This is a guest post by regular commenter and current resident of Korea Konrad Kurta.

There’s been a bit of talk on this blog about the plausibility of replacing the Northern Busway  with Vancouver-style ‘light metro’, which I will refer to as ART (Advanced Rapid Transit) for the purposes of this post.

The topic itself has been talked about in some depth here and here, but basically, ART is a type of driverless electric train that can run as single or multiple cars, carrying lots of passengers at short intervals. This idea of running ART to the North Shore intrigued me, so to add to the conversation I figured I should experience first-hand a modern ART system. How can I do that from New Zealand?

I can’t, which is OK because I live in South Korea. Near the city of Yongin there is a new ART system that links Korea’s biggest amusement park, Everland, to the Seoul Metro network about 18kms away. The ‘Everline’ is brand-spanking new, having only opened at the beginning of the month. On Saturday I went to check it out.

A single unit driverless ART train from Bombardier. These things can run up to six carriages long.
A single unit driverless ART train from Bombardier. These things can run up to six carriages long.

The Everland stop is where the line terminates and is paradoxically where we begin our journey. Arriving at the station, the first thing you realize is that Everland is massive. I can’t even see it from the station, but there are easily two hundred buses in the enormous parking lot. No wonder they needed a rail line. The second thing you notice is that the ART cars themselves are fairly unremarkable; they’re quaint, almost. On this line they run as individual units (they can be coupled together in groups of up to six) and look like a metro train’s smaller, stylish cousin. I’m not certain, but I think these are the ‘Mark III’ trains – Bombadier’s latest incarnation of the ART unit [Editors note: We’ve established these are actually the MkII model].

The station at Everland is modern and functional, but surprisingly sparse compared to the ridiculous size of Seoul’s metro stations and their accompanying mega-malls and underground shopping centers. That surprises me seeing as it is meant to process thirty thousand people an hour – where are the convenience stores and little fashion outlets selling cheap ladies shoes?

The train switching tracks near the station.
The train switching tracks near the station.

Getting though the station and onto the train involves the same process as everywhere else in South Korea – I just swipe my bank card and walk on. Bus fares, metro fares and everything I buy in SK requires just one card regardless of what city I’m in. Just a pointless brag to all of you waiting for AT’s integrated ticketing.

When you lean over the edge and examine it, the ART track just looks like any other rail track, save the third rail running down the middle (caution: stand behind the yellow line at stations or you’ll be told off by Scolding Loudspeaker Guy). My partner and I are the only ones to get on at this station, perhaps not surprisingly seeing as we’re here at 11am and everyone is arriving rather than leaving Everland.

Standard gauge with third rail power and a central reactor rail for the linear induction motors.
Standard gauge with third rail power and a central reactor rail for the linear induction motors.

It does give us an opportunity to take some pictures though, and we’re surprised at how big the inside of the train is – comfortably bigger than your average bus.

The ride itself is very smooth, save a few jerky moments while accelerating to top speed – any frequent metro riders would find this familiar. More noticeable than these jerky moments is the train’s performance up hills and around corners, especially compared to typical metro trains. Given there’s no driver and you can look out the front of the carriage, you get to see first hand the track banking around surprisingly sharp corners, something the train doesn’t seem to mind as it enthusiastically purrs around curves and up inclines. Indeed, it doesn’t seem to slow down much at all around corners courtesy of the banked tracks, which makes it a much more interesting train ride than most I’ve been on.

Plenty of room on the inside.
Plenty of room on the inside.

While the ride itself is moderately exciting, the stations we stop at aren’t. Not that they’re ugly, there’s just not a lot to them. They are quite clearly designed for one basic purpose: get people on, and get people off (giggle). Trains run at six minute frequencies, yet there’s not a lot of ‘extra stuff’ – there’s ticketing and bathrooms below the platforms, escalators and stairs up to the platforms and liberally applied exits to the surrounding area. That seems to be it.

A few people start to board which gives us time to take some ‘people on the train’ shots, and we settle into what quickly becomes a standard train ride. We start talking to a young local guy, take a few more photos and are soon pulling up to the last station. It’s similar to the others; stylish enough and devoid of bells and whistles. The transfer to the metro line is still under construction so we have to walk around to the current metro entrance. Before we know it we’re on the metro heading to Seoul. Was that really eighteen kilometers of ART?

