Six weeks ago Auckland’s first electric train arrived in the country, just over 3 weeks ago it was officially unveiled and yesterday marked a new milestone as testing reached the point where it was able to exit the Wiri depot under its own power for the first time. What’s more, Auckland Transport kindly invited me to be on board. Up until now the testing has been confined to the depot with the focus being on ensuring all of the systems work properly.

Testing isn’t allowed to take place on the main lines unless there are no other trains running so we were limited to the parts of the third main that have been completed as far as Puhinui just over 1km to the north of the depot however it was enough that I can say from personal experience that these trains are going to be amazing. The train was super quiet and smooth in accelerating, in fact the low rumble of the wheels on the tracks seemed louder than the electric motors.

As the testing was happening during the morning peak there were quite a few scheduled services going past, I noticed that the drivers of those trains were all almost hanging out of their windows to get a good look at their future office.

Regular train users will likely know that trains aren’t running this weekend to allow for electrification works to continue and so the testing team will take the opportunity to get the EMU out again and up as far as Otahuhu – they can’t go further north than that till some other bits of work have been completed in a few weeks.

Since the unveiling, the inside of the train has had everything covered up to protect it and the engineers have set up testing stations in the train to monitor its performance however it also shows that if patronage somehow doesn’t grow as expected, AT could always turn the train into a mobile office and rent out desk space. They have also added some large barrels which are/will be filled to help represent the weight of passengers.

EMU Testing Interior

EMU Testing Interior desk

EMU extendable platform
The platform that extends and will provide level boarding to the low floor section

At Puhinui some passengers got a look at the new train for the first time.

EMU Testing Puhinui

But I’m sure you don’t want to see pics of the interior. AT also filmed the event giving one of the best views most will have yet seen of the train. I’ve used the non-music version but it’s worth noting that the sound seems a little sharper on video than it is in real life.

Oh and in case you’re wondering what the white things sticking out from the doors are, they are polystyrene blocks and are being used to help test clearances as the EMU will need to be tested against every single platform and other structure around the network to ensure there is no conflict.

Lastly reader Alex was at Puhinui for one of the trips there and took a some of photos of the train being tested. The one below in particular highlights the differences between the cabs of the current loco hauled SA trains and the EMU

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  1. Good looking train and the contrast with the current fleet is telling. But, why oh why, do AT think it acceptable to obscure windows with decal wraps? It’s not as if we haven’t had AT’s ‘working logo’ slapped in front of us all over the place over the last year or so. If they really wanted to bring this logo to public attention they might think about applying it via a wrap-less standard livery on Auckland buses which are ubiquitous, rather than on trains which are rarely seen from the exterior. It suggests that those responsible for AT’s branding don’t actually catch the services they’re supposed to be promoting.

    1. I think it looks awesome, and disagree that trains are rarely seen from the outside! In substantial parts of the network they run right next to motorways or main roads, and that doesn’t even count all the places where you can see them from buildings, offices etc…

      PS: That little level boarding ramp thingy – I presume that extends automatically, without needing to be called separately? Does it extend to different lengths depending on gap width?

  2. At 1.18 you hear the roaring piece of crap next to the silent EMU, yup thats the OLD diesel engines, not sure how auckland put up with them for so long. There is no comparison when it comes to noise and pollution. NZ got a good deal for a fleet of 57. I think while the dollar is at $0.83 cents to the USD they should buy another 57…then readjust the cost of the CRL from $2.86 to $2.2 or $2.3 billion as we’ll have a total fleet of 114 trains enough capacity to see 2025 and beyond 🙂

  3. It may be just the angle but they look slab sided to me. Other than the front, I think the Matangi is a far better looking machine.

    1. Wow, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder! How you can think the Matangis look better than these is beyond me. The trains in Auckland look a million times better IMO

  4. I wish someone would post video from the inside (without the music) to give us some idea of how quiet they are from the inside.

  5. I agree Ian, the cab ends look better on the AM’s than the Matangi’s, but the rest of the AM set is essentially a box on wheels, with very little in the way of design flare. The Matangi’s have a nicer profile, but then they had to have a lot more angles in order to fit through the Johnsonville tunnels. Auckland’s loading gauge allows for the “box on wheels” design.

