Western line frequencies finally about to improve

Next week Auckland’s busiest rail line will finally have its frequencies improved to match the two other main lines in the region. The Western Line will change to services every 10 minutes at peak and every 20 minutes between the peaks which is an improvement from the 15/30 timetable we have at the moment. Early mornings, evenings and weekends remain at only 30 minute frequencies.

As a Western Line user I see first-hand how full the trains often get during both the peaks and off peaks, especially west of Grafton. In addition it’s also particularly noticeable how much more useful 10 minute peak services are when standing on a platform at Britomart having just missed a service and jealously watching multiple services arrive and depart on the Eastern and Southern lines.

May-16 Timetable poster

The improvement has been a long time coming after increases were originally promised to occur back in 2010 to coincide with the completion of double tracking of the western line. But that promise quietly disappeared – for what I understand are a variety of reasons such as there not being enough trains, signalling/junction limitations etc. In fact I understand there are still a number of people within AT/Transdev/Kiwirail who don’t want to see any improvement as they are concerned that Newmarket and the line between there and Britomart can’t cope.

I certainly hope that whatever issues there are but the best long term solution is of course the CRL which will mean that Western Line trains no longer need to clog up a platform at Newmarket while they clumsily turn around each trip.

It also appears AT are making a slight redesign to the timetable including just showing departures at peak as times past the hour rather than every individual service. This is something common in timetables in many cities.

May-16 Timetable western line

One thing that isn’t clear yet is just how much capacity this timetable change will add, if any. Currently most services at peak are 6-car trains however if they need to split some of those up to provide the frequency there won’t be any capacity gain.

There are a few disappointments with the timetable however.

  • There are a few positive/negative changes on trips between some stations but they largely balance themselves out, the one exception is between Britomart and Newmarket where an extra minute has been added. I understand one reason for this is to be consistent with the Southern and Onehunga line trains.
  • There is still no attempt to speed up services, especially at Newmarket where the driver end change is scheduled to take four minutes.
  • There is no change to the hours services run with the last service on weekdays still departing the city just after 10pm and still only terminating at Henderson

AT have been suggesting in the reports to their board that another new timetable is due next year for all lines which is when they’ll start making improvements to travel times. Presumably that’s also when they’ll make changes to improve interpeak frequencies which are required to be improved to match what AT have promised for the new network which goes live in South Auckland in October.

All Electric from July 20

A few weeks ago in a post about dwell times I mentioned that from July 20 all services all lines will be operated by electric trains (with the exception of the Papakura to Pukekohe shuttle). Regular rail users may have started to see advertising appear on platforms announcing the change and as part of that there are also new timetables with tweaks made to all lines – the Eastern line is almost completely unaffected.

The new timetables can be found here

Just having a quick look through them I’ve noticed a few things worth to noting:

Western Line

It seems that all Britomart bound weekday trains leave about 1 minute earlier than the current timetable. Swanson bound trains are mostly the same with a few exceptions.

In April AT increased the overall journey time to Britomart by three minutes. They’ve now shaved one minute off that. Let’s hope with the other improvements they’ve highlighted as coming over the next six months or so that can come down much further.

There has been a change to the timing on parts of the timetable. Most noticeable is that is an extra minute at Newmarket station for the driver to walk the length of the platform – although this comes from less time allocated between Grafton and Newmarket.

As has long been heralded, the introduction of an all-electric fleet will see trains no longer stop at Waitakere. Interestingly AT have decided to leave Waitakere in the timetable but shown as a bus replacement. I wonder if this is just a transitional thing until the next timetable change. On the change AT say

Electric trains will end at Swanson on the Western Line. A connecting bus service (route 139) will operate between Waitakere and Swanson departing from:

Waitakere

  • Bus stop on Township Rd outside Waitakere Station

Swanson

  • Bus stop in the Swanson Station car park

There doesn’t appear to be any changes to frequency or how late the trains run.

Southern Line

As mentioned the Southern Line changes see the introduction of a diesel shuttle between Papakura and Pukekohe – this is something that already occurs on weekends. Britomart bound there appears to be either a four or nine minute window to transfer services. Assuming trains are on time then in the evening peak those heading toward Pukekohe have a roughly a 7 minute window to transfer.

July - 15 timetable Puke Shuttle

The departure times and running times from Papakura and Britomart seem unchanged.

