Well interestingly enough the more I dig into today’s electrification announcement, the better the news is that I come across. As I outlined in my very brief previous post, the long-awaited funding for Auckland’s electric trains has finally been approved – as a loan to KiwiRail from the government. I’m not really sure about the long-term impacts on KiwiRail of this money being a loan, rather than a grant – but for now I think we’ll ignore that aspect as it’s not particularly important. The reaction from the ARC is very positive, and I agree that this is a pretty historic moment – nothing now will stop Auckland’s railway system from being electrified:

Public transport in Auckland is set to take a huge leap forward following the Government’s announcement today of $500 million for electric trains, says Auckland Regional Council (ARC) Chairman Mike Lee.

“This is an historic moment for Auckland. Fast, frequent, efficient and modern electric train services can now be a reality,” he says.

“The announcement is of major importance for public transport and Auckland itself. The decision will not only significantly improve the quality of Auckland public transport but also change the way Aucklanders view public transport and their city.

“I believe Auckland’s new electric train fleet will be something Auckland will be proud of.”

Mr Lee says all this has not come easy, but good things never do.

“Auckland has been waiting for this announcement for more than 60 years. Electrification of Auckland rail was first proposed in the 1940s, but advanced plans were ditched on two occasions in the mid-1950s and mid-1970s.

“Users and supporters of public transport in Auckland should be hugely encouraged by today. The decision by Transport Minister Steven Joyce will help the city solve its transport issues and provide significantly greater numbers of people with viable public transport alternatives to their cars.

“This is great news for everybody. The Government and Transport Minister Steven Joyce are to be congratulated for finally delivering on their promise.”

Some of the concerns I had previously have also been allayed by a bit of detail that wasn’t in the initial press release, but can be found in the Ministry of Transport’s Questions and Answers release. Of particular note is this one (and of particular interest is the bit that I have bolded):

What is this announcement about?

The government has approved funding of $500 million to enable the procurement of new electric trains for Auckland.

The $500 million will initially be provided to KiwiRail as a loan. Final decisions as to whether the funding will be provided as a loan or equity will depend on other work on KiwiRail’s capital structure.

Work is already underway on electrifying the urban rail network – a $500 million project to erect power lines, provide new signalling and adapt bridges for electric power cables. This next lot of funding will enable the procurement of up to 114 new electric trains to operate on the modernised network.

Now while ARTA’s original tender was for 140 trains, while an August “Working Group” report sliced this back to 75 trains due to budgetary constraints. The 114 trains will each be four metres longer than the previous trains, which makes up for a lot of the “loss”, as trains will now be able to run as three car sets rather than four car sets without much loss of capacity. While perhaps this isn’t quite as good as the original proposal (in that a three 24m car train is only 72m long whereas a four 20m car train is 80 m long) but it is certainly miles better than what we were looking at in August.

It will be interesting to see where the savings have come from that have allowed more trains to be ordered though. The government has been very keen to repeatedly say that funding for electrification is absolutely capped at $1 billion for infrastructure upgrades and rolling stock. The previous Working Group report put the emphasis on getting the infrastructure right, even if that meant cutting back on the number of trains. This latest plan would suggest that balance has shifted the other way, and if the budget hasn’t been increased it will be interesting to see what infrastructure upgrades have got the chop to allow the funding to be freed up for the trains themselves.

Nevertheless, I think that’s a worry for another day. For now we can just feel happy about things.

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  1. I believe we wont see 10 minute frequencies but 15 minute ones, apparently the Minister was making such noises during a radio interview today…

    All in all though good news, the next Labour government is likely to have some Greens in cabinet who can be pressured into providing trackwork and upgrades to rolling stock…

  2. Yeah he did say that in the interview. We’ll see i suppose. Anyway with all the negativity we’ve had with regards public transport in Auckland it’s great to have some good news to celebrate.

  3. You really have to say something is majorly wrong in NZ when a government minister with no experience in PT management is making decisions on how frequent the trains will be in Auckland, leave it to the people who know what they’re doing Joyce and keep your nose out of it.

  4. The big question is “can the infrastructure handle 10 minute frquencies?” The Working Group thought not, Joyce and Mike Lee seem to think it can. I remain unsure.

  5. “can the infrastructure handle 10 minute frequencies?”
    If we are talking about the tracks alone then I don’t see why not. What are the other parameters involved in this? are we talking about total power load on the system? if so we can sort that out before we start construction on the electrification project. If it is passenger movement then surely smaller and more frequent trains are a solution.
    Another thing worth considering, which may already on the cards, would be the inclusion of fibre which could be leased out as part of John Key’s high speed internet proposals, the cross funding could do wonders for the books 😉

  6. Lot of current issues to be resolved before 10 frequencies could be run:

    – Britomart capacity (which should be okay for 10 minutes)
    – NIMT junctions
    – Freight movements out of Southdown and POAL
    – Triple tracking required on parts of the network
    – Signalling
    – Lack of crossovers and other track work

    Thats all I can remember at the moment…

  7. The Working Group report highlighted up to $151 million in additional necessary infrastructure that they felt was required to meet the requirements of 10 minute frequencies.

