The transport section of the recently released Draft Auckland Plan makes for very encouraging reading, with the main priority being the development of Auckland’s transport infrastructure into a single cohesive network integrated with land use and development. The main ‘principle’ for achieving this (apart from a much needed look at revised and new transport funding mechanisms) is the development of Auckland’s railways into a true rapid transit system. The plan is to build the city rail link at its core and new suburban extensions at its periphery, to unleash the existing demand while promoting intensification of development in the right places to create a longer term mode shift.

Right now the City Rail Link is gathering momentum and I am confident it will be incontestable once Auckland experiences the patronage explosion that will undoubtedly accompany the new electric rail fleet. Once we have addressed the capacity and integration issues at the core, the easiest next step would be to extend the Onehunga branch via the residences and jobs of Auckland’s southwestern suburbs and the airport zone, forming a fourth main line linking from the CBD to Manukau. At this point we would be looking at a very functional rapid rail system, with new electric trains gliding seamlessly from the one side of the region, through the CBD then across the other. A network of four integrated lines sharing a tunnel at the centre carrying commuters in comfort, speed and reliability across most of the region, while providing a massive boost of access to the central city without any impact on the on the existing urban fabric. Fanstastic!

However, the question then comes: where do we go to from there? A quick glance back at the Auckland Plan shows several more rapid transit corridors, in particular routes across the North Shore via a new harbour crossing, through the outer eastern suburbs to service the growth zones of Botany and Flat Bush, plus across the upper harbour and along parts of the Northwestern motorway to provide much needed rapid transit there. To complete all of these rapid transit corridors would be the best solution we have for Auckland’s transport problems, but how to go about it?

Where to next for Auckland rapid transit, more buses and trains?

The simplest and most immediate answer is to build a series of busways, starting where they are needed the most and then expanding into longer contiguous corridors. Buses have the ability to climb just about any hill and take any corner, and can easily run on local roads where appropriate. The Northern busway is a good example of how we can pick the low hanging fruit and get some huge gains from our public transport without tackling the big and expensive issues (like a new harbour crossing) immediately.

The rapid transit network from the Auckland plan (including the NW gap). Some of the yellow and blue corridors could be very difficult to complete with heavy rail

However as we have also seen with the busway this approach is somewhat limited by it’s relatively low people carrying capacity, while the dispersed nature doesn’t promote much change in land use. It also has the unfortunate side effect of pumping tons more buses onto already congested city streets. Not exactly ideal when the goal is to decongest streets in order to work more efficiently and make them livable urban spaces. Furthermore operating rapid transit with buses can have surprisingly high staffing costs, particularly because each bus and driver can only move around 40 to 50 people at a time. This leads to high operating costs on busy peak routes, plus a tendency to cut frequencies in the off peak to avoid losing money on less busy routes.

It seems that buses are probably the best way to get the ball rolling in the short term, and we should strive for busways and bus lanes to be introduced in all major corridors as soon as possible. But to effect a significant mode shift and create a real change in land use bus based corridors can only go so far, so we need to look to the next step also.

Having discounted buses as a very effective long term solution, then perhaps the best idea to simply to expand the network through new electrified railways using the same track standards and trains as we will have already. This approach definitely has its appeal: modern electric suburban trains are fast, capacious and comfortable, they have low operating costs per passenger on busy routes, they are reliably run on their own tracks free from road congestion, and can be tunnelled under sensitive or highly developed areas. Overall rail based rapid transit is what Auckland needs to really get changes in land use and make a significant mode shift. A new rail station linked to the rest of the network by a modern train every few minutes is likely to allow people to change their travel habits, and encourage residential development and new businesses to set up shop nearby. I’m not sure if the same can be said for a bus stop on a route that leads to a busway somewhere down the road.

But railways have a critical Achilles Heel. While upgrading and integrating our existing rail lines is a very cost effective way to realise the capacity inherent in the corridors we already have, building brand new ones can be eye-wateringly expensive.

Main line railways must have particularly gentle grades and curves in order to operate at high capacity, high speed and high frequency. For example the city rail link tunnel will be at the limit of what regular trains can handle,  just to make up the rise in terrain from Britomart to Mt Eden. Auckland has had to specify extra powerful EMU trains to handle the grades of 1 in 33 in the tunnel, yet over at the harbour bridge and along the busway grades of 1 in 20 are not uncommon. At the end of the day suburban rail is built to the same basic characteristics as freight trains and intercity railways.

This means in a hilly harbour city like Auckland any new line will be comprised mostly of expensive structures like cuttings, embankments, viaducts and tunnels in order to keep the line straight and even, while threading new lines into the existing urban fabric effectively means long sections of tunnel or long swathes of properties being purchased and demolished. The irony here is that the very qualities that make new suburban train lines almost essential for Auckland are the same ones that make them almost unattainable.

Now at this point I must say that new railways are still far more cost effective than trying to provide the same capacity with new motorway developments. Given a like-for-like comparison trying to build a new railway across Auckland would be expensive, but trying to build a brand new motorway would be masochistic. Yet to be realistic the cost of new urban railways is still going to be the largest stumbling block, especially with a government so intent on wasting most of our transport funds on an economically destructive fetish for boondoggle motorways.

Light metro as a third option

This leaves Auckland in something of a predicament. On one hand we need more rail based rapid transit to get the real step change in land use and mode share we need, yet we can -for now- barely secure funding for less than ideal bus based solutions. If only there was some sort of rail system that could be built and operated cheaply without the usual constraints of main line railways, but still give much the same level of superior performance we need from a rapid transit system.

Well there is. It’s not surprising to learn that Auckland isn’t the only city to have faced such a dilemma. There are many mid sized cities like ours than need a first rate transit system without spending first rate funds. Generally this has come in the form of ‘light metro’: metro style rail systems designed solely to move people around cities on dedicated corridors free of the constraints of other heavy metro or railway systems based on the demands of freight trains or intercity carriages. In this regard these metros are ‘light’ on cost and construction, but not necessarily light on capacity or performance.  Note that the term metro is used here to refer to the service model, it needn’t necessarily be built underground like the metros of Paris or New York.

Light metro may present just what Auckland needs to extend its rapid transit system once the core suburban rail network is completed.

Introducing ART: New technology light metro

One such light metro system in the Bombardier Advanced Rapid Transit (ART), used most famously onVancouver’s Skytrain, but also found in various cities including Kuala Lumpur, New York, Beijing and Seoul. Although there are various other light metro systems across the globe (such as the Docklands Light Railway in London or the Copenhagen metro), I will use ART as the gold standard for light metro in this post. It is the most advanced and most common example worldwide and has the longest track record stretching back to the first line in Vancouver that has been in continuous use since 1985. One interesting point  is that this technology used to be known as the “Intermediate Capacity Transit System” (or ICTS), however they dropped the name once they realised it can actually provide more capacity that many regular metro systems!

So what differentiates this system from regular trains?

First of all let’s look at the main innovations of an ART type system and see why these innovations were introduced:

1)      Driverless operation

No one here but us passengers

Yep that’s right, no drivers. Much like a giant horizontal elevator, the ART is controlled entirely by a central computer system during routine operation (there is a small lockable control panel that can be used during maintenance, testing and emergency situations). Because staffing is the number one cost in any transit system this has amazing benefits. Not only does it make the system far cheaper to operate, it means the marginal cost of putting on another train is low. This is basically just the cost of the electricity used, so suddenly you only need a small number of paying passengers on each train to make running it worthwhile. This means that running trains very frequently becomes affordable, and frequencies can be kept at peak-hour levels most of the time. With driven trains the tendency is to have one bigger train run less frequently to minimise the staffing costs, say a six-carriage set every fifteen minutes. With driverless trains the costs are basically by the carriage-kilometre, making it the same cost to run a two-carriage train every five minutes as a six-carriage train every fifteen. Same number of vehicles, same capacity but three times the frequency!

It also means that without needing actual people in charge, running a train at 3am on a Sunday morning or in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve is no harder or more expensive than running one on a weekday morning. Frequent operation all day long, even 24/7/365, becomes perfectly achievable. Also the lack of a drivers cab means space for more passengers in each train, not to mention a nice view out the front windshield!

