It’s easy for one to plan dream rail networks for Auckland – heck I tend to do it all the time. And indeed, in the longer run I think it will be necessary for Auckland to embark upon a significant expansion of the rail network, starting with the CBD rail loop. However, I also think it would be worthwhile for me to talk a bit about the current upgrades to the rail network, especially as many of the projects currently underway will be completed in the next year or so.

Most of the upgrades we see underway at the moment, or completed over the last few years, have come out of the 2006 ARTA Rail Development Plan. The plan looked at the future of the railway network, both over the next ten years (2006-2016) and then further into the future. The one upgrade that wasn’t really mentioned in the 2006 plan, but has subsequently developed, is the electrification of the network. Electrification will provide some certainty about having modern trains in the future, and will also certainly make future expansion of the network a lot easier – and the trains a lot more efficient. So it will certainly provide excellent support of what was proposed in the Rail Development Plan.

rail-2006The image to the left show the rail network as it was in 2006. The infrastructure hasn’t changed much since then, although service levels have been increased – particularly on the Western Line. Double-tracking of the Western Line is also now mainly complete – with only short sections around New Lynn and between Boston Road and Newmarket still remaining.

For those not familiar with Auckland’s rail network, there are basically two lines: the Western Line and the Southern/Eastern Line. Between Quay Park Junction and Westfield the Southern/Eastern line splits into two – the Eastern Line and the Southern Line. Some services terminate at Otahuhu (usually Eastern Line services I think). The Western Line runs completely separate, to the others, except for between Newmarket and Quay Park Junction, where it shares the line with the Southern Line. All lines share the same two tracks between Quay Park Junction and Britomart – the cause of most of the problems we have with the rail system here in Auckland!

In 2006 this system was almost at capacity – due to the relatively low number of trains that ran, but also because some parts of the system (particularly the single-track sections of the Western Line) made it very difficult to increase the number of trains running – even if there had been more trains available to operate on the system (which there was not). The Rail Development Plan details these constraints:

The limits on Auckland’s rail network are:
• The capacity of services is constrained by the number of trains available
• The frequency of services is constrained by the number of tracks and the signalling system capacity, and other improvements necessary if more and faster trains were utilised on the network
• The extent of services is constrained by the location of rail corridors and rolling stock
• The quality of service is constrained by old infrastructure and signalling, and the standard of stations and trains

Without further upgrades, the rail network was considered likely to reach a maximum capacity of 8 million passengers a year within the very near future. One could argue that this capacity was subsequently reached, particularly in winter last year due to the very high petrol prices.

rail-2016The first steps in expanding Auckland’s rail network, to take place between 2006 and 2016, are outlined in the image to the left. The main changes are completion of double-tracking, the added Manukau Branch and also increased frequencies across the whole network. Subsequent to this plan, the Onehunga Line was included in the plan for reopening. This would add 2 tph between Onehunga (linking into the Southern Line just north of Westfield) and Britomart.

Most of these upgrades are due to be completed within the next couple of years. We heard news on the Manukau Branch just a few days ago, and the Onehunga Branch about a week and a half ago.  Both should hopefully be open by the end of next year. Completion of the Western Line’s double-tracking should also be done by next year, when the New Lynn trench project is finished. The hugely upgraded Newmarket station should also be completed by the end of this year – allowing for greater train frequencies to pass through what used to be a pretty nasty bottleneck. Add to this the electrification works, and by 2013 we should have the network outlined in the image, plus the Onehunga Line, completed to a pretty high standard.