    Things like upgrades to Quay Park Junction I think.

  8. Ten minute frequencies on the three main lines means 18tph in and out of Britomart, which is the functional capacity. And that is without the Onehunga and Manukau Branches and without the Overlander or any Hamilton services. Could be interesting….

  9. The crossovers in the Britomart throat should add a couple and I think and you may see 30 min frquency West –> South runs which should push the capacity to equal to 22ish…

    Expect the screaming for the CBD rail tunnel to reach fever pitch by 2015-16…

  10. The thing is that National are doing enough to get only one term so come the campaign in 2012 we have to get extremely vocal (and pray for petrol around $2.00 a litre) to get Labour with the greens back in power.

  11. I dunno Chris, the Nats are still fairly high in the polls. It will be interesting to see what happens to petrol prices for sure, as I do wonder how silly Joyce’s roadsfest transport policies will look when petrol is $2.50 a litre.

  12. The frequency of trains could be increased if they had left the old station as a train station and built the bus station in front of it. Moving the main station in an existing network was plain insanity. Britomart may be pretty but it sure don’t help the efficiency of the system as a whole.

  13. Seconded! Britomart saved rail in Auckland, no doubt about it. The old Auckland station languished for decades in it’s location in an industrial area on the far edge of the CBD, transfering to a bus to get the last couple of km into the Queen St valley was just to time consuming to suit more than a handful of people.

  14. Yes, I am serious. Brittomart may have revived rail but only because of the publicity it garnered. Had there been general improvement of the entire system, accompanied by a publicity campaign the bang for the buck would have been greater, in my humble opinion. When I first arrived here in the early 80’s I was appalled by the state of the rail system, the fact that you couldn’t get a train to most main centres astounded me. I know this has little to do with Auckland per se but I believe they got the whole thing arse about face, as it were.

  15. Well we’ll have to agree to disagree, general disrepair was obviously a factor in declining patronage but I’d argue part of the reason this decline happened was the central (and presumably most important) station was just too far away from where anyone in the system wanted to go in the city…

  16. “the fact that you couldn’t get a train to most main centres astounded me”

    Yes, much like the fact that you couldn’t take an Auckland suburban train to the centre of Auckland.

    I’ll qualify my above statement, there were two things that saved Auckland rail. Before Britomart the introduction of the ex-perth DMUs brough the system back from the brink of oblivion with some (relatively) comfortable and reliable trains suited to urban services. But at that point they were still only carrying a little over a thousand people a day because of the station location. The fact that once Britomart was built it meant that people could catch a train to the CBD, that is what really kicked things off. That is why patronage has been growing by 3-40% per annum over the last five years. They would never have contemplated electrification if the ‘central’ station wasn’t in the CBD for example, why would you when it only carried about a thousand people each day?!

  17. “station was just too far away from where anyone in the system wanted to go in the city…”
    Hence my suggestion about the bus station.
    Ironicaly people now have to travel much further if they want to get to the Vector Arena 😉

  18. I don’t think we would have seen a rail revival without a proper CBD station. Bus transfers never worked.

    However, I think it is a debatable point about whether Britomart was the right CBD station to build. Perhaps it might have been better to have kept the Beach Road station and then tunnelled from there to the Midtown station, then to K Rd and on to Mt Eden.

    But it was hard enough getting Britomart built, let alone something five times its cost, when you only had 1000 rail passengers a day.

  19. I think it was what was feasible at the time and the only glaring obvious omission was leaving space to quad track…

  20. Remember the tunnel was built a few years before the station – actually at the same time that Quay Street was realigned to give the Port more space.

  21. Britomart was definately the best solution at the time, as we were never going to get the funding for the full CBD Loop, also with respect to Labour/Greens getting in, no chance. The problem is the labour led government never got anything done, right or wrong at least the nats get things going and make progress. Plus Key is popular and the most wanted prime minister, I want to see Phil Goff donate all his government earnings to charity!

  22. “I think it was what was feasible at the time and the only glaring obvious omission was leaving space to quad track…”

    Remember it was only designed to take two heavy rail lines, i.e. just the Southern and Eastern plus perhaps an Overlander each day. The western line and any new routes were to be light rail that would not use the throat tunnel, so the capacity as originally invisioned was appropriate.

    Also bear in mind that the tunnel was actually built by the Auckland City Council before they had any indication that any station or upgrade was going to take place, you can forgive them for not making it four tracks when it might not have been used at all!

  23. It would have been nice if there had been a bit of future-proofing to make it relatively easy to quad-track that tunnel though. I mean you know, a little bit of vision would have been good!

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