Steve Ingrouille, from the Australian group “Going Solar”, puts out a weekly newsletter on transport and urban development matters. This week’s newsletter has some interesting information on high-speed rail in Spain:There was an interesting article in the NZ Herald on the weekend about the enormous investment China is making in High-Speed Rail (unfortunately not online).

While high-speed rail is certainly unlikely to ever be viable in New Zealand, it is certainly interesting to see what’s happening internationally. It will be exciting if the USA rolls out a true high-speed rail network over the next decade or so. It seems like a fairly naturally suitable country for that kind of network.

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  1. I can see us having lines:

    Auckland –> Hamilton –> Tauranga
    Auckland –> Hamilton –> Rotorua

    As 65% of the countries population will be living in that triangle in 2040, anywhere else is unlikely…

  2. I have always thought that an Auckland-Rotorua passenger service should be viable, considering the huge flows of tourists between the two cities. Taking the train would be much nicer than a four hour bus trip for tourists.

  3. Took the high speed train between Tianjin and Beijing for work a few months back.

    Top speed was 320k. Did the 120km journey in 30mins. Awesome.

    I think if we could do it all again we should have some strategically placed airports with high speed links to the major centres. Imagine an airport somewhere in the middle of Auckland/Hamilton to the north, Rotorua/Tauranga to the east, New Plymouth to the west and Taupo to the south, with a high speed train linking all of them to the airport.

    China is currently building a high speed link between Beijing and Shanghai. One of those levitation ones (excuse the terminology – not an expert by any stretch)

  4. I agree with having a true high speed line between Auckland – Hamilton – BOP route. Any idea how much it would cost for any of those legs?

    Once those prove successful It could look then at being expanding the system to other places. It would become really viable to live in Hamilton and work in Auckland as the journey time would be similar to that of someone currently living on the edge of town (Swanson/Papakura etc). This might sort of the housing issue in Auckland and remove the pressure to get rid of the MUL.

  5. What’s holding us back is our small manufacturing/rail base (which makes starting up such a venue much more expensive, at least initially), and our government’s refusal to even consider such things. NOT our geography or our GDP size.

    We are perfectly happy to build huge motorway ystems, seeing the size of our country, and then brag about it.

  6. High Speed One cost the UK over 5billion quid for 108km. That’s about $15billion. There was one major river bridge (across the Medway), and a tunnel under the Thames. There are rolling hills in Kent but nothing even slightly as hilly as we have in NZ. The route mainly follows the M20 motorway. Remodeling St Pancras station set them back another 800million quid… around $2.5billion.

    I just don’t know how this sort of development is even slightly sustainable, even with the sort of traffic patterns you see between two cities of 10million people each in countries with a combined population of 120million. Ignoring maintenance and just focusing on the capital costs of that $15billion, you’d want a return of about $1.5billion a year. With about 9million Eurostar passengers a year, the capital cost on JUST High Speed One work out to $165 each. Add to that the costs of the Chunnel and from the Chunnel to Paris, and it is clear that the rail route isn’t even slightly competitive against air travel unless there are massive taxpayer subsidies involved.

    (I doubt if the number of domestic passengers traveling between Ashford, Maidstone, and London change the equation much… you don’t spend $15billion to shave a few minutes of a trip between two minor country towns and the capital.)

    I’m scratching my head wondering why you’d want to use tax money to switch people from air to rail, rather than using it to build hospitals, educate people, and put police on the beat. There are valid uses for rail, such as moving commuters around a city. But high speed intercity rail doesn’t seem to be financially sustainable in the UK, at least.

  7. MattL… Once those prove successful It could look then at being expanding the system to other places.

    Quick back of the envelope calculations… Auckland-Hamilton-Tauranga is 132km. Based on High Speed One costs, thats about $35billion. Add another $10billion to account for NZ size hills. You’d want to return $4.5billion a year to cover capital costs. Assuming 1 million trips a year (does this sound about right?), each trip would need to cost $4,500 just to cover the capital cost of the high speed line. The cost to cover the capital cost of trains, maintaining the line, and operating the trains would be extra.

    If you were waiting for the first stage to be successful before expanding the system to other places, then you’ll be waiting a long time.

  8. Hi Obi

    Eurostar loses about £100m per year on its operations in England, because it had to pay “commercial” charges for its use of High-Speed One. The charges are about ten times what Eurostar pays for its use of the TGV network.

    There’s no way they could hike fares to cover this, because they would lose traffic back to the airlines. Rail is a great mode, I work in the industry here, but there are days I wish it didn’t have to be as expensive as it is.