 2)      Computer controlled system with rolling block signalling

On most train systems lines are split into a sequential series of ‘blocks’ to keep trains a safe distance apart from each other and prevent collisions. Generally a driver cannot enter a block until the train in front is perfectly clear of it and signals like traffic lights are used to alert drivers when they can go or when they have to stop. This works fine on main lines but can cause limitations at high frequencies, and generally if you have flat junctions on the line about the best you can get away with is a train every three minutes per track. Without human drivers traditional signalling is not needed, and the ART system uses ‘rolling-block’ signalling. Here there are no fixed blocks or signals, but the computer simply ensures sufficient stopping distance is maintained between trains at all times. It’s a bit like the ‘two second rule’ for keeping a safe following distance while driving. The end result is that ART can safely run trains every 75 seconds, including routing them through junctions.

 3)      Linear Induction Traction Motors

Linear induction motors

This sounds a bit like something out of Star Trek, but the concept is very simple. Regular electric trains have motors attached to the wheels to provide motive power. Electric motors are very elegant machines, far more simple and powerful than diesel engines. They are basically comprised of a coil of wire wrapped around a magnet attached to a driveshaft (called a rotor). If you put current through the wire coil it creates a magnetic field, this pushes against the rotor causing  it to turn and providing the force to drive the wheels. If you cut the current to a moving motor the process works in reverse in a process known as ‘regenerative braking’: moving the rotor induces a current in the coil which provides resistance for braking and converts the momentum of the train back into electricity.

A linear induction motor takes this simple concept and refines it even further. Instead of having a ring of wire the linear induction motor has it’s ‘coil’ stretched out along the underside of carriage, while the rotor takes the form of a metal plate affixed to the track between the rails. Apply current to the ‘coil’ fixed to the train and it pushes against the track itself for propulsion. The benefit here? Well firstly it means the motor has zero moving parts, thus increasing the lifetime of the equipment and reducing the cost of maintenance. But more importantly,  propulsion and braking are not limited by how much traction you can get between the steel wheel and the steel rail because the train pushes magnetically against the track itself. This means that ART trains can climb and descend grades over twice as steep as conventional trains.

 4)      Steerable bogies

On a regular train the wheels are fixed to the bogies because the rails do all the steering. This is usually quite fine, except on tight curves where the pressure of the wheel flange against the rail can result in a nasty screeching noise and cause excessive wear on the rails. Anyone who has ridden a train into Britomart will have experienced this on the tight curve around the Vector Arena. The ART design overcomes this by having wheels that can turn into the corner much like a road vehicle. The end result is a vehicle that can take even tighter curves than normal trains without any of the noise, and less track maintenance to boot.

 5)      Compact body design with third rail power.

Like most light metro designs, the ART has a relatively compact body shell, lightweight aluminium construction and third rail power supply rather than overhead line. This creates a lightweight train that can climb those steep grades, yet requires only minimal amounts of clearance in tunnels or under bridges.

 So how do these innovations translate into benefits for the Auckland context?

In many ways as it happens. Firstly the lighter vehicles and ability to take much steeper grades and tighter curves makes it easy to construct new routes over and around Auckland’s hilly, harbour side terrain. Ground level tracks can follow the contours of the land to a great extent; underpasses of roads need not be very deep, while elevated structures and viaducts could be much lighter and lower profile. Now nobody wants to see an elevated line blocking out the sky on Queen St or ruining the Domain, but in a place like Albany or Westgate it might be the perfect way to get stations right where they need to be.

A Bombardier ART MkII in Kula Lumpur

The relatively small cross section and agility of the ART would make tunnelling lines a much cheaper prospect also. For example a line through the CBD could be built just below the surface using the cheap cut-and-cover tunnelling method, as the line could easily follow the contours and curves of city streets. The factors would also make it simple to upgrade existing and future busways. For example the Northern Busway would need massive reconstruction and modification to support a regular rail line, but only a simple refit with rails instead of tarmac to take an ART light metro. There is also the tantilising prospect of running a metro line over the harbour bridge, as the ART could handle the grade. This could also prove to be an effective model for other busways, such as the ones mooted for the Northwestern Motorway or  AMETI corridor. We can start with a busway at the core, then after ten or fifteen years upgrade and extend the corridor with light metro.

This has the potential to shave billions of the cost of building brand new rail lines (to the North Shore or the Botany-Flatbush area, for example), and makes linking them together with another tunnel through the city an economically feasible idea. While the ‘smart’ vehicles and track systems are likely to be somewhat more expensive than regular ‘dumb’ trains, the capital costs of constructing new light-metro alignments would be far far lower than the heavy rail alternative.

A second benefit is that driverless operation means they can be cheaply run at high frequency all day and night, without always needing high occupancy to offset costs. High frequency  means great ‘turn-up-and-go’ accessibility, so we could design bus feeder routes around bus-to-bus interconnections without having to consider connecting to any one particular train.  This high frequency also translates into high capacity. In Vancouver the Skytrain lines are usually run with just four-carriage trains, but because the come so often the peak capacity in each direction is around 25,000 people per hour. That is more than even our new EMU trains could ever achieve. Extra trains can be bought into play where and when they are needed for special events without rostering staff or paying overtime. Overall this means very affordable operating costs, which is important politically and economically. In Vancouver, a city that has lesser population density and centralised employment than our own, Skytrain actually makes an operational profit.

Thirdly, with the very fast headways and rolling block signalling made possible with computer control, flat junctions can be switched very frequently and many trains can share the same section of track over a short period. Furthermore the driverless operation means that it a terminating train takes no longer to change direction than it does to make any other stop, making it simple to operate branch lines frequently. This all provides a lot of flexibility in terms of having many lines on the map, despite only a little infrastructure on the ground. The London DLR is a good example of this benefit: this has two main lines and two branch lines linked at three junctions, but the services are typically operated along seven different patterns between various points on the network. Look at a track diagram and you see two main tracks, look at the route map on the station wall and you see seven different coloured lines each representing a separate passenger line.

Fourth, the driverless operation means that long crosstown lines become possible without concern for rotating crews or factoring in meal and rest breaks. This means we could have, for example, a line running from Orewa to Manukau all day long with it only ever stopping just long enough to let passengers on and off. That means no lengthy delays in the middle while drivers swap in and out (Melbourne is plagued by this on its City Loop), and making intermediate trips between suburbs are just as time-reliable as those to the CBD. Furthermore it almost eliminates wasted time or wasted vehicle trips, so we need less trains overall to provide the same level of passenger service.

Fifthly, the quiet motors and screech free steering make for very smooth and quiet operation, while the flexible grade and curve characteristics would make it simple to duck underground at sensitive areas. This would allow us to get stations right in close to residences and workplaces without creating noise and vibration problems, and to get routes through the city and suburbs without major impacts upon urban or natural features.

 Is all this techo mumbo jumbo really realistic, what are the pitfalls?

In short, the answer is yes. These systems have been in daily operation in Canada for twenty-five years with an exceptional track record: over 1 billion passengers carried with six extensions since 1989 and no full suspension of service for construction or commissioning. The two main lines carry over 240,000 passengers a day. The linear induction motor is extremely reliable; many of Vancouver’s original 1985 Mk I trains have accumulated over 3.8 million kms with only one minor overhaul of the motor and are still going strong.

There would no doubt be various objections to introducing new light metro line to Auckland, even if the initial hurdle of political and public scepticism could be overcome. The main issue is perhaps the lack of interoperability, for example a line on the North Shore  could not run into the city rail tunnel, nor could it take freight or intercity trains to the north of the country. In a way this is actually something of a benefit, the single urban-transit mode would ensure regular high frequency operation could not be disturbed by other transport uses. In the first instance connection to the other lines using the city rail tunnel should be made in the CBD and wherever else possible, but this should only be by passenger connection rather than by trying to run everything through the same set of tracks. In the second instance there already exists heavy rail lines heading north and south out of the city, and maintaining these for freight and long distance passenger access is no doubt the best idea. A new metro line would need a new stabling yard and maintenance facility, however this is likely to be the case too with any suburban rail extension.

