Auckland Transport’s CE report for today’s board meeting confirms that increases in train frequency – and the opening of the Manukau station – will occur in March (let’s hope at the very beginning of March to take advantage of the year’s busiest month).

Planning is being finalised for the introduction of an enhanced passenger rail timetable for March 2012 as a step change towards the planned service levels set out in the Rail Development Plan. Due to constraints on train movements at Britomart it is not possible to make adjustments to the timetable on one route without affecting the arrivals and departures of trains on all other lines. Therefore, rather than a piecemeal approach that would require frequent service changes, the opportunity has been taken to develop a robust timetable that includes many of the planned service improvements that were assumed to be in place ahead of the introduction of electric trains.

I’m glad that a full review of the rail timetable is occurring. We will be stuck with this timetable for quite a long time (with perhaps only the opportunity to increase off-peak frequencies) so it makes sense to get it completely right. These are the main elements of the improvements:

  • Introduction of train services to Manukau, following the completion of track and signalling works by KiwiRail in the second half of 2011. Initial service offering will be 3 trains an hour during the peak and two trains an hour at all other times.
  • Introduction of 6 trains an hour from Henderson during the peak Monday to Friday on the Western Line. The infrastructure works to allow this level of service were completed in August 2010 and patronage has now grown to a level that warrants this service capacity.
  • Western Line services will operate a half-hourly service between Swanson and Britomart during the core of the day on both Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Onehunga Line services will be increased to half-hourly throughout the day and at a weekend, to accommodate further growth.
  • Increased frequency of services from Pukekohe to every 60 minutes during the day midweek in response to customer demand.

The peak time improvements (western line to six trains per hour and Manukau station services) were well signalled a long time ago, and effectively mean the completion of Project DART. I’m also very happy to see that some thought has gone into improving off-peak frequencies – when there are trains available. Getting half hour frequencies on the Western Line on weekends is incredibly overdue, as is the extension of Sunday services to Swanson (they currently terminate at Henderson). I’m also really pleased to see Onehunga trains going to half-hourly services all the time (except evenings I guess).

One thing that’s probably worth Auckland Transport emphasising is that this is not only the “mature” timetable pre-electrification, but it’s also pretty close to our mature timetable post-electrification (probably more trains will go to Manukau and further on the Western Line). That’s because, with the two extra trains into Britomart from the west, we have used up our final two slots. Until we get the City Rail Link built, this is it.

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  1. Will they run later rail services during the week?
    I’m involved with a community theatre that’s very near the station in Onehunga, but current service timetabling makes it infeasible for our patrons to use trains except on Friday and Saturday nights. We’re not even talking very late, since our shows are always finished by 11pm.

  2. I’m somewhat sceptical about the Britomart “slot” argument. Even during rush hour you can stand at the station for many many minutes with nothing moving in or out. I suspect that modern signalling software and attentive drivers (or laser distance detectors such as you already see on top level Mercedes cars) should allow us to run far more trains in and out. Of course, having identical trains on all lines (as we should have post electrification) that can be swapped from one service to another at a moments notice and so more efficiently use the available platform space will help as well.

    It is a bit harder to argue against the argument about the danger of having too many trains in the tunnel at one time in case a fire requires evacuation on foot but if this is a real concern, as opposed to something dreamt up by a well meaning bureaucrat somewhere (and I am not qualified to judge that), then presumably it is still more economic to dig a few more emergency exits than it is to limit services.

    Of course, if all else fails, once integrated ticketing is upon us, there is nothing stopping us running a frequent shuttle between Britomart and Newmarket and having passengers change to Southern or Western line trains there.

    And that is just off the top of my head. Surely, a decent transport planner can come up with other ways of improving service frequency without waiting for the City Rail Link.

    Oh, and I’m also happy to accept that the many decent transport planners we have in this city have already thought of all these and many other tactics but can see the flaws that are obvious to them in their offices but not so obvious from my couch.

    1. 21 (I think it’s 21) movements per hour is a head-way of under three minutes. That’s cutting it pretty close, given the conflicting movements across tracks to enter/exit Britomart. Track-in/track-out is a big restriction without grade separation. If they grade separate the tracks I think there’ll be some increase in capacity but I’m not sure where the separation would need to be done to make a real difference.

      Also, that is a very theoretical maximum. In reality it’s fewer than that because the trains can’t move fast enough and Wellington train control isn’t swift enough of thought to keep track (I’ll be here all week) of so many movements.

    2. Steve, I think the main issue with your proposals is that those improvement may well work fine as long as things work fine – but once something goes wrong, such close follow-ups mean that there is literally no leeway to get things right again, without tons other services “piling up” in the meantime. Any robust system needs redundancy not only to avoid safety-related failures, but also to recover from service failures.

  3. Of course more trains is a good thing until you tell the whole story. In peak hour there will be no additional carriages because they are all in service now. That means that to provide more trains there must be less carriages on those trains. So all that is achieved is some feel good numbers on the timetable and no spare slots left at Britomart to recover from the inevitable breakdowns. All in all a recipe for disaster.

    1. More trains over the same lines (except Manukau, which is just one stop off the Southern Line) means the same total number of carriages. So there’s no reduction in capacity, it’s just spread around a bit more.

  4. Yeah I agree with admin that this is pretty close to a mature timetable now there are more off-peak services as well. As written, Manukau will probably warrant more services. Otherwise the improvements I`d like to see are what Matt mentioned in later Mon-Thur services till 11pm at least and earlier starts on Sat-Sun. Basically it should be the same start times throughout the week. There`s a lot of shift workers like myself these days and a lot of people who also work on weekends too yet the trains don`t start till much later on a Sunday than Mon-Fri. Also Pukekohe must be due for weekend services. The build up of weekday services are proof that it`s a valid part of the Auckland rail network and the locals should be asking for at least a trial of weekend services.

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