Onehunga Line

Departure times from Onehunga on weekdays are all three minutes earlier while running times in this direction have been reduced by one minute.

There appears to be no change for departure or running times for trains from Britomart to Onehunga.

While most of the changes are fairly minor – the tweaking of times suggests this could be about improving when trains reach various junctions – the timetable change is significant as with the changes to Waitakere and Pukekohe it likely represent the final structure of the rail network until City Rail Link is built. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t see more improvements though. We know that improvements to frequencies need to come with the roll out of the new bus network and of course Western line desperately needs to move to 10 minute peak frequencies.

Further, the completed roll-out of the electric trains removes one of the major issues AT have mentioned – running a mixed fleet – this means they should be able to focusing on the long list of changes they’ve identified to improve the reliability and speed of services over the coming year – the next few months are shown below but head to the link for the next year.

EMU + Rail improvement action plan 1 - Jun - Sep

Just what happens to the old diesel trains remains to be seen. The AT board report says some have already been retired and sent to Taumaurunui for storage – presumably until AT can find someone to buy them. Si if anyone wants a nostalgia trip on the old diesels I’d suggest you do so quickly, they have less than two weeks left before being retired from service.

Western Line Padding Part 2

A couple of days ago I wrote Auckland Transport padding out the Western Line timetable. Today the Herald picked up on the story. AT have sent me a response to the story which is in full below.

AT is committed to running reliable peak services and achieving this through the introduction of a world class all-electric fleet.

In order to address the recent decrease in reliability and performance, the decommissioning of the diesel fleet has been brought forward to July from a planned August / September date. This will remove one variable of on-time performance – aging diesel train breakdowns that have seen a spike in recent months.

As with any timetable change, the most recent being on 8 December with a +22% increase in services, tweaks are required following introduction. The 3 minute earlier departure times on the Western Line are needed to support the 8 December increased services while diesel and electric trains share the network, to ensure time slots at Newmarket junction and Britomart are met.

As part of the original electric train rollout plan and in accordance with that plan, run-times of the electric trains on the Western Line are being tested and optimised currently prior to introduction in July as part of the existing timetable. Continuous improvements in run times, signalling and track testing to optimise electric train run times are a priority and further run-time testing and optimisation will follow the bedding in of full electric train operations from July, leading to more timetable improvements later in 2015. This work involves looking at reducing dwell times and optimising the ETCS (European Train Control System) safety feature on the electric trains.

AT is committed to providing the peak 10 minute frequency on the Western Line as early as possible and will be dependent on progress over coming months.

The historic run times relate to when run times were increased to accommodate the SA train sets. To place this in context, the improvements on the rail network since 2003:

Train Changes 2003-2015
I think it would be good for AT to actually specify exactly what the impediments are to faster and more frequent services and what steps they are taking i.e. how much do they need to reduce dwell times, what are the changes that need to occur for 10 minute frequencies etc.

As often happens when AT release data like above it manages to highlight a couple of other important points. In this case that a few things I noticed:

  • Patronage has increased well above the increase in the number of services per week. This is a good things and shows suggests we’re not only getting better services but also more utilisation out of them.
  • At 30 arrivals at Britomart over a two hour period it highlights just how much more capacity the CRL has the potential to contribute. Although first a quick count suggests the actual number of AM Peak (7am-9am) arrivals is 36 trains which would go to 40 if the western line moved to 10 minute frequencies. My understanding is the CRL allows for up to 48 trains an hour (24 trains per direction) so that’s up to 96 over a two hour window. In other words the CRL more than doubles the capacity of the rail network.
  • Back in early March AT said that on average weekdays in February there were 51,500 trips. For March that has increased to almost 60,000 per weekday

Western Line Timetable padding

Regular users of the western line will know that in the services have been struggling in recent months and that’s even when trains aren’t breaking down. It’s especially noticeable in the morning peak when and while there’s been a little bit of relief during the school holidays, with schools back today I’m expecting services will have been chocka again (I say that having written this post on the weekend).

Over the last few years patronage has been growing strongly and in the last 12 months trips up over 16%. That’s increase is not quite as high as the lines which have been electrified but is still a very significant rise. This is even more so considering that there hasn’t been an increase in peak frequency since 2008 despite during that time double tracking has been completed. The timetable changes that have occurred over the years have extended the length of the peak and improved off peak frequencies which only a few years ago improved to half hourly.