Perhaps the best way to frame this issue is to consider a heirarchy of rail and public transport, each stage being ‘sectorised’ from each other. The first level is that of freight, regional and intercity trains, these would operate from the freight yards and Britomart terminal, using the main trunk lines to head north and south of the city. The second level is that of the suburban rail, using the existing and proposed suburban rail network and operating through the city rail tunnel very frequently at peak hours and approximating a metro system at the centre. The third level is that of our light metro, providing urban passenger-only services separate from the suburban lines. but directly interconnected with them into a wider rapid transit network. The fourth level would be street level bus and tram services, providing local access and feeding into the higher levels.

In summary

A light metro system such as Bombadier’s Advanced Rapid Transit could represent a way to establish high quality metro style rail routes across Auckland at a fraction of the capital or operating costs of conventional heavy rail or underground metro systems, meaning more lines could be built to more areas in a shorter time frame given the same amount of funding. Lines with low capital and operating costs yet frequent high quality service would no doubt perform well on any benefit-cost analysis, potentially making it much more feasible to secure funding for them.

After the essential City Rail Link is built and our existing rail lines are being used to their maximum potential, we will need to ask ourselves “where to next?” Do we look at developing the next suburban heavy rail line in Auckland, or the first metro line instead?

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  1. Great post Nick, you won me over at the mention of driverless trains allowing 5 minute frequencies at the same cost as 15 minute frequencies.

  2. Great article Nick, except for this paragraph:

    “However as we have also seen with the busway this approach is somewhat limited by it’s relatively low people carrying capacity, while the dispersed nature doesn’t promote much change in land use. It also has the unfortunate side effect of pumping tons more buses onto already congested city streets. Not exactly ideal when the goal is to decongest streets in order to work more efficiently and make them livable urban spaces. Furthermore operating rapid transit with buses can have surprisingly high staffing costs, particularly because each bus and driver can only move around 40 to 50 people at a time. This leads to high operating costs on busy peak routes, plus a tendency to cut frequencies in the off peak to avoid losing money on less busy routes.”

    Some quick responses:
    1. The Northern Busway has a people-carrying capacity equal to or greater than Auckland’s heavy rail lines.
    2. Land value uplift has been noted around BRT stations in a number of cities, e.g. Brisbane.
    3. Buses can easily move more then 40-50 people – just get larger buses (double-decker, articulated etc)
    4. Standard rail-based systems seem more sensitive to off-peak cuts.

    Not that I disagree at all with your conclusion – I think a driverless light metro similar to what you have outlined above is the way Auckland should go.

    1. I think the point is that you can’t get all of the busway’s capacity because of the issue of how to deal with the millions of buses that would flood the city centre.

      1. Agreed. Ottawa illustrates what happens when you don’t have enough road capacity for buses within the central city; although Brisbane seems to do better.

        80 buses/hour is manageable; 250 buses/hour would need a lot of central city investment to make it work – is this something we need to think more about?

    2. Hi Stu, yes Admin and Ross have nailed the point.
      Certainly you could run 150+ buses an hour down an offline busway… but what happens when you try to have them pulling in and out of stations loading passengers, crossing the harbour bridge on the motorway, joining street bus lanes and passing through and turning around in the city centre, as examples? It certainly is possible to design a mega-busway with the people carrying capacity of our heavy rail lines (Bogota Transmillenio for example). But the Northern Busway currently doesn’t come close and wouldn’t do without megabucks being spent on new alignment across the harbour and through the city.
      Furthermore ‘just get larger buses’ probably isn’t going to have a huge effect in practice either. For a start I believe double deckers are off the cards due to the maximum clearance of 4.5m on the busway and motorway. Secondly single articulated buses might be a worthwhile option, boosting the capacity of the NEX some 30-40%. However the real big boys used in Colombia, Brazil, Germany etc with multiple articulations, I just can’t see them being successfully operated through downtown Auckland, especially not at three or four a minute on local streets.
      As for the other points, certainly there can be some land value increases and intensification around busway stations, but it doesn’t appear to be anywhere near as great or common as with rail/metro stations.
      And I should have made the point about off-peak cuts for traditional rail too as it is the result of high marginal operating costs (i.e. having drivers/staff). However in my experience it is quieter suburban routes that suffer the most, not trunk rapid transit.

      1. Maximum legal clearance is 4.25m, not 4.5m, and a standing over-height permit for a number of vehicles would be horrendously expensive. Plus their utility would be limited to strictly the NBW, since other parts of the motorway have low bridges (some lower than 4.4m) and the assumption in the ‘burbs is 4.25m so there’s precious little clearance with utility lines in many places.

        1. Ok so it’s even worse, you’d need to design/modify the entire length of the busway specifically for double deckers and never have them leave the designated route.

        2. Pretty much. I’m also not certain that you could clear the Vic Park flyover with much of an over-height vehicle as I have recollections of it being around 4.4m. Anyone in the vicinity or passing through tonight who can look at the signs?

  3. Great post Nick.
    Now my suggestion for a light metro line corridor……
    It is a variation of a loop because international experience suggests that pure loops don’t work in terms of reliable timetabling.

    So – here goes:
    Takapuna – Akoranga – Wynyard – Aotea “Taniwha” Grand Central – vicinity of Hopetoun St over the motorway network – under Great North Road, or if we can push further north, under Crummer Road – through Western Springs down to the Northwest motorway – along the Northwest Motorway to Westgate – along the new upper Harbour motorway to Albany, and down the busway, or crossing over to Glenfield and then down to the northern motorway, and finally, across or under the harbour to terminate at Aotea “Taniwha” Grand Central.

    A light metro train would then turn around and head back the other way……Aotea would be a terminus station situated immediately above the heavy rail station connected to the lower level CBD heavy rail tunnel.

    There is a double up of services across the harbour as the route overlaps itself. It helps to deal with Takapuna being out on a spur while at the same time providing a “main trunk” service along the busway beside the Northern Motorway.

    It is a long corridor, maybe too long, but it does start to also deal with trans-regional services as well as providing that CBD focus.

    Now, I’m sure guys will do better than this. Start drawing those lines on the map!

    1. I had something very similar floating around in my head:

      1) A pair of North Shore lines (main line and branch to Takapuna) leading to new platforms at Aotea.
      2) A pair of North-western lines (main line through westgate, across the upper harbour back to Constellation, branch line to Henderson via Lincoln Rd), with a city side connection to K-Rd station, via either the NW motorway corridor through arch hill or a more expensive Grey Lynn-Ponsonby tunnel.
      3) A U-shaped tunnel from Aotea to K-Rd via a new University station linking the above into two long pairs.

      When we overcome the need for especially gentle grades and curves, the opportunities for feasible new rail routes become enormous!

      With driverless operation, there isn’t really such a thing as too long a route, as long as there is patronage demand at points along the way.

  4. ‘There is a double up of services across the harbour as the route overlaps itself’

    And to further explain, this hopefully also ensures the greatest frequency where there is the greatest need.

  5. I think that this falls into the “choosing a technology first” kind of camp and feel that it can actually be quite counter productive to improving transport in Auckland. Over the years heaps of different systems have been proposed for Auckland, all would have helped yet nothing ever happened and I wonder if it is in part to the obsession with technology. If you think about things from the perspective of someone who isn’t deeply interested in the fine details of transport technology, it seems that if you want to improve PT there are a thousand different ways of doing so and each ‘expert’ has their own opinion. The debate about which mode to pick could go on for eternity and this just helps to confuse the public and the politicians so in the end they pick the one thing they know, more roads.

    In a way it would be like deciding to repaint the your house and getting 5 different designers to give you there opinions on which colour you should pick. Each one will have different ideas offering different shades of red, blue, yellow, green and grey but in the end it can be so overwhelming and hard to pick that you just decide to go with an off white because its the safest option.

    So while I think it is nice to look at the different technology available I think it is probably best that we focus on getting public buy in and then securing funding/agreement for the general route before we start deciding on whether we should be going for things like a light metro/standard heavy rail/busway etc.

    1. ‘So while I think it is nice to look at the different technology available I think it is probably best that we focus on getting public buy in and then securing funding/agreement for the general route before we start deciding on whether we should be going for things like a light metro/standard heavy rail/busway etc.’

      The problem with the North Shore in particular is that choice of mode actually ends up having a huge influence on price, feasibility and effectiveness.
      You cannot have an effective discussion about rapid transit on the North Shore without very quickly getting a feel for “how” you might deliver it.

