The details of the electric trains deal, which was announced today, were somewhat similar to what I had expected – which is some great news for Auckland. The NZ Herald has the key details:

Auckland will gain ownership of 57 new electric trains in return for taking responsibility for repaying a $500 million Government loan over 35 years.

But the loan repayments will in turn be subsidised by the Government through the Transport Agency, starting at 60 per cent before reducing over 10 years to a new financial assistance rate of 50 per cent.

Previously it was thought that we would be getting 38 three-car trains, plus 12 electric locomotives which would haul the SA train carriages. Under the new scheme, there will be no electric locos and the fleet will be entirely composed of electric multiple unit trains (EMUs).

The government’s media release has the full details of the deal:

The Auckland funding and ownership package comprises the following:

• Auckland Transport will take ownership of the new depot and 57 new three-car trains, along with existing non-electrified rolling stock, and will become responsible for all rolling stock maintenance.

• A $500 million Crown loan to purchase electric trains will be made to Auckland Council group.

• Funding assistance from the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) to help Auckland Council group repay the loan. This will initially be set at a 60 percent of the costs of the loan repayment (2011/12) and will move to 50 percent on an annual one percent glide path starting at 59 percent from 2012/13.

• Up to $90 million Crown grant to assist in funding the additional trains.

• Auckland Council will meet any additional purchase costs incurred above the Crown funding.

• The Crown (through KiwiRail) will retain ownership of below ground assets including track, signals and power supply. The current infrastructure upgrade and electrification programmes will be completed to bring the network to a more functional and reliable standard.

• Auckland Transport will pay a track access charge to KiwiRail, partly subsidised by NZTA, reflecting the fair and actual cost of maintaining the tracks and other assets.

The ownership decision is no real surprise, as I said earlier today this brings Auckland’s train ownership arrangement into line with Wellington, which is sensible.

I suppose the down-side is that Auckland’s ratepayers will probably end up paying for around half the cost of the trains, which compares to the message the government seemed to give out when they cancelled the regional fuel tax: that central government would pay for the trains. But the upside is that NZTA is paying for at least half the cost, plus the government is chipping in $90 million, presumably to help cover some of the extra cost of going from 38 EMUs and 12 locomotives up to 57 EMUs. Other parts of the deal, like a shift from a 60 per cent subsidy level slowly down to 50 per cent, as well as the increased track access charges are annoying extra charges the government has lumped onto the council – but have been well signalled for a long time so are no real surprise.

A couple of quotes from Mike Lee, in the Council’s media release, provide a bit more insight into how they’ve managed to acquire the additional trains:

“Increased current and forecast use of trains by the Auckland commuters and other factors, such as favourable exchange rates, means we can secure more electric trains than originally budgeted for without any further cost to ratepayers,” says Auckland Council Transport Committee Chair Mike Lee. “We are confident that we have secured the best possible deal for the people of Auckland, both at the point of purchase and also for the decades to come.”

The all-EMU fleet will cost less over their lifespan than the original 38 EMUs plus 12 electric locomotive option. As a result, there will be enough EMUs to run on all three of the region’s train lines. Previously only the Eastern and Western lines had been budgeted for.

Having a homogeneous train fleet in operation will have huge benefits, making it easy for trains to switch from being used on one line to another, allowing efficiencies. It also makes maintenance cheaper and easier, as there will be a single type of train throughout the entire network. It also means that their performance level will match up, meaning that some trains won’t catch others, creating scheduling headaches.

One thing that’s only mentioned in passing, by Len Brown, is the significance of this decision in relation to the City Rail Link project.

 “To be the world’s most liveable city, we need a world class transport system. This brings us one big step closer,” says the Mayor. “The new trains are also a necessary prerequisite for the City Rail Loop, upon which preliminary work has already begun.”

As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s my understanding that locomotive hauled trains wouldn’t be able to use the City Rail Link tunnel, because of its steepness and because of fire-rating issues. So under the plan of having all Southern Line trains being locomotive hauled, they wouldn’t have been able to use the City Rail Link at all, a pretty dumb outcome.

There is one giant question that today’s announcement creates though – and that is “what are we going to do with all these SA carriages?” Sure, some of them will be used for Pukekohe-Papakura feeder trains, as well as possible Huapai-Swanson trains. But those carriages have a lot of life left in them, so one hopes they can be put to good use – perhaps having a key role to play in some sort of inter-city rail revival?

But those questions can probably wait for another day I think. For today we can just be happy in the knowledge

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        1. The carriages aren’t particularly suited to inter-city travel because of the door location, plus they obviously need to be loco hauled. There are extremely few loco hauled urban rail services around – particularly on our gauge – for the reasons that have pushed the decision in Auckland to go with the EMU fleet.

          Our best bet might be rail services in Dunedin/Tauranga/Christchurch or perhaps if Wellington wants a few extra carriages. Or someone mentioned Tasmania once.

  1. The system might come under strain between now and 2014, and we’re going to need more than 57 in the years after that, but this is a very good step in the right direction. Glad to see we have what’s necessary here. I like the purchase/ownership structure too – using the Wellington model, which seems to be working well, was the right decision.

