One the biggest hassles about the old Newmarket Station (the old old one, not the Newmarket West or South stations) was the “shunt” movement that has to be used to get trains from Britomart out to the west. In 2006 I used the train service between Britomart and Avondale for a couple of weeks after writing off my car, so experienced the “Newmarket shunt” first hand. Coming from Britomart, we would go straight into Newmarket station, then wait a couple of minutes for the driver to change ends, then reverse back the same way we came, wait another couple of minutes for the driver to change ends again, before heading on our way out west.

The mess of the Newmarket junction became a notorious symbol of the pathetic state that our railway network was in at the time. Over the last couple of years that situation has been completely avoided, as Western Line trains avoided the junction by using the Newmarket West station. Of course that had many disadvantages of pretty much making it impossible to transfer between the west and south lines, but it certainly sped the process up for people using the Western Line quite considerably. Obviously we all knew that situation wouldn’t last, and in many ways that was a good thing (so that we could have west to south transfers and a ‘proper’ station at Newmarket), and with the opening of the very flash Newmarket Station earlier this week we have seen the return of the ‘end-change’ at Newmarket for Western Line trains.

I haven’t caught a Western Line train through Newmarket yet, so I am talking a bit second-hand here, but my understanding is that while we no longer have to suffer through the “three point turn” process that I experienced in 2006, obviously trains going out west via Newmarket will have to change direction at that station. Which means that the driver will have to pack up their gear, make sure everything’s switched off that needs to be, walk the length of the train, get into the other end, switch on everything that needs to be switched on and so forth before the train can proceed. Compared to a normal stop time at a station of around 30 seconds, it would appear as though this is causing trains to wait at Newmarket for anywhere between 2 and 5 minutes. An article in the NZ Herald today highlights this problem:

Extra train drivers may have to be used to reduce turnaround times at Newmarket’s new $35 million station, the Auckland Regional Transport Authority has acknowledged.

The authority disclosed last night that it was considering asking its rail operator, Veolia, to post drivers at each end of western line trains at peak times to reduce delays which have become apparent since the station was added to its network on Monday.
Drivers now have to walk or even run from the front to the rear of their trains at Newmarket, before reversing direction through the adjacent junction of the western and southern lines.

That meant four trains observed by the Herald yesterday spent anything from one minute and 45 seconds to three and a half minutes at Newmarket, depending on how many carriages they were pulling.

The longest wait at the station was for passengers on a locomotive-hauled SA train, as they watched the driver walk 96 metres from one end to the other before pulling out of the station.

The train took five minutes, 10 seconds to get through Newmarket junction, which is just to the north.

Transport authority communications manager Sharon Hunter said her organisation had recorded times of between 60 and 94 seconds for drivers to change ends for western line trains but was considering measures to cut the delays.

“The option of employing relay drivers is already being considered for introduction when 10-minute peak frequencies are introduced across all lines,” she said.

“If requirement dictates, then this introduction date will be reviewed.”

There are a couple of interesting matters here. The first is that ARTA should not be in any way surprised about the problems and delays associated with the drivers changing ends. After all, we had years of this very same problem before the old Newmarket station was closed for refurbishment. Furthermore, last Thursday when I attended the opening of the Newmarket Station I raised that very issue with both ARTA and Veolia representatives. When discussing the delays that would be caused by drivers changing ends of their trains, I was informed that this would not be a problem at all as the drivers would not need to change ends. Instead, there would be a ‘pilot’ used, who I assume is someone at the other end of the train who gives directions to the ‘blind’ driver while they drive the train. I’m kind of curious what happened to this plan, or indeed whether it was really a plan to start off with.

Having lengthy delays at Newmarket station isn’t acceptable at all, and hopefully whatever plan ARTA and Veolia put together to sort it out happens quickly. A lot of money has been spent on the upgrade of Newmarket station and the trackwork surrounding it, and we have a really fantastic piece of rail infrastructure there now. It would be a shame for minor details (that tend to make a huge difference when it comes to train operations) to undermine the marvellous addition to our rail network that is the new station.

I do not agree with others who say that we should have kept the Newmarket West station, as I do think it’s important for there to be a single Newmarket station – both as a feature point for the area and as a way of making it easier for people to transfer between the lines (once the timetables are better aligned of course). However, we need to ensure that the delays that will inevitably be caused by the slight detour Western Line trains have to make, is minimised to the greatest extent possible. And that does not involve forcing drivers to wander nearly 100m to change ends of the train they’re driving.

Oh, and I think KiwiRail were very wrong indeed when they claimed the “missing link” from the Newmarket Junction was not necessary – see for yourself the impacts of that poor decision.

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  1. I really like the look of the station but haven’t been inside yet, just passed through. If this is an indication of what New Lynn will look like (and grafton to a lesser extent) then we are starting to get some really nicely designed infrastructure being built, even the standard suburban station upgrades that have been done look quite nice and will only help to grow passenger numbers as we get more of them done (btw New Lynn is starting to get some of its finishing touches on it which look good and the rubber pads for tracks to sit on are starting to go down).

    I think most of the issues at Newmarket itself could be fixed by amending the timetables so we don’t have so many services arriving at the same time as most of my trains have been around the 2 min mark for end changes. I think this may also be a case of the drivers and train staff trying to get it done faster as they are seeing the delays being caused by it i.e. this morning the TM went and unlocked the cab while the driver was changing ends so it was one less thing he had to do when he got there.

    In saying all of this I have said a few times now that in a way I hope it stays the same with slight delays as it could be one of the single biggest boosts for building the CBD tunnel when it comes to the BCR stage, I just hope that the study team are also looking at this as part of their research.

  2. I’m in full agreement with your post. Bit disappointing that they haven’t implemented the shuttle/pilot driver idea, since it would have led to more people accepting the closure of Newmarket West. Not implementing that has pretty much fuelled the “Keep Newmarket West” campaign.

    However I’m very suspicious of the claim that it takes 2-5mins. The old station had a “2-point turn” and I never saw it take anymore than 2-3mins at most — except when there was a conflicting movement. So I’m guessing the 5mins turn was mostly due to a conflicting movement forcing the train to be held rather than the end change itself. As you say the new station only requires one end change — rather than the two required in the old system.

  3. James 2 mins about the quickest that it takes as the driver has to shut down and walk the platform, Remembering of course that the trains are generally longer now than they were a few years ago.

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