By early next year Auckland’s train system should be running trains at 10 minute frequencies on the three main lines, plus the two trains per hour from Onehunga. That mean that basically we will have four lines feeding into Britomart – three with six trains per hour (tph) and one with two trains per hour (tph). This means frequencies along the various section of line within the isthmus area will be like this:I’ve yet to have this completely confirmed, but my understanding is that Britomart station cannot handle too many more than 20 trains per hour into and, because it’s a dead-end, out of the station.

Remember that this is before rail electrification even happens. Electrification will allow the trains to travel faster, quieter and much more efficiently but it won’t mean that any more trains than this can be operated on the system. We’ll also be able to make the trains longer over time, so the passenger capacity of the system certainly can be increased, but we won’t be able to increase the train capacity of the system until we get around to building the CBD rail tunnel. This means it will be very difficult to run trains to Hamilton, because there won’t be room at Britomart. This means we won’t be able to run trains at higher frequencies than one every 10 minutes, unless we start running trains directly between the western and southern lines (and therefore bypassing Britomart, the most popular station). This means it will be difficult to increase the number of trains from Onehunga to more than one every 30 minutes.

This is why getting on with planning, funding and building the CBD rail tunnel is a priority. We simply can’t do much to further improve the rail system until we complete that project. Throw in that tunnel and things change dramatically, in terms of the maximum capacity of the system (assuming that you probably wouldn’t run your trains at frequencies higher than one every 5 minutes): To explain a bit of potential for confusion, the area between Penrose and Newmarket is shown as 24 trains per hour in the direction towards the city: that would one train every two and a half minutes. Within the CBD rail tunnel I show 48 trains per hour because 24 could enter the CBD from the southern entrance (12 from the west and 12 from Onehunga/Airport) and 24 from the northern entrance (12 from the eastern line and 12 from the southern line via Newmarket and Parnell).

As you can see, the tunnel makes a pretty big difference.

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45 comments

  1. Supposedly we are meant to be getting 6 car trains out west on some runs soon, personally I would like to see the 10 min frequencies come first then we can add carriages as demand dictates. Also when we build the CBD tunnel I hope we also grade separate the junction outside Britomart, it shouldn’t be that hard to do but should provide quite a good benefit if the other end is also grade separated (which it also hopefully will be)

    Any word on when we will start seeing the September timetable

  2. 48 tph wouldn’t be quite possible in the CBD tunnel, not unless Quay Park junction was grade separated. As you note Britomart is currently limited to about 20 in and 20 out an hour. That limit will still be there once the CBD tunnel is attached to the end of Britomart, and hence 20 trains an hour each way will still be the limit overall!

    In regards to Waikato/BoP trains, the Overlander, diesel expresses to Pukekohe or whatever, I guess they are just going to have to revive The Strand because they will be squeezed out of Britomart and there isn’t anywhere much else to put a terminal. Either that or just can them, which would be a huge step backwards.

    However (*puts needle on broken record*), if they built the CBD tunnel to bypass Britomart and connect via a set of grade separated links to Quay Park, then getting 48 trains an hour through the CBD tunnel would be perfectly feasible, and those diesel and terminating trains would still have a fantastic uncrowded terminus at the foot of the CBD.

    Wouldn’t it be sad to see Australia and the USA progress with their intercity rail revolutions while the North Island gets stuffed, all because of a lack of foresight over station locations? It’s quite bizzare, Auckland is on track to disestablishing it’s second main railway terminus in little over a decade!

    BTW, maybe you should relable the map as 12tph and 24 tph *per direction* respectively. It’s kinda misleading to show the capacity of the lines and one way but that of the tunnel as both ways.

    1. Nick yes some sort of flying junction would be needed at Quay Park. I think Geoff came up with a plausible design. That would be a critical part of the CBD tunnel project.
      Regarding your Quay Street tunnel idea, as I have said before I think it has merit, but if we grade separated Quay Park you would achieve many of the same benefits.

    2. I’m still a little confused about how grade seperation would allow an increase in train movements. Can someone please explain in a bit more detail the reasoning behind this?

      1. James, at present trains have to stop in the entrance tunnel if another train is coming out. If I’ve understood correctly, grade separation will remove this requirement by ensuring that they never have to cross the same space of track.

          1. The basic problem is that a train coming out of Britomart and heading to Newmarket must cross across the track used by a trains going from the Eastern line into Britomart. So as Matt points out one train has to stop and wait at the signal while the other is moving through.