I guess the question is then where to from there? Will that network really be sufficient to get us through to 2016? Well, according to the patronage estimations outlined in the image below, by 2016 we should be expecting around 16 million passenger trips per year on the rail network – around twice current levels.

passenger-growth I’m still left with a couple of question about this though – firstly ‘can the network shown above actually handle 16 million passenger trips per year?’ and secondly ‘how accurate is that estimate?’ To deal with my first question, it certainly doesn’t seem like we’re going to be doubling the number of trains on the network to carry this doubled patronage level. It seems like a lot of places are going from having 4 tph to 6 tph. I guess longer trains should help – with trains going from having 4 carriages to 6 carriages, so perhaps those two combined will be enough to get us through to 16 million passengers a year without ending up crammed in like sardines. The second issue, the accuracy of the estimates, is quite necessary in my opinion. The modelling system used to determine patronage growth does not seem to take into account rising petrol prices (likely to act as a push factor away from driving and towards using public transport) and doesn’t take into account the likely patronage boost that electrification should provide. I estimate there will be around 7.6 million rail passenger journeys in the 2008/09 year (based on the May 2009 ARTA monthly business report) whereas the graph above seems to estimate between 6.5 and 7 million passenger trips for that year – so we’re already up on projections by about a million trips a year!

rail-2030The image to the left shows where ARTA thinks rail developments between 2016 and 2030 are likely to occur. The big changes are the CBD rail loop (the blue lines linking Britomart with the Western Line via Wellesley Street etc.), a potential link between Onehunga and the airport and a potential link between Onehunga and Avondale.

This system would allow Auckland to break through the 16 million trips per annum cap that not having these improvements would create. The key change is the CBD rail loop, which would remove the Britomart bottleneck that even ARTA admits will choke the network from 2016 onwards (I think it might choke the system sooner than that, and remember 2016 is only seven years away!) The Rail Development Plan has this to say about the network upgrades that may be required in the 2016-2030 timeframe:

An underground CBD loop
With the Core Network Upgrade complete, an obvious shortcoming in the Auckland rail network will be the fact that services terminate at Britomart, at the bottom end of the CBD. Constructing an underground loop under the CBD, with stations at Wellesley Street and Karangahape Road, would have significant benefits to commuters and encourage even more people to use Passenger Transport. Furthermore, because Britomart would become a through station rather than a terminus, it would operate more efficiently, making it possible to increase the number of services. Overseas experience shows that significant increased economic activities occur in CBDs with high-capacity Rapid Transit systems.

Further Expansion
New rail lines between Avondale and Southdown line paralleling State Highway 20 and to Auckland International Airport may also be completed by 2030. However, these projects have not been developed sufficiently for them to be included in the Rail Development Plan at present.

Start the planning now
Auckland will keep growing. Because of the lead times involved in the major projects required so that Passenger Transport can keep pace with that growth, ARTA intends to start work now on plans for the next generation of service and infrastructure improvements.

While I don’t think the 2030 plan goes far enough (I have suggested two options for what the 2030 network should look like) it is good to know that at least there is a long-term plan out there. I just hope that the third point outlined above – Start the Planning Now – doesn’t get ignored. I do seriously suspect that future demand projections are under-estimates, and I do question whether the 2016 network would really be able to handle 16 million passengers a year. Electrification aside, we should have most of the 2016 network in place by the end of next year, so it will be interesting to see what happens to patronage levels. It will also be interesting to see whether the network can cope.

Well in the end the 2006-2016 plan it shown below. Already the government has stuffed it up to some extent by not getting on with ordering the electric trains fast enough (the ARC was ready to go in March):


Share this


  1. Very good and informative post.

    Do you have any figures for Wellingtons rail network for comparison? Also, I wasn’t aware Papkura-Pukekohe was double tracked. How far does double tracking go?

    The new network looks quite good. Given that all the imprvements outlined in the 2006-2016 plan will be complete next year, I sugest they start focusing on replacing the 2016 plan next year with a 2011-2021 plan (or maybe 2012-2022 to allow preparation to start only once the supercity is in place). I also consider it a bad idea just to have a rail plan. Instead there should be an integrated plan covering roads, trains, buses and ferries for the whole of greater Auckland, basically a master transport plan. It should also be looking not only to 2030, but perhaps keeping 2050 in mind.