2015-03 Western Line Patronage

The yearlong bump was due to the Rugby World Cup

 

One little side note is that based on a patronage per service measure the western line carries about 60% more passengers on each train than what is seen on the other lines. I suspect that this is in part due to the Western line having a higher number of trips to destinations along the line rather than just to Britomart. This is kind of shown in the great visualisations put together by Aaron Schiff

Aaron Schiff Visualisation - away from Britomart

 

While increasing patronage is a good thing, at peak times the lack of improvements in capacity – with the exception of a few extra carriages – has had some negative effects. Now trains are regularly crowded with some passengers sometimes standing from as far as Glen Eden or even Henderson. Those from even closer in such as Kingsland sometimes aren’t able to get on at all – and before anyone mentions it, the buses going past on New North Rd or Sandringham Rd are also full. This is obviously bad for customers but it’s also bad for operations. It means more time needs to be allowed at each station for people to push their way to the doors or find a space to squeeze on while they wait for people to reluctantly move away from the doors and down the aisles. This slows the trains down and therefore increases chance that the service will run late.

Poor punctuality frustrates people and in some cases will put them off using the service altogether. In recent months punctuality has declined and in February it was less than 80%. In other words more than 1 in every 5 trains will run late. The performance results for February are below

2014-02 - AKL - Train Performance

When delays are occurring due to busy services – or “heavy customer demand” as Transdev would say, there aren’t always that many solutions. The most obvious would be to increase capacity but that isn’t frequently something that can happen quickly. I’d also point out that it was promised that the western line would move to 10 minute services in the peaks in 2010 when double tracking was finished but numerous excuses have continued to be created as to why that can’t happen. The latest excuse is the Sarawia St level crossing and I suspect that once that’s sorted I’m sure they will find another one such as capacity constraints at Britomart or Newmarket or perhaps the CRL works.

A shorter term solution is to simply extend the timetable by padding it out further and it appears that’s exactly what AT have done. This poster started appearing on trains last week.

Western Line Timetable increase poster

The new timetable is here and as it says, travel times are extended by up to three minutes. Below is a quick comparison of travel times between the December 2014 and April 2015 timetables and as you can see a minute has been added between:

  • Sturges Rd and Henderson,
  • New Lynn and Avondale
  • Mt Albert and Baldwin Ave

Western Line Timetable increase num

 

I have a few issues with this approach. While the timetable might more accurately reflect the times that customers will see it does so by making the services slower and therefore less attractive to potential new customers. It also improves AT/Transev’s performance results by simply shifting out the measurement.

Of course this isn’t the first time the timetable has been padded out. The graph below shows the travel times from Swanson of a few of the different timetables that there have been on the Western Line since Britomart opened. In total the new timetable is up to 8 minutes slower than was achieved back in 2003.

Western Line Timetable time changes

Despite what’s been mentioned above the timing of the change suggests there’s possibly another reason for the timetable increase and it’s one I certainly hope I’m wrong about. AT have said recently that they now intend to have electric trains running on all services by August. From what we’ve seen on other lines that should mean we start seeing electric trains running off peak shortly and given that it would seem odd to increase the timetable now. That is unless the testing of the trains has revealed that they’ll be even slower than the old diesel units they’re replacing. It would be seriously disappointing if this were the case as times should be going the other way. As I said, I really hope I’m wrong (and that AT clarify this).

New Auckland Rail Timetables

Auckland Transport have announced new train timetables that will come in to effect on 8 December and in my view they represent what could be a significant change in focus for how rail is run in Auckland. Many of the changes have hinted at over the last few months in the AT board meetings and have been talked about for years so aren’t a major surprise however it’s great to finally see them start to be implemented. The new timetables are here

Here are the key changes.

Eastern Line

  • Increased capacity including double electric trains (six cars) at peak times.
  • A quicker journey time between Manukau and Britomart.
  • All services heading south terminate at Manukau, customers will need to transfer to the Southern Line if they want to travel to stations south of Puhinui.
  • More frequent services for Manukau: six trains an hour during peak, three trains each hour during the day and a half-hourly service at night and on the weekend.

Onehunga Line

  • Half-hourly service all day/every day including extended Friday night and weekend hours.

