The Herald today has an article on the rail shutdown, mainly just talking about similar stuff we mentioned in this post. However at the bottom of the article are some interesting comments by Mike Lee around the CRL and in particular what we do around rolling stock.
Mr Lee said it took a concerted campaign by the former Auckland Regional Council, which he chaired, to convince Labour Finance Minister Michael Cullen in 2008 to support electrification on the basis that “rail would go onwards and upwards forever in Auckland”.
It was ironic that the “kicker” argument for electric trains was that the underground rail extension could not be built without them, yet Auckland was now having trouble convincing the Government of that project’s merits.
But Mr Lee believes an extension of the electrification project to include electric locomotives could boost the economic case for a rail tunnel, by enabling Auckland to retain some of its rolling stock without having to buy a second fleet of new trains in addition to the 57 on order.
He is annoyed Auckland Transport has included more than $300 million of extra trains in an inflation-adjusted cost estimate of $2.86 billion, resulting in a predicted return of only 90c for every dollar invested in a new rail tunnel, and says that without them the project would more than break even.
That could be achieved by using electric locomotives to haul existing passenger carriages by day, and freight to and from the port at night, reducing emissions and noise through residential suburbs.
Mike seems to have a fascination with retaining the existing SA trains and hauling them around with electric locomotives as this isn’t the first time he has mentioned it. I wonder if it is purely as a result of him trying to do everything possible to get the CRL built by reducing part of the cost like the article suggests or if it is perhaps because the ARC had to fight hard to get the money to buy and upgrade the trains in the first place. In fact the original plans for electrification were to buy 38 EMUs and then an additional 13 electric locomotives to pull around the SA fleet. In 2011 Auckland Transport did the sums and found that long term it was actually cheaper just to buy the extra EMUs we needed due to things like simpler and less maintenance costs along with the fact the SA trains would have needed another refurbishment or replacement in a number of years. But there was another kicker as well, as part of the original CRL business case said:
KiwiRail has advised that the fire rating of the existing SA/SD carriage trains is not compatible with extended operation in tunnels. Therefore, the assumption used in the CBD Rail Link study is that all services will be operated using Electric Multiple Units (EMUs), either those currently being procured by KiwiRail or those bought in subsequent batches. It is understood that KiwiRail‟s current technical specification for the Auckland EMU‟s requires that these trains must be compatible with the CBD Rail Link.
So in reality the suggestion by Mike isn’t really a valid one although I guess at least he managed to get across the point that the $2.86b cost is not the tunnel alone but includes a whole host of other costs, a break down of which is below.
It does still leave the question open about what will happen with the SA trains post electrification. They aren’t really suited to long distance travel due to their door configuration and lack of toilets. There also doesn’t appear to be any other cities in NZ even considering using rail for passengers that could use them to get started. My guess is they will be sold overseas, perhaps to a developing country in Africa to be used there although just how much we would get for them is unknown.
As a side note, I actually thought it was a shame that it didn’t seem to be considered as part of the Christchurch rebuild. The rail network travels through quite a few neighbourhoods and satellite towns so with a short Britomart type extension could have seen the network extended closer to the CBD but I guess Gerry would never have approved of that.