      South and west of the harbour bridge, the existance of current rail corridors along with a gentler topography where those corridors don’t exist tend to favour conventional electric rail.
      Yes, the western rail corridor is hilly, as are the immediate environs around the CBD. Of course the heavy rail corridors already exist there.
      However, a rail link to the airport, or out toward Botany Downs will be constructed on what is basically flat country.

      North of the bridge, the moment you step away from the motorway, you’re into hill country.
      And, I still rest my case on the ability for a light metro to use the existing harbour bridge.

    2. Matt, I’m certainly aware of the need to not focus on technology but I think this is different to the Nikki kaye “OMG trams are cool, let’s got put trams everywhere in my electorate even though we already have good buses” approach.

      We know the routes which need a long term rapid transit solution. Busways to the north and southeast provide a short and medium term solution only, while heavy rail may prove to be impossibly expensive for these corridors. So we’ve looked at the routes, identified a long term need for something beyond a busway, noted that conventional rail is likely to be cost prohibitive. Looking at alternative technologies at this point seems quite appropriate.

      1. Look I’m not saying that this technology is bad or that it shouldn’t be a potential solution but the reality is that even with a supportive council and central government, much of the PT focus for the next 10-15 years will be on getting the CRL built and then a line to the airport. By the time those are done technology and our preferences will have changed so instead of putting effort into working out what system we may implement in the years after those projects are done. I think we are better off focusing on things like the fact that traffic numbers on the harbour bridge are falling while PT is picking up more and more people. The debate at the moment is focused on the need for another road crossing and not about the fact there is no dedicated RTN corridor, be it bus, train or anything else across the bridge or in the city yet.

        I get the impression that the roading lobby has been so successful in getting their wishes across the line at the expense of PT because they have been very effective at using a divide and conquer approach as until recently even for something like the CRL they were able to suggest that improved buses will solve the problem (the government is still trying this).

        Also as Greenwelly mentions, much of the technology mentioned, especially driverless trains, rolling block signalling and steerable bogies could probably be added to the existing rail network in time to give many of the benefits mentioned.

        1. I definitely agree the focus is and should be on building the CRL and airport line, but we do need to look at the next set of corridors as they are being planned as we speak. For example the AMETI corridor is in the design phase, are we happy to leave this as a street busway, or do we want to design in provision for rail in the future. Likewise in the upper harbour corridor, the motorway is complete and the land about to be opened for development. Do we want the RTN to run as bus shoulder lanes on the motorway, do we want it to run along the motorway corridor, or should we be pushing for a reservation through the open land at the back of Hobsonville before it is all built over? Having an idea of the characteristics of the end mode is important from the start to make these calls.

          As for the harbour crossing debate, the mode choice is critical in my opinion. Right now the response from the MoT is that suburban rail is too ludicrously expensive to even consider, so that gets thrown on the back burner while the real business of building a motorway (with maybe some bus lanes) gets underway. Ok so their $10 billion full tunnel concept is ridiculously inflated, but we are still talking about several billion bucks at the minimum for heavy rail. However if we can come back and say we can actually get a top notch metro rail line across the harbour for a fraction of the cost of either motorway or heavy rail, then maybe we can present a very compelling case to build the RTN corridor instead of the motorway, or at least at the same time.

          Also just one further point, driverless trains and rolling block signalling are only possible where you have a closed system without other trains sharing the track. So we’d never see that on any main lines that also carry freight and passenger trains, but it might be possible to convert some of our lines to metro-style only operation.

        2. Getting metro/ART across the AHB would be entirely possible now. Close the two centre lanes (or the two outer clip-on lanes, if the weight won’t be too much) to ordinary vehicle traffic and lay tracks. Feed the trains onto the Bridge through a tunnel or a viaduct – moderate expense, but we’d only be talking a few hundred metres before it could go back to being an above-ground line – at each end, and you’re done. The Bridge definitely has the weight-bearing capacity for the task, and laying the tracks could be achieved in a matter of weeks as the last part of the link so that as soon as it’s completed the line can open to service.

        3. I’ve heard some talk lately of ‘load sharing’ on the bridge, using some new structural additions to transfer some of the weight of the cantilevered clip ons to the original truss-arch bridge. This suggests that there is actually a quite a lot of ‘spare’ strength left in the old structure. Perhaps we could simply run our metro lines through the old bridge trusses, or hang them off it either side below the clip ons?
          Sure we could simply recover two traffic lanes from the motorway for rapid transit, but you know, this is still Auckland after all…

        4. I don’t think there’s actually much weight-bearing capacity left with the current design. NZTA has said that they’re reserving capacity for a high-voltage electricity transmission cable beneath the bridge, and that was one of their justifications for not being able to put on pedestrian walkways. Obviously the engineering behind the walkways has been demonstrated as being feasible, but there’s a significant weight difference between footpaths and rail tracks.

          Of course, if there are ways of adjusting weight distribution such that the overall capacity is enhanced then that may well change the calculus. I still prefer reclaiming general traffic lanes, however, especially since for the early years (train every five minutes or so) it would be possible to have combined bus/light-metro lanes and at some point we need to get dedicated bus lanes over the AHB.

    3. I don’t agree with you there Matt L, as I actually chose the technology last!

      At the first step I identified the corridors (those in the Auckland Plan not already earmarked for suburban rail, plus the northwestern corridor).

      The second step was to establish the criteria for what I wanted in the result (i.e. high capacity rapid transit, frequent operation, high quality passenger experience, capable of tight grade and curve to minimise capital costs of the guideway, and manageable operating costs).

      The third step was to eliminate those modes that cannot feasibly/affordably meet the criteria in the selected corridors (i.e. regular busway failed to meet high capacity and high quality, ‘mega-busway’, heavy suburban rail and heavy metro were out on capital cost, and I discounted monorail and PRT as being low capacity, and infeasible due to high political and economic risk).

      The fourth step was to mull over what was left, basically street-capable tram, non-street-capable light rail and light-metro. To be honest I went into this exercise with a concept already in mind: a light rail system based around tram specifications to handle the grade and curve, but entirely on a dedicated grade-separated corridor to allow for fast headways and very long high capacity vehicles. However in the end the driverless operation of light-metro was the trump card that sealed my decision.

      If it sounds like I’m fetishising the technology somewhat, it’s only because I’m excited to find a solution that appears to meet all the tough criteria!

  6. Yes the Bombardier system is nice,
    But other than the linear induction motors, most of the innovations are available from other metro car manufacturers.

    The Canada line in Vancouver uses Rotem Rolling stock with conventional motors but is also driverless
    (Bombardier did bid for the project (with an ART system), but lost the tender to Rotem)

    Various lines on the London Tube are driverless, as are most of the copenhagen metro. + a pile in Seoul and Taipei.

    Paris uses steerable axles, and 3rd rail power is fairly widely used,

    1. Definitely Greenwelly. I’m not suggesting Auckland would have to go with Bombardier as the supplier, I was just using it as a good example of the “Driverless light metro” concept. I probably should have made the point that this class of metro is actually quite common beyond just the ART system.

  7. Ah, the Vancouver Skytrain – a system I’m very familiar with. It’s fast, efficient, reliable – and been adopted in surprisingly few places (Vancouver, Bangkok, KL, John F Kennedy Airport last time I checked). This might come as a surprise, but there was a vigorous light rail lobby in Vancouver that opposed the Skytrain with a vengeance.

    For all of the advantages that ART has over a traditional rail systems, it still shares one problem – it’s expensive. The system has to be *completely* grade separated, either via tunnelling or elevated guideways. The Vancouver system uses both methods. Tunnelling is incredibly expensive. Elevated systems are cheaper, but at the cost of significant visual intrusion – you’d have a big NMBY hurdle to overcome to build an elevated system in Auckland.

    To return to beat on my favourite dead horse, “Personal Rapid Transit” offers all of the advantages of Nick’s system (low operating costs due to driverless operation, ability to handle sharp curves and steep climbs, high frequency operation, 24/7 service) plus a few more besides: non-stop journeys to anywhere on the PRT network, no vehicle changes, short-to-non existent wait times, low cost, reduced visual intrusion. (If you’re not familiar with PRT, picture Nick’s system with hundreds or even thousands of small pods rather than large trains).