  9. Hi Ross… What part of the industry do you work in?

    I suspect that high speed rail costs so much because of the tolerances required to avoid spectacular failures. The consequences of a derailment at 300km/hr is rather more serious than at 100km/hr, and so the track has to be of a standard to minimise the chances of that happening. Add to that the requirement to make all the track curves bigger and the slopes gentler, and then figure that the trains are bigger and more complex than aircraft and require large complex engines to propel them at high speed.
    I’m interested in the German approach to high speed rail and its impact on the environment. The Germans aren’t happy to have trains shooting through towns at 300km/hr, and so they’ve placed sections in tunnel to a greater extent than in the UK, France, or Spain. That must cost even more than the prices we’ve been discussing here, and also necessitates having pressurised trains.

  10. Hi Obi, I’m in the devolved government in Scotland (transport administration), where we are putting a lot into our own rail network – and a trams project in Einburgh.

  11. Obi – Between Auckland and Hamilton the only hills of any real note are the Bombays. The biggest issue I would see is the land purchases. In Auckland in particular there isn’t really huge tracks of land nearby existing corridors just lying around unused. This would mean a lot of land purchases which would be costly. Of course this is no different to any other part of the world.

  12. Matt L… The biggest issue that I would see is that very few people want to travel between Auckland and Hamilton on a regular basis. A Hamilton to Auckland (non-high-speed) rail service was discussed here before and, IIRC, the proposal was for a single service each day. And that wasn’t viable. So why would you spend (at HS1 rates) $15billion to develop a high speed track between the two cities, not including the stations, depots, and trains themselves? That’s an absolutely enormous amount of money to spend so that 100 people or so can commute between the two cities each day. It’d be an order of magnitude cheaper for the taxpayer to ferry each of them in a personal helicopter.

    (Trips further afield that Auckland to Hamilton aren’t going to use a high speed service… you’re not going to drive between Wellington and Hamilton, then abandon your car and travel the last 100km on a train. Even transferring from a long distance coach is going to involve wait time and baggage transfer hassle that will eat up any time saving, even if you could accurately timetable a coach to train transfer.)

  13. At Admin yeah, I think with a billion dollars of double tracking, electrification and alignment easing we could get some tilt trains hitting 180 km/hr…

    Giving tourist numbers and the length of double tracking and electrification completed I’d say Auckland –> Hamilton –> Rotorua would be a good start with say four services each way a day…

  14. All you people are talking of “But how much will high speed rail return in profit?” are, as usual, using two different yardsticks.

    How much money did New Zealand’s State Highway system make last year?

    I think we should close the whole system, methinks. Billions and billions of subsidies and nothing to show for it. Ah, at least the Saudi Arabians get money from us to finance Wahhabite missionaries that expound the virtues of Sharia law to the world.

  15. Obi – One of the reasons the service will never be popular at the moment with our current system is it just takes to much time. Who wants to spend 3-4 hours a day commuting. Putting Hamilton less than 1 hour from Auckland would actually get people using it. Effectively it makes Hamilton another suburb of Auckland (although I can’t see many people from Hamilton liking that).

    As an interim step Jeremy’s idea is good. Also have to look at the freight advantages of improving the existing line as that would also benefit.

  16. Matt L…

    Let’s run your scenario through a back-of-the-envelope feasibility checker. High speed line between Auckland and Hamilton costs $15billion, plus a few billion extra for trains, stations, and depots. At 10% rate of return to cover capital (but not operational costs), you need to return $2billion a year. That’s $8million each working day. If people would be willing to pay around $15 a day to cover the capital costs (leading to a ticket price of around $25 a day, all up), then you need 530,000 people commuting each day.

    Assuming a rail system could handle that sort of load, then you’re talking about turning Hamilton in to a city the size of Auckland and having every working man and woman commute to Auckland CBD (or other areas within walking distance of an intermediate station) to work. But I doubt that anywhere near half a million people commute in to London to work, even using the twenty or so rail lines coming in to the city. So your single line Auckland to Hamilton service is going to be standing room only.

    Or we could do as Ingolfson proposes and ignore financial sustainability. Just borrow $20billion and build the thing because it is cool or would make us a more prestigious country or something. Then borrow more each year to maintain and operate the system. However if cool is our objective, then spending the same money on a NZ space program might be more fun.

  17. If we put a efficient freightline between Tauranga and Auckland (and Marsden Pt for that matter), we could open up the Auckland Port for other uses. it would also save a lot on road maintainence, not to mention the huge amount of money that will need to be spent on bridge strengthenening for the B-Double trucks Joyce wants to put on our roads.

  18. “Or we could do as Ingolfson proposes and ignore financial sustainability.”

    No, I am not proposing six-track high-speed rail to Whangarei or Napier (though it WOULD be damn cool!).