Southern Line

  • All services will go through Newmarket so passengers south of Puhinui will need to transfer to the Eastern Line if they want to go to Sylvia Park, Panmure, Glen Innes, Meadowbank or Orakei.
  • The Southern Line is next to get electric trains in early 2015.

Pukekohe

  • There will be an additional evening service leaving Britomart at 8.58pm and arriving in Pukekohe at 10.07pm.
  • New hourly weekend services to Papakura to connect to trains to Britomart.

Western Line

  • Extra half-hourly services on Friday night between 10pm and 12.30am.
  • All weekend services will now run half-hourly but will terminate at Swanson, a new hourly scheduled bus service will operate between Swanson station and Waitakere.

To me what makes these timetables changes so important is that they seem to take a new approach to how the timetable is put together. Up to now the timetables put together by AT and its predecessor have had a very kludgy feel to them. By that I mean it seems as though the foundation of the timetable was the same from when rail was hardly used and AT then just kept piling on services wherever they could fit them – including having to fit them around freight trains. An example of this is below with services on the eastern and southern line heading to the same destination leaving 5 minutes apart then having a 14 minute gap.

Dec 14 Timetable Change - old southern line

While the old timetable was a kludge, it feels like with this change AT have taken the opportunity to rebuild the timetable from scratch and in doing so it will result in a far superior customer experience. That can only be good for ongoing patronage growth. There are a few significant changes worth highlighting – note: these primarily only apply to the Southern and Eastern lines.

Firstly as had been mentioned in the board reports AT have really simplified the service patterns on the network. No longer will someone going from Britomart to Middlemore have the option of a service to

  • Manukau via Glen Innes
  • Papakura via Glen Innes
  • Pukekohe via Glen Innes
  • Papakura via Newmarket
  • Pukekohe via Newmarket

Now it’s just an Eastern Line or Southern line train. That’s much simpler and in my opinion considerably better from a customer perspective.

Secondly it seems that now AT have built the timetable around the idea of having 10 minute frequencies all day and then dropped services when they’ve wanted to reduce frequency off peak or in the evenings. You can see this most clearly below where on the eastern line timetable (highlighted in red below) between 9am and 4pm every second service has been dropped – the same thing can be seen on the southern line.

Dec 14 Timetable Change - New Manukau

There are a couple of reasons why this change is so important. Firstly the clock face times make it so much simpler and easier for customers to know when a train will be at their station. Secondly the Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP) that AT adopted last year says that the intention is for the three main lines to run at 10 minute frequencies during the day and 15 minute frequencies during the evening. For the Southern and Eastern lines to get from this new timetable to that level is simply a case of adding in the missing services without AT needing to rejig everything else.

RPTP rail frequencies

RPTP rail services

 

The third major change is that AT have moved to a minimum frequency across the electrified network (Swanson to Papakura) and across the week of a train every 30 minutes. While most services across the network were already at that level this change primarily impacts evening and weekend services making them much more usable. The current situation is absurd with trains only hourly in the weekend evenings making it all but impossible to use PT, say if going to meet up with friends in town on a Saturday night. It also fixes one of the odd little quirks in the timetable that saw a few trains on the Western line terminate at Henderson which saw me on more than one occasion with a longer walk home.

Lastly we’re finally seeing some time savings from the electric trains. Services from Manukau currently take 42 minutes to reach Britomart however with this new timetable will see EMUs exclusively on the eastern line, travel times are now 4-6 minutes quicker. That’s might not sound like much but it’s a 10-14% saving. Presumably other lines will be able to see savings once they too are all (or mostly) served by electric trains.

I guess for me the only real disappointment with this change is that the western line is still stuck at the same 15 minute peak frequency it’s had since at least 2008. While the trains servicing the line are now larger, those too are at capacity. It’s especially annoying as it was promised 10 minute frequencies would be delivered once double tracking was complete in 2010.

Still putting that one point the side, overall I think this is perhaps the most significant change to the timetable in many many years. It seems the first stage of what will eventually be a mature and high frequency timetable.  As part of its press release, AT say patronage is currently at 12.1 million trips (an increase on Septembers 11.9 million trips to the end of September. Rail is growing at 17% and with the electric trains plus these changes I expect that kind of growth will continue for some time yet.

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.