    What PRT doesn’t currently have is ART’s 25 year track record, and transport planners seem to be incredibly suspicious of anything that hasn’t been proven to death elsewhere first.

    I know the capacity issue is going to come up, because that’s the first thing that skeptics always talk about. The Ultra system at Heathrow is currently limited by its safety licensing to extremely conservative 3 second gaps between vehicles. So at this exact point in time, its a low capacity system capable of carrying about one lane’s worth of traffic. But the Ultra designers are working towards half second capacities at which point the system approximates about three lanes worth of motorway traffic. Sure your ART system is still higher capacity – but the build cost of the system means you can only deploy it in a few high capacity corridors. Even in Vancouver, where high-rise high-density housing near Skytrain stations is common, the majority of the population still needs to catch a bus to get to the Skytrain. Because of PRT’s low cost (the NZ group marketing the Ultra system here cost it at $13m per km), you could pretty much deploy it anywhere there are people to use it. Imagine if you got a motorway-like driving experience anywhere on the local road network, and you see where I’m coming from. Because you can travel from any point to any other point in the network, the system gets exponentially more useful as it grows larger.

    1. Icebird, that’s not such an issue as our Northern Busway is already *completely* grade separated, as would be a new harbour crossing and a tunnel through the city. Likewise with an equivalent route on the Northwestern, Upper Harbour etc. Any new RTN would almost certainly be grade separated regardless of mode.
      It’s not true to say that it can only be grade separated by expensive tunnel or viaduct however, it is perfectly possible to run light metro, bus, rail etc at ground level with a simple fenced and grade separated corridor. Most of our existing rail and busway network is grade separated without being on a viaduct or in tunnel, and indeed Syktrain does run at grade in parts.

      Certainly most of the Vancouver and Kuala Lumpur systems are elevated or tunnelled, but that is due to a lack of suitable corridors. In Auckland most of our identified future RTN routes run along a motorway, rail reserve or limited access arterial so we won’t have the need to elevate or tunnel the majority of any route.

      1. When they were planning the Canada line in Vancouver, they had two choices of routes. One would have used an existing rail corridor, the other involved a lot of tunnelling. They chose the tunnelling route because it linked more “centres of activity” (a mall, Vancouver General Hospital, things like that). I wonder if Auckland will face similar decisions (build in one place because there’s a convenient corridor or somewhere else because it links places people want to go).

        While the current Auckland rail network oparates in its own corridors, there are still a lot of level crossings and so on that don’t really lend themselves to high-frequency rail. (I’d guesss they would have to do something about those if they went ahead with city rail anyway).

  8. I think that in very distant future, we may want to be extending the North Shore line from Albany through Orewa and connecting up to the NAL at Wellsford, this would make Northland freight trains far more viable than currently.

    1. I had considered this, particularly as our RTN corridor at Orewa is a mere 9km from the North Auckland Line at Tahekeroa, but I don’t think it is worth it.

      We would need to ensure our rapid transit route was fully compatible with heavy freight trains. That means not only a mega expensive busway rebuild to heavy rail standards, but also a freight train capable harbour tunnel and freight tunnel linkages to the port under the city. Do we really want freight trains mixing with our rapid transit, especially in tunnels through Britomart or Aotea station? All to save 40km off a freight route, I doubt rail freight will ever be that time sensitive to bother.

      Much better would be a little attention to the existing NAL to take double stack containers, and we can ‘sectorise’ this line for freight trains and perhaps intercity passenger services.

  9. Being an engineer, I find it interesting that it seems that I am the only one who is pointing out the big flaw of the very first pro-argument: Driverless trains.

    Mmmmmh, let me count how this is a problem. Vandalism. Insecurity for vulnerable passengers. Insecurity for ALL passengers at night, when you and three hoons might be the only people on the whole bloody thing. Vandalism. Uncertainty for passengers who don’t know exactly where they want to go and can’t ask the driver. Vandalism. Security risks. Need for a totally separate corridor. Legal issues if the corridor is ANYWHERE not absolutely separate, and there is a crash. Vandalism.

    In short, I do not believe STAFF-less trains are feasible in any modern city. Maybe in Japan, where people are rigidly behaved in most cases. Also, we make savings by employing less people – i.e. we pay overseas computer manufacturers instead of Aucklanders. Society-wide, that is economically and socially problematic.

    1. Did you miss the part of Nick’s post where he said this exact system has been operating successfully in Vancouver since 1986? I lived there for five years and used it often. Vandalism wasn’t a problem. There was the odd security issue, but nothing too different from what you might find on any train. I never felt unsafe on the system, even when I was travelling at night. Does anyone *ever* ask train drivers for directions? There are route maps all over the carriages and displays of what station you’re at just like any other modern train system. The Vancouver system is completely separated from traffic, either by being elevated above it, or in a tunnel beneath it.

    2. 1) There are no personal injury liability possibilities courtesy of ACC. No guarantees that that situation will continue if National get another term, though, given their stated aims of “opening up ACC to competition” in the motor vehicle and earners’ accounts.

      2) Train drivers are, as far as I can tell, not liable for any collision which occurs between their train and any vehicle that is crossing the rail corridor. The primacy of the rail corridor, provided the driver obeys any standing orders regarding speed restrictions and workers on the tracks, is absolute. Why would an at-grade crossing with this system violate that principle just because there’s no driver? Hell, the opportunity for human error with missing a speed restriction would be completely removed by having computers controlling all car movements. Dealing with computer faults can be done with a fail-safe response to failures and stopping all cars.

      3) Vandalism and personal safety can be tackled by strongly encouraging (ie: no fare) off-duty police officers to use the system, and publicising this widely, and also by having both on-duty police officers and security guards hopping on and off trains at random. In most cities in Europe the only member of staff on a light- or heavy-rail service is the driver, who’s locked in their cab. How does that help your lost passenger? In Berlin and Vienna I witnessed on-duty police officers using public transport services, which I’m sure has a salutary effect on antisocial behaviour. Toss in monitored cameras and panic buttons in all cars that transmit to central control and you’ve got the ability to monitor and respond police to any public safety incident rapidly; after first stopping the car to keep the offender(s) contained.

    3. I think this issue has been addressed, train drivers have nothing to do with preventing or responding to vandalism, security issues, requests for directions etc. The driver sits in the locked cab up front and takes care of the driving. On some systems you can alert them with an intercom, in Melbourne I once told the driver some dropkicks were scratching the windows and tearing up seats. They driver said ‘thanks’ and that was all from what I could tell. I don’t suppose he could really stop the train, get out of the cab and come back to give them a telling off. Maybe he radioed for the police.

      I believe all of the Australian systems have driver only operation (Melbourne certainly does), so you don’t routinely see any staff inside, and I’m pretty sure Auckland’s new EMUs are designed for driver only operation too. The passenger experience on a driverless train would be exactly the same.

      Having conductors or customer service in the carriages is a totally different issue, and perhaps something to look at for evening time routes. If we want those then driverless operation would help a lot: we could afford to employ three or four conductors for the cost of one driver.

      I was recently on the driverless metro in Copenhagen, and as far as I can tell they have neither staff on the trains nor at the stations. Not sure if that is a good idea for us but they obviously manage the issue some way or other.

      The Vancouver solution to the security issue involves having help points on board that are linked to a central control room. You push the intercom and talk to the control room staff, they get the camera feeds from inside the vehicle and the nearby stations. If there is a problem they call ahead to the next staffed station and a staff member boards the train, if it is serious they contact the police or paramedics and have them rendezvous with the vehicle. Overall centralised security response is probably much better than talking to the driver.

      1. Nick R, Brisbane and Sydney still have ‘Guards’ on suburban trains, but otherwise all other Australian suburban trains are driver-only. Vancouver are also tightening up security on the network by installing fare gates across the Skytrain network to control access and reduce fare evasion. Backed up with station staff and their (armed) transit police, the network’s about as safe as any other.

        In an aside, I rode on the Singaporean MRT system a couple of months ago and all lines are ‘driverless’ although on the North-South and East-West lines, there is someone in the driver’s cab to operate the doors and ensure everyone is clear before the train starts. This should soon pass once the surface stations get fully equipped with half-height platform screen doors.

        1. I would assume that any new rapid transit line in Auckland (i.e. beyond the existing rail network) would have platform screen doors and universal fare gating. These are starting to become mainstream features now, in ten or twenty years they will be standard issue.

