Electric train services are finally a part of the city with the first ones running earlier this morning and yesterday I went along to the official launch of the trains. The first thing I noticed was that Auckland Transport had set up stalls and activities for kids including shutting down the central part of Gore St through the Britomart Precinct, a much better use of it in my opinion. I don’t actually know why we need that road open but that’s perhaps a discussion for a different day.

EMU Launch - Gore St Play

Auckland Transport clearly really wanted to promote the electric trains as futuristic and had a number of promo girls (and some guys) dressed up like something out of The 5th Element.

EMU Launch - Promo 2

One thing that was definitely noticeable at the launch was the number of politicians present. They were there representing most of the major parties and at a local level a heap of councillors and local board members. Perhaps the one that surprised me the most was seeing John Banks there.

As with all of these types of projects there are numerous speeches and I understand that Auckland Transport has filmed them all and will be putting them online later today. Before the speeches started a group of dancers in silver suits and masks entertained to some Daft Punk. It started getting a bit odd though as it just kept on going and going and ended up feeling like it carried on for far too long – not that it distracted too much from mood of the day.

EMU Launch Dancers

On to the speeches there were a couple of highlights and some lowlights too.

  • First up was Ngarimu Blair who is a Trustee on the Ngati Whatua o Orakei Maori Trust Board and also on the board of Waterfront Auckland. He opened the launch on behalf of iwi and got a cheer when he said they want to see the CRL started asap and completed in 2020.
  • Iñaki from CAF was next to speak and talked about how good the trains are.
  • A lady from the Blind Foundation spoke about how they had worked with AT on improving the trains to make them more accessible for people with disabilities.
  • Lester followed with what was essentially his op-ed piece to the herald on Saturday.
  • The next speech was perhaps unsurprisingly the oddest of all. Gerry Brownlee talked about the need to invest in other nodes too (yes he said nodes, not modes). He then proceed to talk about how the government was doing just that by fast tracking a number of motorway projects around the region. I think the crowd were stunned in to silence by this that there was an eerie silence. I must of missed something as after Gerry’s speech David Warburton who was emceeing the event made a comment that he wasn’t referring to Gerry as the Fat Controller.
  • Len was the last to speak and was as enthusiastic as ever and clearly directing a few comments towards Gerry about the need for the CRL. He ended by calling on more people to get off the parking lots of the motorways and on to trains, buses and ferries (missed cycling though) which would free up roads for commercial traffic.

After a brief reminder from Warburton about just how much effort had gone into the production and testing of these trains it was time to head down to the platform for the cutting of a ribbon (of which I understand Cam’s son was involved) and then the first official ride.

As always seems to happen, everyone was piling on to the first carriage available and so Patrick, I and others headed to the middle one which has the advantage of level boarding and more space due to longitudinal seating. Acceleration out of the station was super smooth as was the trip around the back of Vector arena. After clearing those curves though the driver was able to open the train up a bit and the acceleration was such that people had to hold on. In other words these things have a lot of power and of course that will be needed to get trains up the CRL, although they’ve been designed with enough power so that one EMU will be able to push another completely dead one up the grade. Someone on a later trip filmed the acceleration and you can hear people surprised it as well as see the speed increase out the window from about 3:40 onwards.

The only problem was the acceleration and speed was that it seemed so short lived as it seemed the frustrating Sarawia St level crossing didn’t work in our favour and we almost had to completely stop as a result.  It’s perhaps a shame the eastern line wasn’t able to be used for a race across Hobson Bay.

Even so, all up it seemed everyone was thoroughly impressed with the new trains. You can see the AT press release here but the most interesting part is really the facts and figures at the bottom

  • There are now 12 electric train units in Auckland. Seven have been commissioned – that is, they have their registration and warrants with five more about to be tested.
  • The supplier, CAF has used equipment from Japan, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Spain – taking the best from the world to create trains specifically for Auckland.
  • It takes more than 15,000 hours to fabricate and assemble one electric train unit, there are 110km of wiring in each unit.
  • Each train is tested for 1000 hours on the tracks.
  • To create the weight of passengers while we were testing the trains, we used 1800 20kgs sandbags on each train.
  • To date we have trained 47 drivers, 86 train managers and 13 supervisors.
  • We have spent 3008 hours on driver training and 1504 hours on theory.
  • Drivers have spent 752 hours on the electric train simulator.
  • To date we have driven more than 25,000kms with the electric trains during testing and commissioning.

A couple of other things that caught my attention about the day:

This poster which Auckland Transport had kids (and a few adults) painting. I’m guessing there were multiple versions of it.

EMU Launch - Painting

The bike and pram parking. I like this development from Auckland Trasnsport at events.

EMU Launch - Bike Parking

AT were selling a limited edition HOP card to celebrate the new trains. I’m not sure whether to keep it as a souvenir or actually use it 😉

EMU Launch - HOP Card

The new uniforms for staff. It looks ok on staff in the EMU’s but a bit out of place when a driver is sitting in a bulky locomotive. It’s clear that AT are owning the customer service brand even though the staff work for Transdev which is an interesting change. I’ll post about this separately.