      1. That boxy profile also helped Auckland to obtain the best value for money deal. Every complexity that can be taken out of the design means fewer manufacturing processes and lower build cost. Wellington had no choice in the cross section of its vehicles, and in the requirement for the end doors.

        Auckland did have choices in the structural design and took them. From an aesthetic point of view, the upside is that nice crisp nose cone design, the downside if you like is that the cross section isn’t quite as interesting as Wellington. Both designs are fundamentally a case of form following function and both will serve their respective regions well for many years to come.

    1. So although it’s probably not going to happen does that mean that Auckland’s vehicles could never be used on Wellington’s network?

        1. 1500 V not kV (that would be 1.5 MV!) although the DC bit is right. Auckland is 25 kV, as is the NIMT, except that NIMT locos can’t run on the Auckland network as the fault level is too high.

        2. What is a “fault level”? Google didn’t help much.

          So Wellington is 1.5kV DC. Palmerston North to Hamilton (???) is 25kV AC. Auckland is 25kV AC, but an apparently incompatible 25kV AC. And Palmerston North to Waikanae and Hamilton to Papakura are diesel only. How did we end up with such a disconnected mess? And is it fixable in any practical fashion, or are we stuck with it now?

        3. I’m by no means an expert but my understanding is that on the central North Island section the way the system is designed is that the fuses are in the locomotive rather than being on the wiring. That works fine in the situation it’s used for but on the Auckland network there is a much higher current due to there being a lot more trains in a concentrated area. The electric freight loco’s we have means that if one were to come up to Auckland the network would push through far too much power and kill it. If however an Auckland EMU was on the central north island section it would work. All of this means that if we were to hook up the section between Papakura and Hamilton, we would likely need new electric loco’s as it would probably be too costly to upgrade the ones we have.

          Not that it make much difference. From what I hear, Kiwirail have been considering pulling out the wires anyway in a bid to save money and reduce the amount of time needed to swap loco’s at Hamilton and Palmy.

        4. That would surely make NZ one of the few countries in the world to be reducing the extent of electrification.

        5. Obi, Matt L is broadly correct, fault level is the current drawn in the event of a fault such as a short circuit. The NIMT locos couldn’t handle it, except at the extremity. eg at Swanson supplied from Westfield via Glen Innes.

        6. Yes it would. The problem is Kiwirail are under such pressure to make short term gains they seem to lack any long term strategic thinking. They look at that the services that go along that section of track think about how they could save 10-20 minutes each end by not having to change the locomotive. Then if they are just running diesel trains all the way through they question why they would bother wanting to keep paying to maintain the wires an electric locos.

        7. Or we could finish the electrification and buy new, compatible, electric locos :-). Dual voltage even to run on Wellingtons DC system.

        8. Indeed that would be the most logical thing to do, but as Matt says they’re being pursued to follow very short term planning rather than investing in the future. The fact that you can seriously have someone in control of the national rail network who thinks pulling out the wires is a good plan shows how the current set up of a blank cheque book from the government for roads and a freight company managing all the railways is idiocy.

        9. So Wellington is the exception here and I assume their low voltage DC system is some sort of legacy standard. If you wanted to change it to the Auckland/NIMT standard then what would be involved? Different transformers where the wires hook up to the electricity supply. And some sort of change to the trains… presumably the power pack is modular so you could whip out the old one and replace it. Is anything else required? I’m guessing the wires themselves are, errrr, just wires.

        10. You would have to change the infrastructure that supplies the network and you would have to also change the trains, either new trains or replacing the transformers on the existing ones. The big issue, if it’s even possible is that that it’s not likely something you could do over a weekend. That means would would probably need a decent network shutdown for it to happen.

          Also I think there would need to be a few other changes. The signalling system would probably need upgrading to ensure it is immune to the AC, bridges and other structures may need clearance changes etc.

          The time to change it has probably passed until the next major opportunity is not likely to be until the current batch of trains coming to the end of their life in 50 years time (or longer).

        11. The Wellington network is around 70 years old so yes, an incompatible legacy system that would require a total rebuild, even of the traction wires which are only insulated for 1.5 kV. There are about 20 supply points on the Wellington metro because the required current for a given load is roughly 17x that for 25 kV, although of course the majority would be abandoned (Auckland needs only two). In addition there would be many other switching points to replace.