            A good analogy is currently it is like an intersection between two arterial roads, traffic in one direction has to stop at the lights while traffic in the other direction crosses the intersection. Grade separation makes in like a motorway interchange, so no ‘traffic’ has to stop.

          2. Thanks Nick that makes things clear as mud. I always did wonder why we had to stop in the middle of the junction before entering the tunnel.

    3. The big problem with your plan to bypass Britomart as there just isn’t the volume of intercity or even diesel regional trains to make a good use of it, at least not for a very very long time. Even hooking the CBD tunnel up to britomart we will probably even see the 3 middle platforms empty most of the time. With your plan Britomart would end up a massive while elephant sitting unused 99% of the time and you can guarantee that those already campaigning against us spending more money on PT will only get louder using the argument that money is being wasted by abandoning a perfectly good station blah blah blah. As Jarbs said, by grade separating the junction we will get most of the benefits of your idea for a fraction of the cost.

      1. Yes it is looking to the future, but bear in mind it is only a relatively small and cheap extension of the tunnel (around 1/5 extra length) and that the tunnel will be in use for 70 or 80 years, not just the next ten years from now. It makes sense to pay out 15-20% more to get 100% more capacity when we are talking about infrastructure that our great-grandchildren will be using to get to work.

        Hooking the CBD tunnel up to Britomart will definitely see the middle three platforms empty *all* of the time, as they plan to run only electric ‘tunnel’ trains through Britomart after that point. It is true there isn’t currently much volume for intercity or regional diesel trains, but if we remove the terminus there will never be any!

        Yes building a flyover at Quay Park will allow for the CBD tunnel to run at capacity, but that will still be only 2/3 of the rail system capacity and we will still be without a terminus. We could build another terminus but it wouldn’t be in the CBD.

        Consider this for a peak hour schedule in ten or fifteen years time:
        1 train per hour to/from Wellington (the Overlander)
        1 train to/from Waikato (Waikato connection)
        1 train to/from Tauranga (via Waikato)
        1 train to/from Rotorua (Via Waikato)
        4 express regional diesels to/from Pukukohe/Drury (15 min peak headway)
        2 express regional diesels to/from Huapai/Hellensville (30 min headway)

        Thats over half of Britomart’s capacity used right there. Is is so outlandish that we might have that sort of schedule in a decade or two? You might say it’s wishful but remember 15 years ago the were planning on shutting down the rail system entirely and see where we are now. And of course Britomart will still be available to terminate electrics. What happens if we want to go to better than ten min headways on the four main lines, that would use all the capacity in the CBD tunnel. So lines to Howick or on the Avondale-Southdown corridor would off the cards until a second CBD tunnel was built. With a city terminus those lines could be built.

        And I’d be careful using the term white elephant or saying it would be empty 99% of the time, thats exactly what they were saying about Britomart less than ten years ago. Now it is chockers. Auckland seems to be only planning to meet current growth trends about ten years in advance, and is not planning for regional or intercity trains at all. It’ll take them ten years to build the thing. This doesn’t account for the fact that patronage growth will skyrocket with EMUs and again with a CBD tunnel, it also doesn’t count on us eventually picking up on the intercity rail revolution that is happening right now in more progressive countries (which means Auckland will do the same two decades later).

        Now I don’t agree with building all the capacity we will every need right now and a cost of several billions more, thats foolish. But there is an opportunity to spend only a few hundred million extra to twice as much capacity and avoid getting rid of the terminal. It seems silly to waste that opportunity, yet spend billions to not even match the current system capacity and preclude ever having a functional rail terminus in the CBD.

        1. I never thought Britomart would be a white elephant 10-15 years ago when it was proposed, I knew it would be a success and wish they started building it sooner. Of the services you list I think that we won’t have nearly that many.

          I think that Pukekohe will be electrified within 5 years of the rest of the electrification being completed, i.e. by 2018 and before the CBD tunnel is finished. That would integrate those trains into the tunnel services. North of Swanson I think could be shut down for passengers, Waitakere has very low patronage and with semi decent bus lanes along SH16 when that is upgraded then then it will be far quicker to provide a decent service to town using nice NEX style buses. Hopefully the patronage from Huapai will be big enough to keep running the train and have the line electrified and double tracked in places.

          That leaves the intercity trains. If you have the Overlander running hourly then you don’t really need the Waikato connection on top of that. If however the Overlander were to run say three times daily (morning, midday and night) with the Waikato connection hourly for the rest of the time then that train could carry on to Tauranga or Rotorua (could alternate each hour). That only leaves two diesel trains an hour to fit in and with grade separation I would think that should be possible.