    As for the SA’s? It’s a pity we don’t run on standard gauge, otherwise we could sell them used. Some might be retained to provide excess capacity for special services.

    1. George you need to look further than just the number of trains. A 4 car SA set has just over 260 seats while the tender doc said each 3 car EMU was to have at least 250 seats so, this was possible because each of the cars were to be longer than what we have now so the space is used more efficiently. 57 EMU’s is enough by my estimations for pretty much all services (except for Onehunga) to be run as 6 car sets so that means on most services we are almost doubling capacity as they will have similar capacity to an 8 car SA set (our biggest sets today are 6 cars long).

      As for the SA’s, they were run on Standard gauge before coming here so it is just a case of changing over the bogies

      1. Likewise you need to look further than many seats they have. For intracity travel the question is how many people can they hold, seating and standing. Do the new units get more seats at the expense of standing room?

        I hate waiting on the platform for the next train when half the people on the current one are lounging about reading the newspaper…

        Folding seats are a good compromise here. Off peak you can fold them down and sit, but on peak (or when wheelchair users get on) they fold up to make more room.

  2. Well the SAs are ex British Rail Mark 2 Carriages, gauge converted via a bogie swap. Converting back to Standard Gauge would simply involve changing the bogies back?

  3. “plus the government is chipping in $90 million, presumably to help cover some of the extra cost of going from 38 EMUs and 12 locomotives up to 57 EMUs.”
    I read on one of the various articles about it that it ended up being fairly cost neutral to get the extra EMU’s but I don’t know if they were referring to longer term costs. Either way a full EMU fleet is going to be a much better thing and that just removes one more of the additional costs that the government claimed was needed for the CRL

  4. Great news – looking forward to who the winning bidder is.

    A few of the SAs could be used for the long-hauler train Mike Lee always talked about, but we shouldn’t forget this is all several years away yet so there’ll be plenty more use of them before we can phase in the EMUs. But definitely it would be great to see them used on an Auckland Hamilton service, in the longer term perhaps the Papakura-Pukekohe shuttle could simply become a hamilton Papakura service, I think in time it will be become clear that there’s a lot of pent up demand for people to travel between Auckland and Hamilton by train.

  5. How difficult would it be to refit some SA’s with toilets and recliner seats to run as diesel hauled regional/intercity sets? I’m thinking Waimaku/Huapai, Pukekohe/Tuakau, Hamilton and perhaps even Tauranga or rotorua runs. We would need the Strand brought into regular service to terminate them though (which although probably not as ideal as using Britomart, would create pressure to design the CRL to allow diesels to be terminated there once the tunnel is built.

    1. Nick R – great idea. A south – west diesel service, despite it being long, could offer a number of through services every day, which offers a single service without the Newmarket connection and it does not take up any space in Britomart either.

      1. If it can be done without massive subsidies (some yes, enormous ones, no, not at this stage), then I would be all for Auckland-Hamilton-Tauranga type services. Would be great.

  6. Well some good news finally. And even better news that the fleet for the most part will be Homogeneous. The only exception being the ADL class DMU’s conducting the shuttle runs from Pukekohe to Papakura.

    As for the SA’s hmmm good question on where they could go – a retro-fit could work to help increase the frequencies of Hamilton-Papakura commuting trips.

    Now then, onto the headache of Driver Recruitment and training with the fleet expanding… 😛

  7. Suggestions: Not saying they’re all good ideas, but if the rolling stock is surplus and the tracks are already there
    #1 – Suburban Dunedin service – Port Chalmers to Mosgiel
    #2 – Suburban Hawke’s Bay service – Napier Airport to Hastings
    #3 – Palmy to Ohakune & National Park during the ski season and open up connected flights from Sydney and Brisbane to Palmy.
    #4 – A Canterbury commuter from Ashburton and Timaru to Ch’ch
    #5 – Tauranga -Mt Maunganui suburban
    #6 – Suburban Whanganui service from Castlecliff to Whanganui East
    #7 – Suburban Invercargill service from Waikiwi – Bluff

  8. I would like to see an Auckland – Hamilton and Auckland – Whangarei train services. If the train line north of Auckland can be refurbished there could be tourist trains to the Bay of Islands in summer… which would be very expensive, as there is at least one bridge that would need to be replaced north of Kawakawa, I think, lots of track that needs work, and some tunnels that are too small. But this really needs to happen anyway, as the only other option is to build more roads. (I took a look at Kawakawa train station today and it really is very pretty, and the way the line goes through the town is spectacular to say the least.)

    1. I’ve always thought a train to Whangarei would rival the TranzAlpine for scenery. But the line needs several hundred million of repairs and maintenance. Wouldn’t be too popular if it took six hours to crawl up there.

  9. I really hate how much of the media harks on about the massive millions of dollars of subsidies being provided to the rail and indeed other PT systems. Not once, never one single well educated inquisitive reporter asks “what about the Billions of dollars” in subsidies being given to the motor vehicle. Never any mention of the direct or even indirect subsidies. What is it with the NZ mindset, that no one can see what’s in front of them.

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