    After looking at the harbour crossing post yesterday, I have thought more about population growth and transport. I imagine that in Auckland at present about 80% of people go to work by car, and the other 20% by public transport. Now lets imagine that by 2050 Aucklands population has doubled, and that by 2050 40% of people travel to work by car, and 60% by public transport (I consider this a realistic possibility). This means that there will be the same number of cars on the road as now, and six tmes as much by public transport. Further, given that when the rail network expands to new areas not curently served by rail, people in those areas using public transport will switch from buses to trains, espcially once Auckland’s rail network begins to form a true network and not a few lines from the CBD out. This means the rail network in 2050 could carry more than 10 times the people it carry’s now.

    Having thought this through, it means we might not need that 6 lane tunnel under the harbour afterall, and the metro idea may not be a pipe dream. The idea that in 2050 we may have similar number of cars on the roads as now, but 10 times (yes 80 million trips) the number of train passengers should be where transport planning should look.

  2. Do you have any figures for Wellingtons rail network for comparison? Also, I wasn’t aware Papkura-Pukekohe was double tracked. How far does double tracking go?

    I think Wellington is around 10 million trips a year at the moment, or slightly above that. About double-tracking, I think the main trunk is double-tracked all the way to Hamilton with a few small single-track areas. The Auckland-Hamilton route is quite heavily used by freight trains.

    The new network looks quite good. Given that all the imprvements outlined in the 2006-2016 plan will be complete next year, I sugest they start focusing on replacing the 2016 plan next year with a 2011-2021 plan (or maybe 2012-2022 to allow preparation to start only once the supercity is in place). I also consider it a bad idea just to have a rail plan. Instead there should be an integrated plan covering roads, trains, buses and ferries for the whole of greater Auckland, basically a master transport plan. It should also be looking not only to 2030, but perhaps keeping 2050 in mind.

    I agree there. The new Supercity should have a pretty powerful integrated transport agency to drive this work, so I certainly hope to see some excellent plans starting to emerge in the 2011-2015 timeframe.

    Regarding the rest of your post, I agree that most of the future growth in transportation in Auckland will be on public transport. We’re already seeing that, with state highway traffic levels steady or falling, but public transport boomin.

    Looking at other cities around the world of a similar size to Auckland we see the following patronage (in 2006, would be higher now):

    Perth: 33 million trips a year
    Portland, Oregon: 33 million trips a year
    Calgary, Alberta: 52 million trips a year

    Calgary is smaller than Auckland, and a fairly low density city with a relatively small (but very effective) light-rail system. If Auckland in 2030 had the same number of rail trips per capita per year as Calgary does now (surely not an impossible aspiration) then we could well be looking at patronage of around 80 million trips per year.

  3. Will a 2 track CBD loop be enough to carry the people around the city loop? One would hope that this would be designed in a way that would allow additional tracks to be built around it. Maybe additional tracks would be needed if the northern rail line is built.

    These rail plans don’t include the northern rail line and the Botany line, does this show a lack of future planning? Without these lines in the plan, they will only be ideas and designations are unlikely to be put in place for their future development.

    I still think Auckland has a lot of work to do to catch up with Wellington patronage figures, especially as Wellington is getting new units, track extensions and has some good land-use strategies in place as well. However Auckland will one day see the benefit of rail and has some exciting TOD developments happening but Wellingtonians regularly use the train and have done for years, its in their blood to

  4. Regarding a Northern Railway Line, I guess the thinking is that the busway works pretty well and should have sufficient PT capacity for a good number of years to come. However, as I illustrated in my post about future harbour crossings a few days ago, a railway tunnel is being looked at. You wouldn’t bother with a railway tunnel unless you turned the busway into a railway line up to Albany – so it is somewhat on the cards.

    Regarding a Botany Line, I think it is horrific how ignored this line is. ARTA occasionally show it as a “potential future Rapid Transit Network (RTN) route” on plans, but it’s never anything more than a broad arrow on a map. And the proposed route runs too far south (near Ti Rakau Drive) instead of cutting through Highland Park and crossing the Tamaki River up by Glen Innes.

    Regarding a two-track CBD loop, I think that would provide sufficient capacity. I wouldn’t want all the future railway lines to use the loop. In the longer-run it might make more sense to develop something more similar to a pure Metro system that runs in tunnels independent of all other lines.