Not very busy heading away from the amusement park in the morning!
Not very busy heading away from the amusement park in the morning!

My overall impression about ART after this is a very positive one. Two things in particular stick with me: the speed at which you go from entering the station to getting on the train (and vice versa), and the sheer nimbleness of the system as a whole. If I had to sum it up in two words, those two words would be ‘no bullshit’. This is not a system geared for people waiting around, it’s a system designed to move people without letting them loiter.

Having had some time to think about it, riding the Everline went a long way to convincing me that ART would be a great way of getting people across the Waitemata from the North Shore. It was fast and efficient, and perhaps most importantly it can move lots of people without requiring expensive supporting infrastructure. ART to the Shore? I think yes.

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  1. The interesting next question is whether it’d be best to build airport rail as light metro too and somehow join the two lines together.

    1. Thanks for the post Konrad. While I have not had the opportunity to try any of these lines, your post has confirmed what many of the videos and stories of using the skytrain imply, that it works and its easy to use.

      @Noodle. I’m in favour of this mode across the Waitemata but to build a ART line from the airport would be very expensive and I don’t believe we would be able to justify the expense given that there is already an existing rail line, soon to have nice new EMU’s, most of the way there already.

  2. Looks as if it’s a Spartan version of the Docklands Light Rail in London; Thatcher’s only significant transport legacy and, while popular, the least lovely line of them all. The line’s popularity exceeded all expectations; it was built to serve the redeveloped Docklands (full of suits) and it was anticipated that they’d all want to drive their Beemers in to Canary Wharf, etc, and leave the DLR for the typists (yes, they still had them then). Strangely enough, the suits preferred PT and still do. So a lesson for Auckland when it decides to do the rational thing when it replaces the Northern Busway; never underestimate your passenger numbers!

    1. Having used the DLR and Innovia ART systems in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, I can say I much prefer the latter.

      As you suggest, I get a ‘dinky’ feeling from the DLR that I don’t from the Innovia. The DLR feels more like a people mover that has been reluctantly scaled up a bit, while the ART feels more like a slightly scaled down proper metro. The one’s in beijing run four carriage sets that do 130km/h, so they are really indistinguishable from any other urban metro.

      I might point out the the interiors are on the smaller side as far as metros go, but they are still about the same size as our heavy rail (which has a fairly compact loading gauge) and much bigger inside than London tube trains.

      As for converting the busway, the only thing would be to ensure that platform lengths could eventually be expanded to six or even eight car lengths. The cars are fairly short at 18m long so an eight car is about the same as our six car EMUs will be, but with the metro style interiors and extra doors they will have even higher capacity and throughput (an eight car ART has 24 doors per side, a six car EMU has only 12). The other upside is that the ART can handle 75sec headways, or 48 per hour each way. Our EMU system would be lucky to achieve even 30 per hour each way.

    1. Ah, I see. I should have bothered to look a bit harder! I made an assumption they were using the Mark III carriages, seeing as they were ‘under development’ a few years ago and this is a brand new line. Will ask admins if they can change it.

      Yeah, this is a pure people mover, though so are large parts of the Seoul metro system that still seem to accommodate a baffling number of tiny fashion stores, convenience stores and the like.

      Though it’s primary purpose is getting folk to and from the park, none of the people who were on the train were using it for that purpose. It runs through Yongin, so allows the one million people from that city to access the Seoul metro system.

      It isn’t geographically perfect, but this gives you an idea of how it fits in. Down on the bottom right!

    2. Everline isn’t all about the people mover aspect from metro to Everland; why do you think there are stations in between. Everline serves Yongin for multiple purposes. There’s a station right by Kangnam university that will probably be well used by commuters.

