Patronage on the Auckland rail network has taken off over the last decade, rising from around 2.5 million trips a year in 2003 to 10 million now as a result of investment. However we have been noticing that not all growth has been equal. The patronage at some stations has changed little in a decade with the worst performing stations being Waitakere, Te Mahia and Westfield. It has prompted us to question whether AT should continue to run services there. This was being exaggerated by electrification. The electrified network will run from Swanson to Papakura and the initial plan was to run a diesel shuttle to Waitakere in the West and Pukekohe in the South. Late last year we saw that AT have looked into extending electrification to Pukekohe however it would be extremely expensive to extend to Waitakere as the tunnel on the line would need to be lowered at great expense.
Well the question of what to do about Waitakere has now been answered as Auckland Transport have just announced that the service will be replaced with buses. Here is the press release:
Buses to replace future Waitakere to Swanson rail services
Rail services between neighbouring Waitakere and Swanson stations will be replaced with a regular bus shuttle service once Auckland’s new electric trains are operating on the Western Line.
As the Western Line is only electrified and double-tracked to Swanson and no funding is available to expand or cut through the Waitakere tunnel to extend the electrified network, an alternative public transport option is needed.
Auckland Transport’s decision to provide buses in place of a diesel shuttle service was based on a number of factors, including the high relative cost of operating and maintaining a diesel service in comparison to a bus service, low demand for public transport services at Waitakere, capital cost savings and comparative travel times (seven minutes by bus versus five minutes by train).
Auckland Transport’s Public Transport Operations Manager, Mark Lambert, says the large injection of ratepayer funding needed to retain a diesel service along the 2km stretch between Waitakere and Swanson stations could not be justified when a more flexible and accessible bus service could be operated for significantly less.
Buses between Waitakere and Swanson are the best and most cost effective option, providing a $20.8 million cost-saving over 25 years, he says.
An estimated $3 million would also be required to upgrade Swanson and Waitakere stations to provide the infrastructure to support a diesel shuttle. A further $3 million would be required to refurbish two diesel trains to provide the service. Annual operating costs for the diesel shuttle would have been more than $1.5 million.
Mr Lambert says studies show that more people from the Waitakere/Bethells area already forego Waitakere Station to park and ride at Swanson, where rail services are more frequent.
“Once electric trains are in service and running more frequently in and out of Swanson, we expect this trend to be more pronounced,” he says.
Residents will be invited to provide feedback on the new bus services proposed for their area prior to all electric trains being in service by mid-2016.
Personally I think this is the right decision and I applaud AT for making it as I’m sure it wouldn’t have been easy. I also know that there are a lot of people who believe that we should be pushing to retain the service, or even expand it to Huapai but I think we need to be practical. I feel that advocating a rail at all costs approach is counterproductive, playing right into the hands of anti PT proponents and undermining credibility for much needed projects like the CRL. It is also interesting to note in the press release that many people are already foregoing Waitakere and going to Swanson. For a comparison here are the station boarding counts since 2003.
AT have also provided me with a patronage count from 1997 where there were 97 daily boardings. They also say that data from HOP (tag ons and paper tickets) shows that on an average weekday boardings are 114 which excludes days when there are disruptions.
With Waitakere closing and the new development going in, hopefully Swanson station will see a decent lift in patronage.