EMU Launch - Uniforms

All up I think Auckland Transport did a really good job of organising the day which had the added bonus of further activating Takukai Square. If there’s one complaint I have it’s not about the launch but that Auckland Transport have yet to do anything to boost the frequency on the Onehunga line off peak. This week particularly is likely to be busy and additional services would be welcome. After all hourly frequencies are so old fashiond.

So did you take a ride on them yesterday (or today). If so what was your experience like? After the break some images people sent to me of themselves on one of the trains.

Our former admin enjoying the new trains on his birthday and with kids in tow.

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  1. At Ellerslie this morning there seemed to be twice as many people as usual waiting for the 7.19 service to the city. Unfortunately it was delayed by 16 minutes, and most of us had to get on the 7.27 SA set. I know sometimes delays and unavoidable, but it’s going to be crucial that they don’t happen too often if people are going to be attracted by the service.

    1. That usually happens because any train on the main line gets priority over the Onehunga. I have had to wait a few times just past Penrose 3 for the SA at the other Penrose platform to leave. I bet the train manager was not saying what they usually do which is berate train control in Wellington.

      1. I was on the platform with Luke (unbeknownst to us both), and the announcements said the train was delayed leaving Onehunga. 16 minutes delayed. I waited for the Onehunga service, which was the sole reason I caught the train to work today so I wasn’t going to hop on a nasty SA set, and the scheduled 07:19 at Ellerslie finally showed up at 07:36.

        What was particularly frustrating was that despite clearly having the speed to make up some of the lost time, the driver was apparently being forced to wait for other services to clear signalling blocks so we spent a lot of time travelling at what looked like around 50km/h and finally made it to Britomart at 07:56.

        The new train was a delight (cannot emphasise enough how much I like the train hardware), and I really liked that I didn’t have to increase the volume on my MP3s on boarding from the level I had on the platform, but that is a terrible introduction of the service. Absolutely ghastly. These new trains have been hyped as so much quicker, but the crap on the rest of the network just dragged it down to the level of the lowest common denominator. Which, it turns out, is pretty low.

        Really long dwell times at stations, too. The announcements were always finished before we pulled away – at every station. That’s not cool. There’s really nothing worse than sitting on a train with the doors closed, going nowhere.

        1. The delay on the 0645 would most likely be due “Photo ops” unfortunately. The 0545 ran as per normal in regards to dwell times. We never seemed to stop longer than required to get the people waiting on board. Hopefully tomorrow it will be back to normal for the Onehunga line. Which in my experience has been very good.

        2. Matt C you’ve replied to me on the other thread, but I’ll just repeat here for the benefit of other readers who may not have seen it.

          The delays were because of Train Manager training issues – looks like the drivers were well practiced, but the TMs
          appeared to be learning the new door controls on-the-fly.

          By my observation, TMs no longer can see the open/closed status of the doors from the door controls, they must stand outside the train to observe the exterior white lights indicating doors are open, waiting for them to all go out, before they can then close their own door (takes about 6 sec to close) and give the driver right-of-way to move.

          There seemed to be some confusion between just closing the local door (red button, anyone can press it) and the TM signal to close and secure all the other doors.

          Although by what you said here, the TM door delays lead to timetable/signalling slots being missed, and then getting stuck behind a diesel struggling (as they do) to go uphill, both of which exacerbated the delays.

    1. The commemorative HOP cards were a great idea – I would actually have paid more than $10 for those to be honest… but I guess whatever gets them into the hands of as many punters as possible.

      The foldable cardboard EMUs were a nice touch especially for the kids – even if the completist in me might have hoped for a three car set 🙂

      Thanks to Matt and the rest of the team for the opportunity to go on the afternoon run yesterday – very much appreciated.

  2. The fat controller stuff? David Warburton said in his first speech that he’s the fat controller for the day, seeing his position. Brownlee then said in his speech that he had been sitting there for the rest of the Warburton’s speech wondering what that made him.

    Funnier than Brownlee’s quip tho was the guy near me calling out at that time (i.e. in Brownlee’s speech) that the Fat Controller was pro-rail!

  3. Caught the first revenue service from Onehunga today. Largest crowd at that station since opening day?

    The CBT and everyone else involved, Mike Lee included – we should all pat ourselves on the back for getting these rolling. All the effort organising public meetings, presentations to ARC and putting posters up pro electrification in Britomart in the mid 2000’s has paid off!

    1. Jon: I wonder if all the publicity about the new trains convinced some people who might not have to use the train rather than driving?

      I was thinking this morning that once the electric trains on the Eastern Line are up and running, Sylvia Park should do some kind of promotion, and take advantage of the fact that they’re currently the mall with the best connection to the train network.

      1. Hi Chris, from my experience in advertising, the positive publicity and excellent campaign will definitely help boost rail patronage. So the only issue will be that AT (Transdev) provide the service levels the public expect.