    I am saying that you (and even more so, the people in the National Party, NZTA and the MoT) need to use ONE process to measure BCR for ALL transport projects. And not propose building holiday highway motorways for 15,000 vehicles a day (less than Sandringham Road) and then turn away from even considering rail projects “because they are hugely expensive” – Maurice Williamson’s phrase, as I understand.

    In reality, I would guess that even a fair and objective BCR calculation comparing a full motorway and a real high-speed rail link to Hamilton might see the rail link lose out. I am not objecting to you when you cite facts, obi, I am objecting to using two frames of reference (“rail needs to be profitable to be viable”/ “motorways are automatically profitable, despite not making any money”).

  19. Obi, the numbers you are using are ridiculous. First, the current exchange rate GBP/NZD is about 2.2, so 5 billion pounds is NZ$11 billion. Second, the cost of that English rail was by far the highest cost per km of any rail link built. To quote from a UK govt report (pdf):

    The total cost of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link is estimated at £5.2 billion (€7.4
    billion), approximately £50 million per kilometre. The figure below shows that this is
    much more expensive than any other high speed line that has been constructed
    anywhere in the world: CTRL is expected to cost 7.6 times as much, per kilometre, as
    the high speed line between Madrid and Lérida which opened at almost exactly the
    same time as the first phase of CTRL.

    I’m not saying that such a project in NZ would be economically feasible, but let’s get the numbers a little bit right… Far more sensible to my mind would be reasonable-speed rail. Even an average speed of 120-130kmh would make within island trips in NZ quick enough to compete with air and much better than car.

  20. Sorry, Obi, I forgot to use the correct track length, so NZ$15 billion is nearer the cost of AKL-HAM at HS1 rates. I maintain that these are not the ones to be using, though. And why factor in extremely fancy station costs? Surely a tin shed would do the trick…

  21. A trip from Auckland to Tauranga using a Silver Fern on the current tracks would take 3.5 hours (at an average speed of a mere 65km/h over the 231km). This is already competitive with flying due to the sunk time involved with passing through airports. It isn’t quite competitive with driving, but it wouldn’t be that hard to do so.

    Getting the average speed up to 100km/h would be perfectly feasible with a moderate level of investment in passing loops, track improvements, singalling and 160km/h vehicles. This would make the trip only 2 hours 15 minutes, faster than driving or flying.

  22. This is what Victoria got for $750 million dollars in its Regional Fast Rail project, which upgraded five regional lines to 160km/h standard:

    * upgrade of 500 km of track
    * installation of 400 new and upgraded railway signals, along with the Train Protection & Warning System
    * installation of more than 460,000 concrete sleepers
    * upgrade of 170 level crossings
    * introduction of new rail safety systems
    * the development of new train timetables with improved services
    * new fibre optic signalling that provides broadband opportunities in regional areas

    Plus the delivery and maintenance of 38 new 200km/h capable DMUs cost a further $535 million.

    So based on these numbers the Auckland > Hamilton > Tauranga corridor (230km) plus the branch to Rotorua (50km) might cost around $420 million to bring up to the same standard.

    Then we would need a fleet of sixteen trains at a cost of $225 million to give three morning and three evening trains each way each day between Auckland and Hamilton, Tauranga and Rotorua. This would be36 trips in total, 18 ex Auckland and 18 ex the other centres. A total of approximately 8,200 seats per day using Bombardier three car DMUs… about the same people capacity as an entirely new four lane motorway from Auckland to the BoP via Hamilton (not to mention the benefits to rail freight on the corridor).

    So the “Upper North Island Fast Rail Project” might cost around $650 million.

  23. Very interesting Nick. The only problem is what to do between Britomart and Papakura. Without an express line it’ll take an hour to simply cover that bit if you get stuck behind an all-stopping urban train.

  24. Wouldn’t you run it to the airport?. Then you could connect to the urban system via Onehunga.Might have a bit of a problem from there though. Not sure Epsom residents would allow an above ground system if you wanted to short cut into town.

  25. The times above are based on the old Kaimai express, which itself would have had the same issues in the Auckland region… as does the Overlander today.

    I guess really good speeds would require the proposed third track along the eastern line (to be shared with freights), athough with some proper timetable planning you could work out most of the issues (i.e. send an intercity off just before the all-stops, and have a passing loop a bit further south to get ahead of the one you catch up to).

    The main problem would platform capacity at Britomart itself: to ever get anything like this we need a CBD tunnel separate from the existing terminal, in order to leave enough room to run regional and intercity services.

  26. It sound’s like Victoria got a real bargain there, Nick. If the same could be done here for that sort of cost, why the hell aren’t we doing it?