          What would probably be a better idea than spending the extra money you propose is to design the tunnel in a way that should we need to in the future, we could build your suggested extension but at least initially have it plug into Britomart.

          1. Yes, closing routes north of Swanson and cutting out any possible trains saying we don’t need them or won’t have nearly that many is one way to manage the capacity issue, but I’d prefer a solution that invovles expanding the rail system rather than making it smaller.

            The point was that when they were designing Britomart they only anticipated about 12 trains an hour at maximum. They didn’t think we’d have nearly that many services either! Now we’re about to make the same mistake all over again, but at five times the cost. People lambast the idea that anyone would expect just one inboud track to access the CBD would be enough, yet they turn around as suggest that we’ll never need more than two inbound tracks! $1.5 billion dollars to turn a one track bottleneck into a two track bottleneck, sounds rediculous to me when three inbound tracks (the same as the outer system) would be so easy to provide.

            By the way I only anticipate one Overlander a day (possibly reintroducing the night run though), but its on the list because it needs to leave during peak hour (or just before) so it needs a slot. I’d say one an hour from/to Hamilton, Tauranga and Rotorua would be feasible at peak time (making it actually three an hour through Hams at peak).That is part of the problem, we need a station that can handle everything we want to run at peak times. Most regional and intercity commuter trains would be timed to arrive at peak times, which is precisely when things are going to be the busiest.

            It just seems crazy to me that we are planning to build a new tunnel with a bunch of new metro stations, but then bunging it into a terminal station designed for something completely different. Why not just build a fourth metro station to match the design of the others, and leave the terminal to be a terminal. Who cares if it is initially called a while elephant, it would be no worse an elephant that having a five platform, diesel capable terminal station that is only used for a two track metro style station for electric trains… and no where to terminate diesel trains!

          2. I would also like to see the system expand however I’m just stating the realities as it is at the moment. We need to put what little money we have for PT into best mode for the route and for the foreseeable future Huapai would be better served by buses, especially when the SH16 extension is finished in a year or two.

            As I said though, design the tunnel so that at in the future when our intercity services pick up we build your addition if it is needed. Even if we had the the CBD tunnel finished tomorrow it may still be 10-15 years away before we need the extra capacity of it so it is probably a better use of our money to build it then.

          3. I really doubt ‘future proofing’ the cbd tunnel is possible for two reasons. Firstly the curve and grade of the section from the bottom of Albert st to britomart is very tight. To try and go in later and tap in a tunnel of a different alignment would likely require impossible curves or grades, especially if you consider that the link to britomart platform 1 and 5 would be two separate single tubes while a bypass tunnel would need to be twin tracked.
            Secondly there is a skyscraper planned for that critical section of the route. Once the get the corridor for the tunnel that’s it, the rest will be occupied with the foundations.
            Basically there are a heap of constraints on getting one viable alignment throught there, to try and put through two alignments at the same time sounds impossible.

          4. The current station is diesel capable and has 5 platforms, there is little point in going to the extra expense of another diesel capable station.

          5. Yeah, turn custom designed five track diesel capable underground terminus (only one like it in the world) into a two track electric only through station, then build a new little two track diesel capable station next to it in a tunnel? That’s what I believe is known as ass-hat backwards! 🙂

            I guess I should just accept that out new purpose built terminal is going to be downgraded to a metro stop (man, the platforms aren’t right and the escalators are all wrong n stuff…), and focus on concepts for a new terminus at The Strand (like where it was before we moved it again). Wow, so this could be twice Auckland has shifted it’s rail terminal to Queen St and twice it has foolishly shifted it out of town again!

  3. I don’t think Onehunga will ever need to go beyond 2tph, or maybe 4tph. Certainly won’t need 6tph before going to the airport.

    1. I agree Geoff. Some eastern line trains that go around the loop could become southern line trains rather than Onehunga Line trains. What jumps out to me is how well served the Newmarket to Penrose corridor will be – we should really do something about improving station along there and allow massive intensification.

      1. Greenlane station is horribly inaccessible. Pedestrians coming from Clonbern Rd have to add around 500 metres to their trip if they want to cross at the traffic lights. Not everyone’s comfortable dodging between cars, especially when they’re feeding to/from a motorway interchange. Not sure what the best solution is, but that particular location is pretty awkward due to its proximity to the interchange and lack of overbridges on Greenlane Road.