    And as for Wellington, I think eventually Auckland will pass it in terms of patronage levels. Auckland’s over three times the size. However, in terms of trips per capita I think Welly might always have the edge.

  5. I just found out from wikipedia that Wellington has 11m train trips per yers, for 350 000 people, so thats 33m per year per million (considering Perth has one of the best rail systems in Australia, and Portland is highly rated for PT, its pretty much international best practice).

    The 2016 plan makes no mention of the Westfield-Papkura thrid track you hinted at in a coment about the possible future Hamilton-Auckland train. Whens this going to happen? Interesting also that the Manakau line is duplicate for much of its length, but turns into single track near the junction with the main line.

    On the subject of electrification, will the Auckland network be electrified to 25 kV 50 Hz AC (like the Hamilton-Palmerston North section) or the 1500 V DC used by the Wellington network. I’m not a technical expert so don’t know much about the pros and cons, but the 25kV would be good in the sense that when electrification is extended to Hamilton, it can join up with the Palmerston North electrified system.

  6. The 2016 plan makes no mention of the Westfield-Papkura thrid track you hinted at in a coment about the possible future Hamilton-Auckland train. Whens this going to happen?

    A damn good question. The third track was in the ARTA Auckland Transport Plan that I submitted upon earlier this year, so I think since 2006 the need for that track has become more obvious. I hope it gets constructed ASAP (while we’re doing all the works for electrification would be a good time, hint hint Ontrack).

    Interesting also that the Manakau line is duplicate for much of its length, but turns into single track near the junction with the main line.

    Future-proofing I think for a possible Manukau to Botany and/or Manukau to airport line. Some of the Manukau branch will be in a trench, so it’d be dumb to build it as a single-track. However, the currently proposed service patterns mean that only one track is needed to connect it to the main trunk line. Or something like that!

  7. Wellington has a similar problem through Tawa where the capital connection is held up by the commuter trains heading to Porirua. As rail is intensified in Auckland, these same issues will appear as you guys have discussed. I would hope that smart decisions in the short term are made, such as passing loops at rail stations allowing an express train to pass a stationary train. This would allow for further capacity, but would only supply a short term option.

    I can’t imagine the wealthy suburb of Botany will adopt to using a BRT (however I may be wrong, but I know they love their automobile). Rail is the ultimate form of transportation for changing mindsets and land-use in my opinion.

    I guess the governments lack of thinking around public transport will be a set back to further project being completed after 2010. With capacity on the rail increasing rapidly, more pressure will go on the government (one would hope) to continue rail based projects. But I’m not holding my breath!

  8. Brent, my hope is that the future Super-City transport agency will be powerful enough to really put some pressure on government to stop deluding themselves it’s the 1960s and actually come up with a sensible transport policy for Auckland. Hopefully that will lead to some changes and we’ll only have a couple of years of the current stupidity.

  9. I’m not quite as optimistic as you about the Super-city transport agency, as even though it will push for sensible transport policy (and probbaly better co-ordinate transport planning between the cities), its only funding will be rates (and we know how much people hate them going up), so will have to beg the government for money. The experience of the Wellington Regional Council isn’t the best (although the main push has been for transmission gully, not rail).

    The regional fuel tax would have been very useful. Contary to popular perception, it was not only about electrification, as once electrification was done, the tax would remain in place, so could go to the CBD rail loop e.t.c.

    To me there are two main hopes:
    1) That once the Western ring route is complete, there won’t be many more roading projects to do, so this will diverty road funding to public transport.
    2) When National has run its course, in 2014, 2017 or 2020, the next Labour government, given current political trends, will be reliant upon the Greens, which will do a lot for public transport, and might put the regional fuel tax back. And maybe rising petrol prices, increasing population and the global trend towards public transport might change Nationals mind.

    And there is the possibility the delays could help us long term. For instance, if we don’t build a north shore line for 20 or 30 years, it means when it gets built it might be metro instead of normal heavy rail. And we will ghet the best technology around in 20 years.