  10. Nick R, great post and encapsulates the issues really well, not just for Auckland but other cities too.
    Agree with you in regard to the limitations of busways in inner-urban areas. The Queensland Government spent A$725M in 2010 dollars to build 3.3km of busway in the inner part of Brisbane, with extensive tunnelling and elevation required to get the busways through constrained sites. Any intensification of Auckland’s Northern Busway (or the construction of additional busways) would eventually lead to the need to elevate or tunnel. This might not be an issue if the long-term plan is to replace the busway with the next level of transport technology, light rail, light metro or heavy rail. And the evidence of land value uplift is sketchy at best in an Australian context.

    Ingolfson, Driverless trains have the great advantage of not being enslaved to the aristocrats of skilled labour who drive trains and require high pay and Industrial Age conditions of service. The efficiency dividend from going driverless needs to be re-invested into more on-board staff (conductors) and station staff, who are lower skilled and are remunerated accordingly. Across government, Police could also have a greater presence on the PT system with more patrols or even a permanent presence at some difficult stations.

    Also, a train driver doesn’t really help in any of the situations you name – all they can do is radio for Police to attend at the next station or call for support from railway security staff – they won’t physically intervene. Sounds like you’re confusing a tram or bus driver with a train driver in this case.

  11. My first post might have made it seem like I was completely against ART. I think a system that performed like Vancouvers would actually be a huge improvement over the current Auckland trains. But its an incremental improvement over trains-with-drivers. The big advantages seem to be that you could use them where traditional trains wouldn’t work (due to tight corners and steep grades), and lower operating costs (which could lead to extended service hours).

    But I also foresee some of the same problems we currently have cropping up. It’s still too expensive to build anywhere but in high capacity corridors. Every time you want to build a new line or extend the system we’ll have to go through the same torturous process as now (Is there money? Is it the right technology? Not in my neighbourhood!). And we’ll still end up with a system where some people are very close to the rapid transit network, and most people aren’t.

    Sure I’m being optimistic, but I think PRT is potentially a game changer in terms of how we actually plan transit networks by making high capacity rapid transit cheap enough to build in areas where we wouldn’t even consider it with current “proven” rapid transit. Instead of saying “okay these specific corridors are the rapid transit routes” what about saying “the whole Auckland region is the rapid transit area”. (And yes I remember the calculations you did last year Nick on how expensive it would be to cover the whole region – but there would probably be a point when the network was large enough to fund its own expansion through farebox recovery, and just like the road system you could build the network up over decades).

    1. Icebird, I think the simple fact is you’re not going to every see PRT in Auckland in our lifetime, whether it would work or not. In any study or evaluation it is going to be written off in the first round as being unproven and too much risk.

      You say “transport planners seem to be incredibly suspicious of anything that hasn’t been proven to death elsewhere first.” Well they bloody well should be. We are talking about billion dollar infrastructure that is going to be in use for many decades. Not something to do on a whim. It has to work, and we need to know that it will work now and in the future. London might have the resources to take a very small punt on an emerging technology in case it pays off. Auckland doesn’t. We need functional, proven solutions.

      Once there has been a widespread application in service for a decade or two then PRT might graduate to the ‘feasible option’ pile (no an airport carpark peoplemover doesn’t count). Until then it isn’t going to get funding from anyone in NZ. Maybe you should focus more on proven technologies that are going to tick the right boxes on a cost-benefit analysis for the mean time.

      1. There seem to be plenty of people around willing to speak up for the benefits of heavy rail, light rail, trams, busways, ART and virtually every other “proven” technology out there. So I think I’ll keep tilting at windmills for the forseeable future until either the concept proves itself a failure, or it gains mainstream acceptance as a viable rapid transit option.

        You can quite validly use the “unproven!” argument right now, but I’m not sure that argument will still hold true by the time the government actually considers investment in these rapid transit corridors (after the CRL and airport links). I’d expect the systems proposed for Amritsar and New Delhi to be up and running in two years (small deployments sure, but integrating into existing urban environments unlike Heathrow or Masdar). There are a lot of cities that are interested in PRT but want someone else to take the risk of going first. I could see the floodgates opening if the Indian systems go into service without any major issues. What is better: a system that has proven itself in a few places over a long period of time, or a system that proves itself in many places over a much shorter time frame?

        You chose ART out of the best available proven technologies and decided to advocate for it. I chose to advocate for PRT because it seems to offer such a compelling mix of low-cost and high-service that its worth promoting just to see if it can deliver on that promise. (It’s been a long wait, but I think the tipping point is coming soon).

        1. I have my reservations over whether PRT can actually be low cost and high-service at the same time. The distributed network topology either requires a large network with very evenly spaced demand or a large amount of redundancy (or conversely low demand, much the same thing). I have no major doubt it could work as a distributor in a specific site like an office park campus or a compact CBD area, but as replacement for trunk rapid transit links across a whole metropolis?

          Well ok if you want to advocate PRT then I shan’t stop you, but I’ll hold back myself until we can see some proven appropriate applications.

  12. That the anti-rail lobby seeks to talk-up the costs and talk-down the benefits of any rail project comes as no surprise to us. However there is an unfortunate tendency from within the pro-rail fraternity itself to do the same thing when it comes to proposals for expansion of good-old, tried-and-proved, heavy-rail.

    Nick, your statement that “the city rail link tunnel will be at the limit of what regular trains can handle” and your implied ring-fencing of heavy-rail’s gradient-capabilities at “1 in 33”, is a case in point. For a start, the tunnel will be more like 1 in 26 on pitches between stations, by far the steepest on the New Zealand network but well within the capabilities of adhesion-based traction systems. In Switzerland, main-line adhesion-worked passenger railways as steep as 1 in 20 are quite normal. Sure, Auckland’s new trains will require a higher power-to-weight ratio than they would without the CRL constraint, but this would be similar with any system, be it light metro, tram, bus or car. Vehicles must be designed for the most arduous expected duty and therefore can be considered over-designed for everything else. This is particularly true of most automobile designs where capability far exceeds practical requirements.

    Then you say that “At the end of the day suburban rail is built to the same basic characteristics as freight trains and intercity railways”. This is totally not true, unless there is some specific and unusual reason why it should be so. The curve at Quay Park Junction (Parnell-Britomart) is 95m radius, far sharper than anything you will encounter on the Main Trunk Lines, but able to be employed if necessary on an urban passenger operation. And is Auckland really such a “hilly harbour city”? Wellington’s Johnsonville line climbs to 158m above sea-level, significantly higher than anything likely on any foreseeable Auckland system.

    Therefore I do not hold that light-metro could provide “metro style rail routes across Auckland at a fraction of the capital or operating costs of conventional heavy rail”. Provided heavy rail is not unnecessarily over-designed, the cost-disparity would not be that great. All too often sweeping statements such as this are used as a scare-off tactic by those wishing to deter consideration of heavy rail for reasons of their own. Meanwhile the reality is that heavy-rail (better perhaps to call it “standard rail”) is what we already have, here-and-now. It is a known-quantity with known construction and operating costs. It performs its task well and is set to do so much more efficiently once the new trains arrive. And options such as driverless operation, moving-block signalling, steerable bogies and 3rd-rail current-collection can equally-well be applied, if required.

    Why not therefore strive to build on what we have, rather than get distracted by alternative and likely incompatible systems which contrary to what is claimed, will not automatically offer far-more bang for far-less buck.

    1. I see the point you’re trying to make David and I generally agree with it. From my perspective, I’m looking at this “light-metro” option for a very specific task: that being finding a cost-effective long term rapid transit solution between the city centre and Albany. It may well be possible for ‘conventional’ rail to perform this task – NZTA’s price tag was stupid and included a link right through to Newmarket under the city centre and costed each station at $300 million, twice the proposed price of K Road & Newton stations on the CRL. However, if conventional rail can’t be made cost-effective, or a “light metro” option can go over the existing harbour bridge (saving around $1 billion compared to a harbour tunnel at a rough guess) then that could be a game-changer and is strongly worth considering.