  3. Singapore has had a similar system, called the LRT, for about the last 10-15 years It’s role is to connect new suburbs to the main metro line (MRT). It generally works well, and is smooth, but there have been some glitches here and there- e.g. at least once, the train has stalled on the tracks and the passengers had to dismount and walk on the elevated tracks to the next station. There are some pictures here on the operator’s website:

      1. The Singapore LRT has electrochromic windows that go opaque when passing by residential blocks (presumably to maintain some sense of privacy)

    1. Cool thing about the ART is it can run as a single car people mover (like the Everline and at JFK airport), but it can also operate as full size metro like in Vancouver and Beijing:

  4. Having used the DLR a bit, I think it has its place but it simpley can not carry the numbers.
    As mentioned above, the DLR proved so popular the Jubilee was extend to Carary Wharf and being heavy rail it can really carry the numbers, and now carries a lot more people into the area. Crossrail is also getting a station in the area to help carry the numbers as well in the future.
    Plus to the airport you need to be able to handle people with suitcases & packs – and these take up room. The Tube out to Heathrow has space for people and luggage, I doubt a light rail system like this would have the space.
    So in my view I would think futher investment in heavy rail is a better long term solution as the numbers in Auckland grow, especailly as Aucklanders realise how great fast electric trains can be.

    1. Ah, the Picadilly line tube trains are smaller than the light metro trains shown above. If the tube to Heathrow has space for people and luggage then these Bombardier ART trains have even more space for people and luggage. They are bigger!

      And as I’ve posted immediately above, the same light metro trains are used for Beijing’s dedicated airport express line. If it can handle the crowds of Beijing airport it can handle Auckland!

    2. I have never been able to do anything with my pack on the tube to Heathrow other than use it as a battering ram to punch a standing space in a crowded carriage

  5. Seoul has a population of at least 14 million. Auckland has a population of 1.4 million approx and it has taken over a century to get to that size and only by including Rodney and Franklin. The population will not increase by a million over the next 30 years. Rail in Auckland will service less than million people. The cost benefit ratio is not there. We should think about the cost burden that will be incurred by our children and their children. Auckland rates and general cost of living are already excessive by world standards and steadily increasing. Shortly the `population of Auckland may well stagnate as fewer people can afford to live there.

    What is needed is some practical, flexible and affordable solutions. Does the Northern bus way fit that description.

    1. Look up Vancouver. Similar population to Auckland and they have made it work. Driverless. Low OPEX makes a huge difference. Better than $4 -5B car tunnel designed to push more cars into an overcrowded CBD.

      1. The amazing thing with Vancouver is that it has a bit bigger population (2 million), but is lower density and has a lower proportion of jobs downtown than Auckland.
        Yet with their driverless light metro they can run their trains every 2-6 minutes all day seven days a week (although it does drop to a *mere* 10 minute headway late at night and on weekend morning)… and you know what, the system is operating cost neutral. Once built the fares paid cover the cost of running the thing, or in other words it isn’t subsidised at all.

        For $4-5 billion we could have a motorway tunnel from Onewa to Spaghetti Junction, or we could have an entire three-line metro network covering the North and Northwest of Auckland and the city centre. I think I know which would be a better use of our money.

        1. Operation a large motorway tunnel is by no means cheap: ventilation, exhaust, monitoring, fire control systems, water pumping…

        2. But also we seem to spending more money not less over time on expanding them, so they aren’t solving or problems. And of course we pay a fortune to use them… their Opex is huge, multiple billions per annum in vehicles, fuel, insurance, death, injury, appalling health outcomes…. and so on

    2. Overall city size and population are NOT THE ISSUE!. The determinant is the density and catchment of the particular corridor which the rail route serves. Although Seoul may have a population of about 11 million (ref: Google), the individual corridors served by each of its rail routes may not be so different from Auckland’s. We must get away from the amateurish practice of citing a city’s gross population as the determinant of whether a rail development along a certain corridor is viable or not. This practice is typically used by those opposing rail developments and can be deliberately designed to mislead.

    3. The ‘cost burden incurred by our children’ would be less with a system like this than it would be with a motorway tunnel. This is a practical, flexible and affordable solution that would be much faster than the busway, move more people, not have to mingle with traffic, and cost less to maintain than a fleet of buses. Also, if Seoul was the same size as Auckland, it would have a daily ridership of about 700,000. If I recall correctly, Auckland has a daily ridership of about 40,000. Even accounting for population density, that’s a massive difference.

    4. Dennis, And yet here we are in 2020 with a population pushing 1.8m merely 7 years after this post. Getting from 1.8m to 2.4m won’t take long at all, certainly not another 23 years! Should be 2.4m by 2030 provided Covid-19 doesn’t stick around long into 2021.