  10. Interesting points Nicholas. I do think Labour were starting to understand the importance of public transport investment by the end of their time in government. The August 2008 Government Policy Statement (largely overturned by this government) was quite a quantum shift in thinking towards public transport – creating the reduction in state highway spending that Steven Joyce now finds to unacceptable. Here’s the August 2008 document:

    Hopefully by 2011 National will have “seen the light” on public transport (higher petrol prices will certainly force their hand on that issue I think) and will have changed their thinking. Or even more hopefully (in my opinion) they’ll get chucked out and we’ll see a Labour led government (with a strong Green Party influence) start to match their talk on environmental issues (of which reducing our auto-dependency is a key aspect) with some real action.

  11. I doubt that once the Western Ring Road is complete that there won’t be any more roading projects to do. In the regional road plan issued for Auckland, a project following the Onehunga rail line was proposed. As well as that, you just need to look at the list of projects issued by NZTA and AMEATI for Auckland roads. There are issues in Auckland that can be fixed by building bigger and better roads (whether they are the best option or not), unknowledgeable decision makes will continue to make these bad decisions- Its a vote winner!

    Education will be the only way to stop extravagant road building projects in my opinion. People just don’t now the effects of the their lifestyles on towns and cities.

  12. AMETI is a bit of a joke actually – $1.4 billion and not a mention of a Howick/Botany railway line. An upgrade of Neilson Street to link SH20 and SH1 a bit better actually makes quite a lot of sense – I would be fairly supportive of that link. It would also be pretty cheap.

  13. Yes, of course there is an infinite list of roading projects. If we had the money we could have a Cook Strait bridge.

    However, since all of the main priorities, and the ones with the best cost/benefit ratios will be built, the remaining ones will be luxuries with poor cost/benefit ratios. And hardly real competition to public transport.

    As a strong National party supporter, I’m not keen on it being chucked out (even though my views on transport are closer to the Greens than any other part, I do agree Labour only saw the importance of PT in their last term). I do think at times this blog is slightly harsh on Joyce and the Nats, as even though they are not the most pro-PT govt, they are about as expected pre-election, and have increased transport funding (sadly PT doesn’t get any of this yet, but transport funding is unlikely to be decreased by a future govt, meaning it could lead to more PT funding long term.

  14. I would actually agree that National have done some stuff that could potentially be good for transport in the long-run IF they re-prioritise the way in which the money is spent. The extra 6c a litre petrol tax nation-wide is a good start, and I also think that it’s far more fair that electrification is funded from a crown grant than from a regional fuel tax (as Wellington’s electric trains were paid for by the government fully).

    It is interesting to see how many pro public transport National supporters there are out there. You guys should really get involved in the party politics and try to wean Steven Joyce away from simply being a mouthpiece for the Road Transport Forum.

  15. I amazes me that Wellington gets new trains and Auckland has to continue to use those shabby trains, only fit for the 3rd world. I guess that the price Aucklanders had to pay once the master transportation plan came out in 1955 which saw the end of electrification scheme. I guess you have to wait patiently for the wires to be put up before a complete new set of trains is going to arrive.

    I’m a borderline national supporter, more of a fence sitter. Agree with some decisions, but not others (mostly on transport, but some other issues as well).

    National has finished off the current Labour transport projects and not gone on to issue more, instead giving more money to roads and taking the power off regions to make decisions. This was well noted in parliament recently when Keith Locke (Greens) tabled a list of new public transportation projects, which was a blank piece of paper.

    In 5-10 years time we will notice the full extent of Nationals road spending, that’s if they can stay in power

  16. National has finished off the current Labour transport projects and not gone on to issue more, instead giving more money to roads and taking the power off regions to make decisions.

    That’s my issue in a nutshell really – that National are trying to take all the glory for simply completing most of what Labour proposed. Meanwhile they’ve taken away all the funding for further development of the rail network. Future rail development will be dependent on Crown Grants, and they’re rather unlikely to be forthcoming over the next decade or so if National had their way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.