    2. I was talking in fairly general terms there David, I realise the CRL will have short sections of 1 in 26 grade adjacent to stations but the maximum sustained grade is 1 in 33. Yet meanwhile our light metro can handle short grades of up to 1 in 15 and sustained ones of 1 in 20.The main point of that was a comparison to the 1 in 20 on the harbour bridge and parts of the Northern Busway corridor, which is what we are proposing to use for this rapid transit link in order to save massive amounts of capital expenditure.

      You say “the curve at Quay Park Junction (Parnell-Britomart) is 95m radius, far sharper than anything you will encounter on the Main Trunk Lines”, well the Quay Park Junction is part of the main line and it carries locomotive hauled carriage trains between Britomart and Wellington daily. But this is about the tightest it could be to still carry these mainline trains. Again compare this to the example of a light metro line that only ever carries light metro vehicles. The Vancouver Skytrain has one example of a 35m radius curve at a constrained point on it’s main line (plus several more in yards and service areas), while 75m is the norm.

      Ok, so we have established the limits of suburban rail in Auckland are somewhere in the region of a 1 in 26 grade and about a 90m radius curve. The Skytrain ART’s limits are about 1 in 15 grade and a 35m curve, almost twice as steep and three times as tight.

      Like Admin has pointed out the goal of this exercise is to get a top quality rapid transit route to the North Shore (and other new corridors) in a way that is affordable, preferably by using existing structures and alignments wherever possible. I have no doubt that we could build “good-old, tried-and-proved, heavy-rail” to the North Shore, Botany and the like, but I doubt it would be very cost effective. I see this a a horse for courses issue. With a blank cheque and all things being equal I would probably see suburban rail as the best outcome for any new line, but without a blank cheque I think it is very important to take a good look at any mode that will get us the outcomes we want for the least expense.

      1. Just a point of correction. The curve at Quay Park junction is not on the “main line”, but on the Newmarket branch. The NIMT goes straight ahead around the waterfront. Has the “Overlander” changed from the waterfront route to go over the hill?

        1. The Overalander occasionally goes via Newmarket, but not routinely. When I say main line I mean any main line that carries locomotive hauled trains (be they freight or passenger), not specifically just *the* North Island Main Trunk.

  13. OK I understand where you are coming from. I was trying to put in perspective some of your statements re conventional-rail which appear to show it in an unnecessarily adverse light.

    The most recent CRL alignment which I have seen had the gradient between stations at a sustained 3.5% (1 in 28.6). This was in order to achieve zero gradient in the stations themselves. The average climb might be 1 in 33, but clearly the capability of the trains must be 1 in 28.6. The specification of the units also had to allow for a “rescue train” being able to assist a fully-laden failed train up the steepest grade. I have not been involved for a while, so realise that this alignment may have been superseded by one which relaxes the need to flatten out the stations. However my point is that the gradient limit for adhesion-worked conventional heavy-rail is far steeper than the 1 in 33 you mentioned, and could approach the 1 in 15 you state for Skytrain provided that only suitably-designed units are allowed to run on it. After all, both systems rely on the same steel-steel interface, and the distinction between them actually becomes quite blurry once the heavy-rail requirement to allow for “mixed-traffic” is removed from certain stretches of line.

    I realise that the 95m radius on the Newmarket branch is indeed on a “main line”. However I contrast this with a minimum radius for the NIMT which is 150m. I raised this example to counter your suggestion that urban rail routes had to be essentially built to heavy-freight standards. Again, once the mixed-traffic requirement is excluded, a section of route with its own dedicated fleet may become much more akin to the light-metro concept, but still be able to interface with the rest of the conventional network.

    Perhaps my argument boils down to the importance of ensuring through-running capability between any new routes built to light-metro standards and the established conventional network. Auckland is too small to support an overground, an underground and a Docklands Light Railway, all separate and all largely incompatible with each other. Equally, a North-shore railway which fails to allow through-running to other parts of the network will hinder the effectiveness of Auckland’s future system.

  14. I’m not anti conventional rail at all, I think number one priority should be to complete the City Rail Link and the full southwest loop with conventional rail as soon as possible. The thrust of my argument is that after this we will have upgraded and extended all the existing lines in Auckland into quite a good self contained network. Therefore any subsequent new line doesn’t necessarily need to be done to the same specifications, and we can use whatever is cheapest or otherwise most suitable for new routes.

    Now if you are talking about suitably designed dedicated fleet of special trains to run on new lines without the grade and curvature constraints of our existing lines, then we are talking about very much the same thing. I guess the only point of contention is that I disagree with the importance of the ability to run these new light metro trains on the existing network.

    My question here is where would we through-route our North Shore trains too, and how? The CRL is going to be busy enough carrying the Western, Eastern, Southern and Airport lines on it’s two tracks (not to mention anything accessing the terminus at Britomart), do we want to try and squeeze in all the North Shore traffic into those two nicely through-routed pairs of lines too? Everything I have seen so far shows a Shore line with it’s own city tunnel and own set of platforms at the CBD station(s). That is still a direct interface with the existing network, just one that is done via a passenger transfer. If that is the case then the new line can be any format or mode or rapid transit at all, that doesn’t make it ‘separate’.

    I certainly agree with the benefits of through-running lines, but why not simply route our new lines to new lines then? On the Auckland Plan there are four conventional rail lines indicated (great, lets run these as two pairs through the CRL) and three or four other rapid transit corridors which could be routed together. So maybe we build a new line from Albany to Botany or Westgate to Takapuna?

    It doesn’t matter if four of the lines use X format and the other four use Y, if you need to transfer to get between any two lines anyway. The fact the London Underground is comprised of two non-interoperable classes of line (subsurface and deep tube) is inconsequential to it’s operation as a single integrated network.

    I think it is a little disingenuous to say that “Auckland is too small to support an overground, an underground and a Docklands Light Railway”. This is no more true than to say Auckland is too small to support a bus network, ferry system and a railway. It’s horses for courses, use the most appropriate mode for the characteristics of the given route. Any new line to the North Shore, Botany, or Westgate is going to need to be built from scratch with it’s own stabling and maintenance facility, and new trains must be built. Sure there are efficiencies from having standardised specification, but would it really be a loss if Auckland’s rapid transit lines were split between two standard types?

    One downfall of requiring compatibility with the existing network is that you could loose several of the key benefits afforded by these sorts of systems. In particular driverless operation and rolling block signalling are, to the best of my knowledge, impossible to implement unless everything on the line uses the same system. If we want to through-route our North Shore line out south somewhere then we would need drivers and conventional signalling, meaning lower frequencies and higher operating costs. Also the third rail power supply would be useful for minimising the cross section area of tunnels and limiting the height of over bridges and underpasses. To keep this and route to existing lines at the same time would mean extending third rail to trackage that already has overhead, a waste of resource although admittedly there are many examples of tracks worldwide that have both overhead and third rail at the same time.

    A couple of further points:
    -The Bombardier system doesn’t rely on “the same steel-steel interface” as our EMUs will, as those vehicles use a linear induction motor for magnetic traction and braking in normal operation. Only the emergency brakes require friction between wheel and rail.
    -My understanding is that the current CRL alignment no longer has zero grade at K Rd and Newton stations, in order to ease the sustained grade.

  15. Nick – Any line to the South East would need to be the same as what we have now unless you planned on building that new RTN infrastructure all the way into town which would be pretty expensive. Also I would imagine the costs for conventional heavy rail would be almost the same as the light metro solution you describe here as any grade separated sections would require pretty much exactly the same amount of work and therefore cost. Also I don’t think the costs for making things like bridges higher would be that material if done from scratch, if you are having to build a bridge it won’t make much difference at all if it is 4m high or 5m high.

    1. Yes that is an issue with the South Eastern route. A first stage could terminate at an Eastern Line station while waiting for a later underground extension, but that’s admittedly very poor alternative to a train that runs through, and quite unlikely.

      The solution I’m currently thinking about is running the rapid transit tracks right next to the existing Eastern Line from the waterfront to the vicinity of Glen Innes. Initially that sounds silly, but it would be in lieu of the proposed 3rd freight track in the corridor (which really should have a fourth in mind too). The existing tracks would be primarily for freight and long distance passenger trains running non-stop through the area, while the local stations would now be serviced by an eastern line that goes all the way out to Botany and Manukau. There could be some benefits to using light metro here, for example a St Johns station could be added up close to the top of St Heliers Rd, rather than down in the bottom of the gully.