      2. One option is they could terminate every second one at the middle platform at Newmarket, which would be otherwise unused.

        Another thing I’ve been thinking about is maybe southern line trains don’t stop between Newmarket and Penrose, and a high frequency Onehunga line only services that section. Still has the same amount of tph, but runs them in a more useful way.

        1. So long as Onehunga trains run frequently enough to ensure that passengers at Ellerslie, Greenlane and Remuera aren’t being treated as second-class travellers compared to people at other stations on the Southern Line, that could be feasible. Keeping the residents of those suburbs – especially Epsom/Remuera – happy is essential, given the significant economic and political clout they have both locally and nationally.

        2. The problem with running different stopping patterns between Newmarket and Penrose is that you’d need four tracks. If you’re running trains every 5 minutes (or potentially every 2 and a half minutes if you had five minute frequencies on the southern line and 5 minute frequencies on the airport line) then all trains would have to have the same stopping patterns to avoid total chaos.

          1. It makes more sense with 10 minute frequencies yes. You certainly wouldn’t need four tracks for that, just a little bit of attention with scheduling. With five minute frequencies you could still save up to five minutes with the express, but yeah you’d need Japanese standards of reliabilty.

  4. When you say “10 minute frequencies,” does that mean only at peak times, or all day? A rail system that effectively only serves commuters will do little to reduce automobile dependency.

    In a similar vein, I disagree with this statement:

    We simply can’t do much to further improve the rail system until we complete [the CBD tunnel].

    It seems to me that a simple and effective way to improve “cross-town” public transport in Auckland would be to provide a direct South-West rail service. Grafton Station, a short walk from K Road, is well situated to provide a makeshift service from the top of the CBD to the South and West — a service which does not currently exist — and as far as I’m aware, the junction at Newmarket is capable of such movements.

    Given that from what I’ve read the CBD tunnel won’t be complete for 7-10 years, it would be nice to see some improvements to the rail before it’s finished.

    1. I think 15 minute off-peak frequencies are reasonably likely. We probably need to fit a few freight trains through the system.
      It is probably more accurate to say that we can’t improve access to the CBD before building the CBD tunnel. West to south trains seem a reasonable possibility, in fact they could be the diesel trains that serve Pukekohe, Huapai etc.

      1. Concur; I don’t really think the offpeak demand is there, at the moment anyway, to justify more than a fifteen-minute frequency and even then the trains would have spare capacity.

        1. I think having a minimum of 15min frequencies during the day off-peak is important to change travelling habits, with 10min frequencies during the peak. However night services could be reduced to 30min frequencies, allowing plenty of room for freight movements and still providing a service you can rely on.

  5. Newmarket is the second-busiest station on the network after Britomart. What I would do is run some all-stops trains north of Otahuhu to Newmarket, but which would then head to the Strand and perhaps loop back round the Waterfront. The express trains from the south could go into Auckland via the Waterfront; your second map shows that it would have the capacity. Any peak traffic from Newmarket to Auckland would be easily handled by Western Line trains, as they would have dropped off passengers at Newmarket itself. At any rate the Newmarket-Auckland traffic would not need 14tph. In reverse, some of the Eastern Line stopping trains could go via the Strand to Newmarket instead of into Britomart.

    The other thing about the Strand is that there is now far more office etc development around there than when Britomart was opened in 2003, so there could be a market to develop there.

  6. I’m not sure the Southern Line will have 6tph since parts of its route are duplicated – perhaps 4tph with the Onehunga lines filling in the gaps.

    1. But remember once the Manukau spur opens all eastern line trains will terminate there so everyone south of Manukau will be using the Southern. In the short and long term I think that will need at least 6 tph.

  7. Question, possibly silly, what do you mean by “grade separated”?

    And Josh, is there any particular reason why there’s no South-West service? I think it was in here that I read a third of passengers through Newmarket Station are changing lines, which suggests there’d be quite significant demand for a service between, say, Otahuhu and New Lynn.

    1. Ah, I see. Man, that’s a huge amount of work. How would they handle doing grade separation of the existing tracks? Bore a new tunnel under the shunting yards?

      Am I the only one amazed at the contrary levels of forward planning at the east and west ends of Britomart? West end was designed for a bored-through tunnel under the CBD. East end has two tracks feeding a five-platform terminus and only one track can be used in the tunnel at a time. It’s like different people were responsible for each end.