  6. Have I got this wrong. The tax payer pays for the tunnel as it is a Transport New Zealand responsibility but the rail is paid for mostly by the rate payer.

    1. Well thats the issue isn’t it, Dennis?

      The Govt is wasting taxpayer money on an unnecessary road solution when it could be spending that on a better alternative. Better bang for taxpayers buck, no hit for ratepayers.

      1. I thought it was the vehicle users who pay for the tunnel via registration charges,fuel taxes and road user chargers not the taxpayer. Is this right ?

    2. Yes it’s a stupid system. The central government pays for State Highways 100%, and everything else only 50% at max.

      As for rail in the harbour tunnel, the tunnel itself will handle rail with little design modification and little extra cost, but connecting it up meaningfully is the expensive bit that the govt would only pay 50% of.

  7. Oh I forgot the Vancouver rail system runs at a surplus. This is quite different from a profit which is what is left after you have paid all your costs including the interest on the loans. I am afraid the system is subsidised by the rate payer.

    1. Yes, but thats still a world a difference to our current rail system which I believe returns less than 30% of it’s operating costs through fare revenue, ignoring capital costs also.

      1. There is no way to individually determine whether rail in Vancouver is in surplus or profit or any other financial position because the system is run as a network,
        Translink’s fares are zonal, you can hop between buses and trains with no penalty, there is no way to tag income to a particular mode based on a single trip,
        As a whole translink’s “Fare box” is about 47%, with the remainder from a variety of tagged local taxes

        1. You can actually, or at least Transilink do. I believe they apportion fare revenue based on passenger-km travelled, which they know exactly due to tag on tag off data on every bus, train and ferry they have.

          So say the skytrain does 50% of the ‘work’ of the the network in terms of moving people, it get’s 50% of the farebox. Based on that they claim it costs less to operate than in generates in revenue. In other words their highly efficient rail network cross-subsidises their bus network, which not only carries lots of trips in it’s own right but also serves to feed more people into rail (over half of sktrain passengers connect by bus if I recall correctly). Beautiful isn’t it?!

    2. Dennis, no road makes a profit. All are subsidised and then we all have to buy vehicles, maintain them, insure them, fill them with gas. All things considered basing a city’s movement around roads and cars only is the most expensive system possible, even though those costs are spread so some are more easily ignored.

      That the current government is reluctant to fund some modes presents a political barrier but does not change the economics of these options. And politics (as we have just seen) and governments change.

      Sydney built its subway and rail across the harbour when it had a smaller population than Auckland does now and during a depression. These are viable choices for Auckland: more lavish road spending and ever more inefficient congestion or a change of thinking and an additional option to compliment our already mature and complete (once Waterview is built) road network.

  8. This is the way to go. Lets get it built and give the North Shore the rail it has been promised since the 1951 transport master plan and after that Robbie’s Rail.

  9. WANT. Getting ART on the Shore and into the city via a dedicated tunnel is the way to go here. Plus, ART can handle grades up to around 5%, making the 4% climb (80m in 2km) up Onewa Rd achievable. If that then extended along Glenfield or Birkdale Rd, perhaps connecting back to Constellation or Albany station then that part of the Shore would finally get a decent PT service.

    Oh, and the spur to Takapuna and down to Devonport/Bayswater, plus the Whangaparoa spur to Silverdale. You know it makes sense (in a 30 year timeframe).

    1. In fact, bugger waiting until the tunnel is complete. Build it now. Run a loop, Albany to Akoranga to Birkenhead to Birkdale to Albany again. Via Takapuna or run a spur out. Call it the ABBA line. If and when our politicians can get off their collective arse and dig us a tunnel to Auckland, then we’ll use it. This can be their Waterloo. But why wait? The combined employment areas of Takapuna and Albany would shurley make a system like that almost economic??

      1. And it will also capture part of those going to Rosmini, Westlake Boys and Girls and what if it passed Albany Mall, the stadium and Massey? What potential daily traffic does that represent?

        In my view this project needs to be started sooner rather than later to avoid any prospect of a wasteful second road crossing.

        1. I do think there is merit in the busway (and thus eventually any replacement for) at least swinging past Massey and the Mall rather than just up and over the hill to the Albany interchange.