      On the flip side I have done some basic long sections on what would be required to get suburban rail (assuming a max sustained grade of 1 in 33 and a 90m curve) from Manukau Station to the start of Te Irirangi corridor and just that section is, well, disheartening. It really looks like 2km of bored tunnel is about the only feasible option. Easing the grade/curve requirements could could cut costs substantially there, particularly as the motorway corridor could be crossed with a simple overpass feeding into a cut and cover tunnel under Redoubt Rd and Holyford Drive. The centre of the route is easy either way using the reservation in the centre of Te Irirangi, but back at the other end crossing the Tamaki river and getting to Botany is a bit of a nightmare too.

      It could still be more expensive to build just the new section as suburban rail if it requires a lot of tunnel, rather than the new section as mostly viaduct and grade light metro plus following the existing line right into town. I don’t really know. Maybe the south east is like the airport line and would be easiest and best as part of the existing network.

      What I have been focussing on the most is the North Shore line (with branch to Takapuna), plus a second one in the Upper Harbour and Northwestern corridors (including a branch to Henderson) both linked by a new under street tunnel in the CBD. It’s looking like alignments with light metro characteristics could be a good solution to affordable rail transit in these corridors.

  16. Yes, perhaps our ideas do indeed converge, but I cannot lightly concede the benefits of through-running between destinations that have a significant intrinsic demand for linkage. Where the principal travel-demand exists, that should be the through-route. Interchanging is a necessary part of network-operation but you avoid imposing it on arterial flows as far as possible. Now it is my gut-feeling (not supported by data, so I admit I could be wrong) that such a corridor exists between the airport and the North Shore, and that this would be a desirable journey to keep as-one, at least as far as Takapuna. So how this squares with a separate light-metro is not immediately obvious, unless rolling stock on the new line can also operate on existing lines. Assuming for the moment that this is a key corridor, do we just flag it away because it is easier to connect a new North Shore line to a new Botany line, or do we do our best to tailor the system to meet the demand? I pose this as a non-rhetorical question, accepting that the answer may be several shades of grey. But what we do not want to do is provide something which is plainly deficient and have it roundly cursed for the next 50-odd years as being a dumb idea! Unfortunately the history of public transport in the English-speaking world is replete with examples of this. As the saying goes, Bitterness of poor-quality remains long after sweetness of low-price is forgotten!

    My comment about Auckland being too small for an underground and overground etc was not particularly helpful I agree. However it was motivated by a concern to avoid disjointedness of the sort which has historically afflicted London, principally because of a lack of through rail-routes. Having two changes of mode imposed on many arterial flows across London is a huge impediment to the use of public transport, and it belatedly takes a “Thameslink” or a “Crossrail” to fix this. How much better if through-routes had been established at the start.

    Now contrast this with the continual emphasis on ease of motoring-journeys and the extraordinary lengths to which the highway-funders are prepared to go, in order to save motorists a few minutes’ journey-time. Coming from Wellington, I am continually struck by how it is seen as somehow “OK” to terminate the rail-artery at the main railway station and force thousands of passengers every day to get out and walk, while it is such a huge priority to extend the motorway across town to make an already easy car-journey even easier. This is what we in public transport are up against, and it is my belief that should there be a profound change of circumstance forced by peak-oil, climate-change or whatever, then the resultant swing to public transport could be such that it would start to enjoy some of the largesse currently lavished only on motorists. No longer would we always have to think in terms of the cheapest and the barest-minimum we can get by with. And many of us believe that profound change to be closer than the current Minister of Transport thinks!

    So in a round about way, this leads me to the conclusion that retaining and extending heavy-rail offers the best long-term answer to cities such as Auckland and Wellington that already have an extensive system, and we should think very carefully before compromising the future network with non-compatible alternatives. Were we starting from scratch with no existing rail infrastructure then something like the ART system could well be the system of choice.

    Apologies for my mistake regarding the “steel-steel” comment. Of course a linear motor does not rely on wheel-rail friction for the transmission of force!

    1. I am definitely going into this with the mindset of minimising cost and coming up with solutions that are feasible in the current political climate. If only we had the sort of carte blanche funding that motorways attract!

      So yeah from my point of view that means doing what we can free of largess, even if that isn’t always 100% ideal. I would be more than happy with a North Shore line that requires a transfer for most people to complete their trips, if the more ideal alternative was impossible to get built anyway.

      I’m not sure about the primacy of the desire line between the North Shore and the airport. Certainly Shoreites will want easy access to the airport when taking flights, but so will Westies, Southsiders, Pakarangutans et al. For a start we shouldn’t really call it the airport line because the modelling shows the route will be used much more by commuters from the south west travelling to work in the CBD and airport, and by persons from elsewhere who work in the airport environs. That’s what the airport zone arterial flow is, not actually much to do with people taking flights. In my opinion it makes more sense for our southwest line to run from the CBD to Manukau via the southwest suburbs, to serve these employment trips directly. We can only really have one line to the airport, so the rest will have to transfer. As for the North Shore I would say the arterial flow is towards the CBD, and from there fairly evenly distributed across the isthmus and south Auckland.

      Your last comment is much the way I’m thinking: “Were we starting from scratch with no existing rail infrastructure then something like the ART system could well be the system of choice.” I’ve just framed it slightly differently by saying we are actually starting from scratch in north, northwest and southeast of Auckland.

    2. Comparing Auckland with London isn’t terrible helpful for working out the need for non-transferring cross-town services. London’s population is greater than New Zealand’s, for starters, and their public transport demands are consequently much more intensive.

      Reality is that most cities overseas require transfers, by service if not by mode, in order to do anything more than travel in roughly a straight line. Provided that it’s straightforward to make such a transfer, it’s not a big deal. Having a North Shore ART service that requires a transfer at, say, Aotea Station in order for passengers to head out west or to the airport is entirely consistent with service delivery in other cities. It’s simply not feasible to route services on every conceivable combination of start and end point, as witnessed by the complex configurations of hub stations in Europe where one can end up walking hundreds of metres, up and down stairs/escalators, in order to just change services within the same mode, never mind what’s involved in a change from, say, S-Bahn to U-Bahn.

  17. It would be great to see rail running alongside sh1 north shore with bus transfer stations placed along the line and some multy level car parks for those that feel unsafe walking to and waiting at bus stops (or to lazy)
    I do live on the shore but don’t work in the cbd But use the bus to cbd now and again and usually a good trip in the weekend but know many people who use it to work and find it over crowded and Neva on time. Same can be said for my work commute to takapuna some days
    Now the rail will solve this, with buses dropping people at transfer stations instead of running all the way to cbd and back so a bus should fit 2 runs in the time it takes for one to the cbd based on my assumption of where I live in Glenfield.

    Now light rail… I would consider our narrow gauge rail in nz to be light rail as it around 400mm more narrow then the standard guage, which is y our commuter rail cars resemble the inside of a bus with 2 seat rows (4 seat) and narrow isles while standard guage cars are over 3000mm wide and have 3 seat and 2 seat rows (5 seat) wide and often double decked like the new waratah fleet in Sydney.

    And getting people in on it, several things

    1. don’t make the trip dreary, ie don’t run trains through tunnels under the harbour while highway users above enjoy a great view of the city on there way in (which they shouldent while driving)

    2. Make parking hard to find and expensive in cbd and cheaper at transfer stations.
    Pull some cbd parks down

    3. Not everyone likes the gym before or after work. make bus or car to train transfers fast, and keep walking distance down between bus and trains. Have escalators and lifts at multy level stations.

    1. Light Rail refers to the vehicles used, not the tracks. The rails on LRT networks are every bit as heavy as standard railway line rails.

      Most of Auckland’s existing passenger carriages are standard gauge carriages, from the 4’8.5″ tracks in England.

    2. Using that definition john the Wynyard Trams would all be heavy rail since they run on standard gauge tracks as do all trams in Europe that I’ve ever seen.

    3. Definitely agree the council needs to look to get out of the parking business by pulling down their large stock such as Downtown and Victoria Street and redeveloping the land. As it is they uncut everyone else (using rates to subsidise it) and actually distort the pricing. There also should be either be a sinking lid on further carparks or carparks taxed to reduce the desire of developers to whack in 400 new ones whenever they build anything.

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