A few days ago I posted about the announced $90 million upgrade to Auckland’s rail signalling system, and how it’s an important step towards electrification. Yesterday we heard a bit more news about the detail of that contract, and what the signalling upgrade will actually entail. If we ignore Steven Joyce’s “ha, I told you I wasn’t abandoning electrification” nonsense – as I’ll believe him when I see the order for the electric trains themselves as having occurred, and when I see wires starting to go up – this signalling upgrade will have some significant benefits for our system. However, it’s almost like Joyce is trying a bit too hard in his argument, and it’s quite funny when he’s forced to admit that the signal upgrades would assist diesel trains anyway. The Herald states:

He acknowledged the new signals would markedly improve the running of any rail fleet, whether diesel or electric, “but there will still be electric trains”.

But anyway, focusing on the positives here, the details about the signalling upgrade are quite interesting in themselves:

Westinghouse Rail Systems managing director Phil Ellingworth said the train control technology his company was importing from its European arm surpassed anything being used on Australia’s established network.

It will include the replacement of all existing points machines and signals lights with a fully computerised system to control all Auckland rail movements from within the region, although with a full back-up facility able to be operated from the national centre in Wellington.

Copper-based track circuits now used to detect where trains are on the network, with varying degrees of reliability in a “fail-safe” mode, will be replaced with fibre-optic technology able to count carriage axles to determine when tracks are clear for the next train.

Westinghouse will also supply an automatic train protection system not used anywhere else in New Zealand, to intervene if an engine appears to be travelling too fast towards a red “stop” signal, and to bring it safely to a halt regardless of any lapse of concentration by the driver.

The company’s contract will include laying signals for the new Onehunga and Manukau branch lines and for “bi-directional” train movements on some sections of the network such as at Kingsland and Morningside stations, to allow both sets of tracks to be used to carry sports fans in the same direction to or from Eden Park.

In a clean sweep of the 1950s to 1970s technology it is replacing, it will spell retirement for Auckland’s two remaining signals boxes, at Papakura and Otahuhu.

So it sounds like we’re skipping the 20th century altogether, and going from the current 19th century technology we use to something that’s quite state of the art and 21st century. Having a back-up system for when the signals fail is great, and also computerising everything is also a fantastic step forwards. Apparently everything in and out of Britomart needs to be manually done, including all the changes for points, signals and so forth. Normally this works OK, but when something goes wrong it takes an absolute age for the system to fix itself up. Hopefully the upgrades will ensure we don’t get the kind of 2 hour delays that seem to happen at least 2-3 times a month at the moment.

Unfortunately, the articles also states that it’s unlikely we will have electric trains by the time of the Rugby World Cup. This is something I believe we can blame on the government, as if they hadn’t pulled their petrol tax shennanigans on us, the ARC would have decided upon a contract for the trains and they would probably already be under construction.

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