          It’s not as simple as a power network where you can overlay one system with another, eg Auckland CBD used to be reticulated at 6.6 kV, then was progressively uprated to 11 kV, which in turn is now being overlaid with 22 kV.

        12. Dual voltage AC/DC loco’s are run in other parts of the world. I wouldn’t think we need to change Wellywood’s system at all.

        13. So…if electrifying the entire NIMT (along with new signalling, civil works and new locomotives) is the solution, what is the problem? What is the implicit strategy that this addresses? In NZ freight rail’s mode share has fallen dramatically in the last 15 years. How is electrification going to address that?

        14. I think the idea is to move towards high speed rail slowly after 70years of highway widening along the north island.

        15. “I think the idea is to move towards high speed rail slowly”

          How charmingly vague. Is this your opinion of the strategy that Kiwirail should be adopting and for which completion of the electrification of the NIMT is a prerequisite? What do you mean by high-speed rail?

  6. Wow, an electric train on Auckland’s network! They look narrow and tall. I hope that doesn’t make them any less stable at speed. ‘Course, that’s why we have engineers to avoid these sorts of issues.

      1. Cape gauge works for the non-shinkansen lines in Japan including the Tokyo and Osaka metro networks, the former running at 1500kv DC the same as Wellington..

  7. That is a very nice train indeed. I’d be proud to see that here!

    There is only one point (and this was touched upon by another poster here), and that is the decal over the window. To be honest, I think that having unobstructed views from the train is more important than having a decal there. All the best railway networks don’t obscure their windows in such a manner, and it would have been wise for Auckland to follow that example.

    Just a shame I won’t get to see them in December when I am back in Auckland. Would love to have been able to say I rode on one (unless any of you have contacts that can hook me up with a trip). =)

    1. Yes and no MT (with apologies to Yes Minister). It’s true that construction has slipped a bit due to resourcing plus the limited windows available between freight trains, however in terms of matching EMU delivery and commissioning there’s no slippage (yet!). Livening of the completed sections is continuing apace – some readers may have noticed testing yesterday north of Penrose (a clue is temporary bridge screens, eg at the Greenlane motorway exit, and in some locations security-guard surveillance).

  8. I am excited about this and I don’t even lived in Auckland! Really looking forward to taking a ride on these next time I am up there.

  9. Nice to think Auckland’s finally coming of age! The new ticketing system, albeit with a few hiccups with machines not working, (Which b.t.w, I’m yet to experience myself) have done wonders!, the cards work well, and easier than gold coins jingling in one’s pockets! Secondly, these smart continental-style new vehicles should help people take auckland metro trains seriously.

    As for decal in the window, the Western busses do the same, it’s annoying, but so many passengers gaily texting and ‘lap-topping’ away to themselves now, and with wi-fi on board(?)
    I don’t think that many people are so fussed. (I am, but then I’m a train geek, so…oh well)

    1. That’s our politicians for you. Particularly as they’re based down in Wellington. I always contend that Auckland would look very different if it were the capital.

        1. One example, Wellington on it’s second generation electric trains, largely paid for by taxpayers, Auckland on its first generation electric trains, largely paid for by Auckland ratepayers.

    2. From what I understand, Adelaide is still years away from having the majority of its network electrified as they are doing it line by line, instead of the whole lot like Auckland is. So from the point of view, Auckland is still ahead even if Adelaide tested its first (DMU converted) EMU first. I think Auckland has still gotten a much better outcome compared to Adelaide.

    3. Wow – i read that Adelaide’s rail shutdowns make our weekend and Christmas shutdowns look like nothing. Try closing lines for a whole year! Their Tonsley and Noarlunga lines have been closed since January 2 for electrification and are scheduled to re-open November. I think some of their lines closed for months at a time for re-sleepering too.


      1. Ouch!, there’d be a lot of happy Bus drivers in Adelaide then I should imagine!
        Indeed our shutdowns are a small price for what will be yet another great milestone for Auckland’s transit revitalization, since Britomart, double-tracking, and e-ticketing.

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