      1. Speaking of myths, the west end of Britomart was not, I repeat *not*, designed for a bored through tunnel under the CBD. The station was design to allow a pair of tram tracks to bypass the main platforms and rise up to street level out front, to head on up Queen St. The idea of pushing through the west wall to a heavy rail tunnel is a latter development that involves some significant design problems to achieve.

        The initial design for Britomart was for it to be the terminus for the southern and eastern lines only (including the Manukau Branch). It was planned that the Western line and any new lines would be ‘light rail’ and would run through the Britomart precinct at street level.

        In that regard a five platform terminus fed by a twin track aproach tunnel would be perfectly adequate to service the two lines as originally intended. The problem comes now that we have changed the plan and expect it to be the terminus for three lines and two branches in the short term, and a part of a CBD underground line in the longer term. Hence my desire to simply leave Britomart for what it was designed to do (terminus of a limited number of trains) and build the new ‘metro’ tunnel station alongside it.

        For an effective flying junction at Quay Park you only need to build a single track flyover (or under) to remove the main conflict. It should be relatively straightforward to achieve although it might interfere somewhat with any plans for a terminus at the Strand.

    2. Grade separated would by like a rail equivalent of a motorway interchange, where tracks pass over/under other tracks to minimise/avoid conflicts.

      That “one third of Newmarket passengers are changing lines” is something I have never seen stats on or had officially confirmed by anyone. It may be a bit of an urban legend like the “Auckland is the most spread out city in the world” myth.

      Notwithstanding that, I think west to south services will happen.

      1. I don’t think it’s an urban legend, as I’m pretty sure the source was ARTA or similar. I just cannot recall where I read it. The context was in relation to how disconnected things are between trains arriving at Newmarket on the Southern and Western lines, with waits between 3 and 27 minutes (IIRC). My Google foo is failing me, so I can’t track it down. Even if only a quarter are changing lines, one cannot but wonder how many more people would use the train if they didn’t have to change trains and endure variable waits at Newmarket. It’s certainly a big disincentive to using public transport if you might have to spend half an hour sitting at a train station.

        Any ideas on how grade separation would be done? The logistics of doing it in the current entrance are doing my head in.

    3. Its not really that much work to grade separate, as it only really needs to be one line going over the top of another line. It would probably cost about $10mil to do so not hugely expensive if done with the CBD tunnel. As a reference when the government was looking at how they could cut back spending on electrification one of the things that was cut was grade separation of the Westfield junction for the southern and eastern lines, that was priced at about $7 mil. To do it at Quay park it would probably be a case of dropping and realigning the eastern line heading into Britomart to be closer to the line from Newmarket. Then building a bridge over that line and have the line that is to head south go over that on a wider curve than it currently takes while the eastern line outbound would take a similar track to what it takes now.

      As for the 1/3rds of people going west to south, I agree with Jarbs and think that is a bit of a myth. I used to do it on a daily basis and there wasn’t that many people also doing the same thing (although that was when we had a separate Newmarket west and south. I think having a few extra services that do this would just cause confusion and we would be better just ensuring we timed services to allow a good connection between services

  8. “We probably need to fit a few freight trains through the system.”
    There is no reason, surely, that most of this could be done outside rush hours or even just at night. It makes more sense than spending Squillions on upgrading all our major roads to take Joyces Tonka toys. What will the man suggest next, a road bridge to bring us closer to Australia?.

    1. If rail is to be a truly viable alternative to road freight, no, just running at night isn’t good enough. For one thing, if stuff is being transshipped from Ports of Auckland to Wiri to be put onto a plane it needs to be able to meet the flight schedules.

  9. It’s not just Auckland that suffers from short term thinking on rail. When I arrived here almost thirty years back I was appalled that you couldn’t get a train from Auckland to New Plymouth and things have got worse since then (some joker just said “What? you mean you can get a train to New Plymouth now?”)
    My point is that the rail system needs to be more than local, it is a National problem and needs National infrastructure status.

  10. I am looking forward to the new timetables. Also interested to see what they will do about that level crossing between Newmarket and the Parnell Tunnel. The road on the other side is a dead end, and 28 TPH = almost one every 2 minutes…I imagine the barrier arms will be down almost permanantly at peak time.

    I’m concerned about delays at Quay park too… I catch a western line train to Britomart in the early evening sometimes, and it almost always has to stop for a minute or two- then sometimes in the tunnel as well! I really hope this is a bit of an error in timetabling, rather than poor reliability, and that they sort it in next months timetables.

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