        2. How far apart are ART stations placed? Put one in where Maccas is below the Red Shed and then swing over to the Oteha park n ride station by the motorway.

        3. You can place them wherever you like, but you get the classic trade off between high accessibility and high speed. Many light metro systems put them every kilometre or so, but then again the likes of the Beijing Airport and Everline are about a dozen kilometres long only with a handful of stations at each end.

          One thing with ART is they are very quick to accelerate and decelerate, and can have very short dwell times at stations (multiple doors, level floors, lots of circulation room). Combine that with very fast headways and your trips tend to be quite fast. That means you can consider adding in extra stations where you might not with heavy rail.

          I would agree on something like that for Albany: you could get one station in around the mega centre (serving the university, mall and stadium within 5 mins walk) and a second station over where the bus interchange and park and ride is currently.

    2. ART has to be fully grade separated. That means either tunneled or elevated for the route you’ve suggested. Tunneling is far too expensive and I’m not sure elevated is desirable (and it’s still expensive).

        1. I was referring to other parts of Jonski’s plan – Glenfield Road, Devonport and Bayswater – no motorway to follow there (nor should there be). I think the only non-motorway following proper rail we can afford in any time frame for the shore is to Takapuna and maybe Milford (via a tunnel mainly).

        2. I’d expect running down to Devonport would be the final expansion stage of a scheme like this. Whangaparoa would probably come before it. But you’re right, finding the reservation for Glenfield or Birkdale Rd would indeed be difficult. Perhaps just get the land earmarked now, and then in 30 years it won’t be a problem.

      1. I think it is fair to say that any new rail line in Auckland will need to be fully grade separated regardless of the specifics, just like all motorways are.

      2. See, I’m normally against flyovers but in the right circumstances, and with an amount of mitigation (trees etc) I can see elevated rail working. The skytrain infrastructure is, I believe, roughly 10m wide or about 1/2 of the Vic park flyover. Assuming you don’t run it over a park, where it would definitely be an eye sore, I think it could work. About the same width as your average suburban road but able to carry significantly more people.

        1. Come to Kuala Lumpur and see both the existing LRT line and the underway new MRT line – both elevated, both largely horrific.

          If you are fine with that running past your back garden/balcony, then fine. But few would be…

        2. I’m not talking about running it that close to houses. More along arterials. Is it really any worse than a 6 lane road? At least if it is elevated the severance is removed.

        3. Indeed, instead of creating another 2 lanes to add a busway, would a low level (I guess min 4.25m lower height +2m for structure = 6.25m or the height of a 2 storey house) elevated rail be more favourable?

        4. I think in most cases we can run them at ground level along the motorways or other corridors. In the likes of Albany (or Westgate, Botany even?) elevated seems more appropriate than in suburbia.

        5. I agree Nick. The beauty about such a system is that it is very flexible with regards to gradients, radii etc so the limitations around routes is vastly reduced compared to heavy rail.

        6. Yeah, I think it would work on arterial routes. Stations don’t have to be monolithic, either, which is another important point.

    3. ART can handle 6% grades. It also requires smaller tunnels thanks to the linear induction propulsion (as small as 5.3m, vs., say, 6.1m for the conventional light metro Canada Line and 6.5m for LRT in a tunnel as in Toronto)

  10. I like how clean those rail cars look. Compared to the Auckland trains which seem plastered with (mostly pointless) warning signs on every surface.


  11. I’d like to comment on your perception of smooth, fast curves, actually. This has largely to do with the linear induction motor propulsion technology being used, in addition to banking tracks. LIM technology allows the bogies (wheels) to be “articulated”. Rail bogies are usually a group of four wheels, and these four wheels can make a lot of screeching noise and require slow-downs without articulation as they grind against the track while turning. Articulation on train bogies is not common, but is possible and easy due to LIM technology. LIM technology is used extensively on the Vancouver SkyTrain, Kuala Lumpur’s RapidKL, and Guangzhou’s Metro.

    SkyTrain researcher from Vancouver, British Columbia

  12. There has been a lot of discussion, in this and other threads, as to what such a system here could be called. May I suggest the SHore Area Rapid Transit… SHART! Wait, what??

    1. Well better than SHore Area Transit – or SHAT.

      As in “How did you get here” “Oh I just SHAT over – so smooth and comfortable”

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