Along with the two other great changes that are underway in Auckland right now; the fantastic service redesign, and at last; ticketing and fare integration, the prospect of our new Electric Trains add up to nothing short of a real revolution in the shape and performance of the entire city.

All three changes are required together because only all three add up to a transformation of Auckland from a totally auto-dependant place to it being a viable Transit City as well. Together these changes, for the first time, give Auckland a true Transit Network based on interconnecting routes across all modes and directions and with minimal inconvenience or undue cost. At the heart of this transformation is a core service of fast and frequent vehicles unobstructed by other traffic: The Rapid Transit Network or RTN.

To begin with the RTN will be made up of the Northern Busway plus the existing Rail Network. The Busway will have more and better services, and the rail network is being electrified and will be run on a seven day/ten minute pattern with brand new trains currently being built in Spain. The new speed and frequency of the system is the key; we can all forget timetables and just turn-up-and-go, bus riders arriving at new stations like Panmure will have the option of getting to more destinations more quickly by transferring to the unconstricted RTN lines. Yeeha!

To manage these trains a new Depot is being built beside the Southern Line on a disused quarry site in Wiri. Here are some photographs I took of progress there, starting with a glamour shot with plenty for engineering nerds to follow:

Looking south with Depot Building on the right.

Looking down the first of the new sidings on the west side of North Island Main Trunk Line at dusk.

Site overview; looking North with old Wiri Station in the right foreground

For an illustration of how much of a new age for rail is now underway in Auckland just contrast the old Wiri platforms on the right above with the infrastructure being built nearby. Beyond the old station the concrete hardstand of the inland freight port is visible. There are two tracks for diesel trains only on the eastern side and three about to get electric kit further west. Also visible is the fill still going into the old quarry site this side of the Depot building itself. I wonder if it is coming from the Waterview motorway project? Shame the CRL isn’t being dug now spill could be removed by rail and be forming the base for the depot….

Depot building with old Wiri platforms in the foreground

The whole area between the Depot building and the existing rail line will be sidings for the Depot; where many of our new trains will overnight. Only one track is in so far.

Workshop Building under costruction

The steel portal frame is going up real fast as are the forming of service pits.

Inside the central bay

Inside the workshop there will be various state-of-the-art amenities to keep our new trains running well. It will be run by CAF, the Spanish company building the trains.

Forming the pit for the hydraulic train jacks

A first for NZ; there will be a precisely spaced set of hydraulic jacks set into the floor of the central bay able to efficiently lift a full three car set at the push of a button.

Hydaulic Train Jack Pit

The jacks are being made in Germany and these pits are being formed to very tight tolerances to fit them. There is also a wheel lathe [1mm tolerance, apparently] and a really elaborate system of earthing every bit of steel in the building to safely handle any incidents with the electric supply.

South of the Depot showing third main and approach sidings underconstruction

South of the Depot site one set of the access sidings can be seen going in on the right, but also the third main under the masts for the electric supply. The whole marshalling yard will be run with fully automated points, drivers will not really be driving the trains much here, as will be the case in the CRL when built. For both safety and efficiency a great deal of our new system will be automated. If the new trains didn’t have to share so much of the network with freight trains even more of it would be automated.

This all shows, I suppose, the one advantage of the long and deep period of zero investment in rail in Auckland. Out of necessity we are getting a completely new and extremely up to date system, one that will be very efficient to run and a pleasure to use.

All we will need after this is a more complete network to really get full return on this investment. Starting, of course, with the City Rail Link.

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  1. I think you hit it on the head when you mentioned the triple threat. Neither project really has the ability to change much. Together, the change will be greater than the sum of the parts. Once you add the CRL into the picture the gains from these projects will be multiplied again.

  2. Not sure if “the future” is an apt way to describe something that’s been a feature of cities across the world for over 100 years and in another NZ city for over 70 years.

    1. Daniel perhaps you have a very old fashioned idea of the future; all jet packs and flying cars? Ah the fantasies of the 20th Century.

      Here’s my prediction, less techno but nonetheless revolutionary:

      But I agree in the sense that Auckland used to be a Transit City, in fact used to have the highest level of PT ridership in developed world, and a compact and pleasant city. Until the mid 1950s when the network was systematically dismantled because it was a hinderance to the car/sprawl plans of a powerful clique.

