problems appeared to be around the 7:03am Limited ex Pukekohe and the 7:34am ex Pukekohe, with what appeared to be a horrific loading on the former service. Some of the other services looked like they could only accommodate a few more passengers before there would be problems down the line – this is especially so of the services that run via Glen Innes which need to absorb the demand from stations further down the line.

Pukekohe

The above observations indicated that the services with the highest loading were two services that both originated at Pukekohe. It seems strange when it is considered initially, but when you sit down and consider it, Pukekohe has to be one of the great curve balls to patronage on the Southern and Eastern Line. Since it gained a regular service to Auckland a decade ago, patronage has grown by leaps and bounds and as of 2009 was the 30th busiest station on the network with 636 passengers a day. What makes that more remarkable is that at the time the 2009 patronage count was conducted, there were only 12 services from Pukekohe per day, and 13 services to Pukekohe per day.

Even if we assume that half those passengers are going to Auckland with the other half coming from Auckland and with only two-thirds of the passengers travelling during peak, which still leaves you with an additional 200 passengers. When one considers that there are only six services available for the commuter, of which only three are viable, it is pretty clear that you are going to get about a carriage worth of additional passengers, and anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that this is happening – especially with the 7:03am Limited.

The impact further along the line would also be significant. Where you would have 250 passengers on a train at Westfield on a service that originated from Papakura, that train now has over 300 passengers and given how few passengers board at Westfield and Otahuhu, it is clear that the train would have had standees from Middlemore and possibly Papatoetoe – pushing the boundaries of what would be acceptable by overseas standards.

So What?

Now you are probably wondering, it is all well and good that the Southern and Eastern Line is having all these problems, but there has just been $500 million spent on the duplication of the Western Line – surely that justifies having extra capacity on peak hour services to maximise the benefit of the investment. Personally, I ask so what?

We need to remember why that $500 million was spent on the Western Line in the first place – it was spent because there was a capacity problem that could only be fixed in a limited number of ways. As the infrastructure existed prior to 2004, there was only sufficient capacity to run train services once every half an hour past Avondale, and thus there was a capacity constraint. The only available methods to fix this problem was either the full duplication of the line, the construction of additional passing loops with all their associated timetabling dilemmas, or the elimination of contra-peak services and running additional peak direction services one after the other similar to how services had been operated prior to 1993.

Therefore, the $500 million was spent in order to deal with a capacity problem and not in order to justify the allocation of a lot of extra capacity while other lines have had little in the way of increased capacity.

Other associated problems

This is not the first time that a serious misjudgement of patronage demand has occurred. With the introduction of the July 2008 timetable, the 4:15pm to Papakura via Newmarket which had been allocated a 236 seat SX train set was replaced with the 4:10pm to Pukekohe via Newmarket which was allocated a 130 seat ADL train set. The 4:15pm service had been highly popular with standees when the service left Auckland, and it should not have been all that surprising that the 4:10 service would be equally popular. It wasn’t until a passenger got injured and there was a big article on Close Up that the capacity was restored. Political interference aside, we need to consider one more reason why there would have been a misjudgement in patronage demand.

That reason of course is how our patronage figures are currently derived. Our patronage figures are solely derived from counts that are made by the onboard staff at various points on the trip. For the Southern and Eastern Line, the counts occur in the vicinity of Homai, Glen Innes and Ellerslie Stations. This not only means that patronage from some stations is missed in the monthly statistics, but it also means that patronage on each service is determined by these counts. As I have stated through this piece, the problem are those passengers who originated from Papatoetoe and Middlemore and have to stand for half an hour or more, and those passengers are not at all able to be considered when rolling stock allocations occur because, well, no-one knows how many people board.

Another concern is the honesty of the former Auckland Regional Transport Authority. When they cut capacity on the Southern and Eastern Line back in July 2008, there was absolutely no official mention of it – anywhere. It was only when passengers looked at the timetable and actually saw the rolling stock allocation that they realised that there had been a cut. Similarly, the promotions for the recent September 2010 timetable heavily mentioned an increase in seats across the network, and this could be easily read as indicating more peak hour capacity. For those passengers who have to endure a trip on the Southern Line south of Penrose or the Eastern Line, there was absolutely no increase in peak hour capacity in the morning peak. This potentially made that advertising misleading.

What needs to be done?

Throughout this piece, I have commented on the situation for the average Southern and Eastern Line passenger. I noted that since 2005, there has been virtually no change in capacity for passengers south of Otahuhu. I have noted that there are significant numbers of standees on services in the morning peak by the time they arrive at Westfield Station – and this is pushing the boundaries of what would be deemed acceptable by overseas systems. It is no good outlining problems without outlining the solutions as well.

With the February timetable change, there needs to be four six-car sets allocated to the Southern and Eastern Line. This would have the impact of increasing Southern and Eastern Line capacity by eight carriages and would help alleviate capacity problems in the period prior to electrification. This would not at all disadvantage Western Line passengers, as they would still have a net gain of four carriages on top of all the additional capacity that they obtained with the September 2010 timetable.

Based on my limited observations, I would suggest that the following morning peak services would need the additional capacity

6:54am ex Pukekohe via Glen Innes
7:03am ex Pukekohe Limited via Newmarket
7:25am ex Papakura Limited via Glen Innes
7:34am ex Pukekohe via Newmarket

In the afternoon peak, where the situation is much more comfortable, I do not have any specific suggestions. Obviously, there would either need to be a limited stop pattern to skip those stations that do not have suitable length platforms, although such a pattern should not exist for long as there is an apparent deadline of having all platform extension works completed by the middle of next year.

Other things need to be done as well to ensure that such situations are handled correctly in the future. Passenger counts need to be conducted in the vicinity of Westfield Station; this would give an idea of the number of passengers at what is a pretty critical boundary point. Advertising from Auckland Transport needs to be more honest, and while they might not want to promote capacity cuts, at the very least do not mention an increase in seats throughout the network when there isn’t an extra morning peak seat for the thousands of commuters who travel on the Southern Line south of Penrose and the Eastern Line. Another possibility might be to make service patronage data a little more publicly available. I note for instance that City Rail in Sydney released their morning and afternoon peak patronage data (can be found here, and this means that a fair comparison can be made about patronage on services and on lines.