    Since flying time Auckland to Tauranga is only 35 mins, I doubt the silver fern would be quicker (downtown Auckland to boarding a plane is just over an hour and, though I don’t know the Tauranga airport, I’m guessing you could be midtown Tauranga within 30 mins of landing). Call it 2:15 by plane. About the same as your 100kmh average train.

  27. David… Thanks for that. It’ll teach me to rely on exchange rates that were current when I lived in a country.

    The link you provided was interesting. Both Spain and the UK seemed to be away from the average in terms of costs. The Spanish may have been cheaper because of lower safety and environmental standards, and because there seems to be no right to object to a project once the government has decided to proceed. This leads to much lower consent and project management costs. I don’t think that any of these factors apply to NZ. Neither do the benefits in terms of economies of scale, unless you’re proposing a Wellington to Auckland high speed line.

    On the other hand, many high speed lines shown in figure 4.2 were 50-80% of the UK cost per kilometer. Even if we went for an optimistic 50% and reduced the postulated cost of Auckland to Hamilton to $5billion, that’d require 100-150,000 people a day to commute between the two cities to make the high speed service sustainable.

  28. David, you are supposed to check in one hour early for a domestic flight, which isn’t always necessary but Jetstar close off check in 30 minutes out. To go from downtown Auckland to takeoff in one hour is very generous, I reckon most Aucklanders would leave an hour just to get across town. Certainly the flight time is almost inconsequential in the equation, it is getting to and from the airports and checking in that takes the time.

    Two hours fifteen to get from central Auckland to the airport, check in, fly, exit Tauranga airport and get to central Tauranga is pretty damned quick, I’d call it at least three hours unless you were a well practiced buisiness traveller without any luggage.

    In regards to Victoria getting a bargain, they actually spent twice the original budget and caused quite a political mess (I have used the final costs above, not the original ones).

    As for why the hell aren’t we doing it… a damned good question, one we seem to be asking ourselves a lot in this part of the world! I’m sure Steven Joyce could give you dozens of very bad answers, but no good one.

    1. Nick, I hope you arent wasting your time checking in an hour early. Air NZ says they require half an hour but are a little flexible (jetstar’s hard cutoff is a common money-making scheme for budget airlines…and they don’t fly to tauranga). If you check-in online, you can just turn up at the gate 20 mins beforehand. And most Aucklanders drive to the airport – barring very heavy traffic, 35-40 mins is ample. The airbus advertises 30 min from Karangahape road offpeak, 40 mins peak.

      Flying is annoying and I don’t want to defend it but it is currently the fastest way to get around New Zealand. If it weren’t, we wouldnt see Air NZ offering half a dozen daily return flights on the Auckland – Tauranga route.

  29. That is interesting Nick and an excellent reason to quad the southern (south of Puhunui) and trip the eastern…

  30. Christchurch – Dunedin could be another contender for a regional fast rail project. Flight time is about 45mins, but Dunedin airport is half an hour south of the CBD, and Chch probably 20 mins. Adding check in and waiting times gives a journey time of say 2hrs 15 CBD – CBD. The southerner took about 5 1/2 hours, with the bus taking 6, and driving 4 1/2. Much of the rail route is fairly straight apart from the part between Palmerston and dunedin which is very slow.
    A few curve easements, track improvements and crossing upgrades to allow for 160kmh running could push the journey time down to 3 hours and the train could start seriously competing with the plane at this point. Another advantage of rail is it would serve the large towns on route, and from these would have a captive audience where rail is not competing with air travel. This is not something that is an urgent priority, but a staged series of minor upgrades over 10 – 15 years could get us there fairly cheaply.

  31. Obi obi obi… “The Spanish may have been cheaper because of lower safety and environmental standards, and because there seems to be no right to object to a project once the government has decided to proceed. This leads to much lower consent and project management costs.”

    Where do you get off casting aspersions at the Spanish system of government like that? Lower Safety and Environmental standards, you racist buffoon!!!

    As for “proposing a Wellington to Auckland high speed line”, hell yes. Madrid-Sevilla, the AVE, roughly same distance, ~NZD150, 3hours, plenty of regional stops, and a beautiful experience. Downtown AKL-WLG, 3hours, $150, ski express during winter, tourists during summer, imagine the possibilities with regards to the RWC. We’d certainly see some more sensible hotel pricing if visitors could stay in Tauranga/Vegas/Hamilton and still zip up to AKL for the games.

    The tripe about 100 commuters in Hamilton->Auckland. If there was a train that got you from Downtown Hamilton to Downtown Auckland in <1 hour (160kph train could do that with stops) then there would be huge amounts of commuters within the month. Imagine the possibilities for business in Hamilton having access to Aucklands labour market and vice-versa.

    The end of your nose is the place for your glasses, not your focus.

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