      The lesson from that period? The need for balance. It was time then to invest in roads and spread but to have done so in such an unplanned way and without even protecting a few corridors for future use across was empty farmland has led directly to the kind of predictable mess that is, say, the Pakuranga Highway.

      Time for Auckland to ‘Grow Up’ in every sense of the phrase.

      1. My point is that commuter/suburban electric rail ain’t the future. It’s been “the current” for over 100 years. You should re-title this “Here is the program, Auckland”.

        1. It is, however, with fare integration and network redesign, Auckland’s future, and the first whole city new direction in the city’s movement investment in 60 years. Not that hard to understand. No it isn’t nuclear powered tunnel boring machines or some other techno-fantasists wet dream but these are things we don’t have now but will soon; ie in the future.

          Using existing technology better is, anyway, how progress occurs.

          Compare and contrast:

          1. Fare integration has been around since the 1970’s. And what’s so novel about a network whose design hasn’t changed much since the steam-powered days? 😀

            Just face it; this is catch-up stuff, not futuristic.

          2. There is nothing futuristic about any of it but none has been available in Auckland. And it is coming. I did not use the word futuristic, but said that these three things together, at last, are coming, IN THE FUTURE, to Auckland.

            Yes it is catch up, and long overdue, but is still transformative and will change how it is possible to live here and so much else that is of real and lasting value. See:

            No it is not Star Trek.

  3. Thanks for posting the photos. I had the opportunity to observe much of the Southern line yesterday; looks like great progress on installation of masts and wiring.

  4. Awesome photos. I’ve not been inside yet. Looking forward to seeing these new trains, and driving them (loco engineer trainee)
    Irony of ironies, the rock from the quarry was used for railway ballast, now having to fill it in again for railway depot.

  5. It’s all happening! Fantastic stuff. Will be revolutionary methinks. I agree with the comment above about how these projects on their own would not have much of an impact, but taken together they will have a transformative effect on the shape of the city.

    1. My guess is that most of the DCs will be disposed of. The A1A bogie configuration makes them poor candidates for rebuilding and using in another country (or here) and the frames date back to the early 1960s. The 645 prime movers and traction motors will have some value.

  6. Slightly off-topic – though ironically a form of “linking trains and bikes” as per the blog post just before – when they first announced the construction of the depot, I noted (in the name of Cycle Action) that they mentioned planning a good chunk car parking for the maintenance staff. I asked whether they would consider also providing secure cycling storage with showers and lockers? They said they’d convey it to the depot design team. Not sure if that ever made it in, sadly… unlike the car parking, which was probably District Plan mandatory, as ever.

      1. Isn’t that new building smack-bang on the route for a northern extension to Manakau?

        Brilliant thinking that was. Two steps forward, one step back……

  7. Good post Patrick! To me, the words “NZ rail engineering” bring to mind dated ex-government workshops in places like Dunedin. These clean hi-tech facilities that owe something to the aircraft industry feel like a step change in maintenance efficiency. I like the fact that the train manufacturers will be responsible for the maintenance of their product too… there will be no excuse if the trains aren’t available for service.

    1. Good point. Opponents of rail in NZ love to point to its degraded state as proof of its uselessness and out of date quality, but any mode without maintainence and investment will age and become dysfunctional. Including roads and airports. So that has always been a self fulfilling argument. Same goes for the stinky old buses.

      And quality of kit and amenity always has a bearing on appeal and therefore passenger numbers. So it is a great victory to be getting these investments across the system, starting with Britomart, the double tracking, signals upgrades, the Northern Busway, Onehunga, Manukau, New Lynn, Newmarket, the Link Routes.

      But the Triple Threat is the big one this side of major transformational investments in a new Auckland (CRL). Those previous investments have laid an incremental foundation and have provided good proof of process, which is to say have proven that investment in the system will lead directly to greater uptake.

      So over the next few years we will see just how much of a step change is possible. Can Auckland do a Perth?:

      Note a comment from Matt L in that post predicting flat growth around about now on because of no expansion in service.

  8. Good post thanks Patrick. But you missed the part construction of the third main/West loop at Puhinui over the weekend! Yes, they have actually begun.

  9. Hey by the way guys.. Maybe off topic…. According to newspaper dated back at middle of year that I recalled that Ritchies n NZbuses going to have double decker buses around Aug or Sept??? Who happen to it? Is it still coming soon???

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