        I would like to see late night trains implemented immediately. Often I have to drive to my office in the city simply because of an event later in the evening (Mon-Thurs) which ends at 10:30pm and I cannot catch the last train home. So I end up being forced to make more traffic jams on the roading network.

        I would like to see the last trains Sun – Thurs being about 0015. Fri – Sat they should run hourly all night.

  4. I took a trip on the Sunday train. The only time I have been on a train in NZ, other than the MOTAT tram, so I can’t compare with the old trains.

    I have several complaints about the whole system in general.
    – I had to wait in a long queue just to be let into the official queue to get on the train. This is unacceptable for a modern country!
    – There were all these scary people in blue/white wigs telling me where to go and what to do. Unacceptable!
    – Then I had to wait inside the station for a several more minutes while being forced to listen to some propaganda about the future of transport. Unacceptable!
    – Then when I got into the train I had to wait a few more minutes before it left the station so slowly. A few more minutes!
    – After waiting for what seemed like forever and a while, we ended up at the next train station. Why can’t the train go faster, it was so slow!
    – Then we waited another age and forever at the train station where strangers handed out candy and then the train started moving backwards!
    – To my dismay I find out we ended up back at the same place we started?! What kind of crazy transport system is this?!?
    – I had a terrible time and I for one want my money back and I will never use the train again until they fix these issues….

    I also got a limited edition HOP card as a keepsake. I don’t own a “real” HOP card so I may have to use it at some stage. Even though I am unlikely to use PT much anymore, I was impressed by the new trains. It is about darn time. Keep up the great advocacy work.

  5. My tags got removed from the previous comment. The whole middle section should be marked with [sarcasm] tags lol

  6. Is there any plan to fit aesthetic nose cowling on the EMU’s? Removable ones that can be quickly taken off if/when diesel locos need to haul them around. They look so unfinished with the mechanical coupling exposed..

  7. My memory of the day is that of waiting, waiting, waiting. I arrived at the time on my ticket and after waiting in two separate queues and then a long wait on the train itself it was 35 minutes total wait before the train got moving. It seems that keeping customers waiting is part of train culture and it doesn’t look like AT is any different.

    When I switched the balance from my Snapper HOP card to the AT HOP card I waited and waited in a queue then was told I had to go to another queue and start waiting over again. More AT culture (and inadequate signage).

    I had to wait 17 minutes for a bus back home.

    Waiting time is part of the public transport problem in Auckland. I don’t see the trains changing this. Nice trains though.

  8. Nick there should be less waiting once the central link is built and trains don’t have to reverse back out of Britomart to allow another one in. Not long hopefully. Also there are Day One teething like in any decent project and these will be looked after in days.

    I really like the enthusiasm generated by this launch, and hope to see plans move forward now for many more railway lines to cover all of Auckland.

  9. Each time a line is EMU-ed, they need to put on similarly interesting events, as those will help burn into the collective memory of Aucklanders over the next two years that the (transport) times, they are a-changin’ – for the better.

  10. Whats the difference in times for the EMU reaching Britomart from Onehunga over the old diesel units? I noted that historic timetables put the journey at 25min and the herald reported that it took 28min this morning.

    1. I think it was said the other day that Britomart-Papakura should be 10 minutes shorter than previously – don’t know how that translates to Britomart-Onehunga. They won’t be running the trains any faster than currently anyway for a while as otherwise it messes with the DMU and SA set run schedules…

      The article itself seems to follow the usual Herald pattern: a moderately balanced main article flashed up with typically sarcastic & mocking headlines and captions. Got to love that glee in their jumping on any problem with the brand new vehicles and services.

        1. Yes the new trains are faster, especially faster -and smoother- on acceleration and de-accelleration. Over longer journeys in particular this will add up to quicker overall trip length. But for real improvement in journey time for the user higher frequencies are the answer. Especially once we get more services running at least 10 minutes apart: Generally considered the threshold for ‘turn-up-and-go’ reliability. No need to ever consult a timetable. We are some way off that for most of the network, but when the EMU rollout continues onto next line [Manukau] then existing trains will be redeployed to other lines so frequencies will improve even before the switch over is complete.

          Ridding the train today I was stunned with just how smooth and quiet the experience is [good control by the driver at the stations] so much so that it it doesn’t feel that fast!

        2. On that note what is the minimum headway that can be run using the current signalling system as it is. (Lets assume no freight trains and an all EMU fleet).

        3. No otherwise you run the risk of the EMU running up the backside of the diesel unit ahead it. That said between Westfield Junction and Papakura you will continue to run the risk of running up the backside of a freight train that is ahead of you until the third main is built so time savings will be interesting for the Southern Line [yes I know signals prevent physically colliding with the train in front but proceeding at 40km/h and stopping constantly because of the freighter right ahead of you (in the next signal block) is annoying as anything] .

        4. So what you’re saying is that it’ll be another 60 years before the full speed benefits of these new trains will be seen south of Westfield, right? After all, it’ll take that long before we get a third track for freight.

        5. See my comment below. The key to getting this funded in the near term is to show that it is really part of the solution to the ‘east-west’ freight system. Access to and from Metroport is not just a road issue.

          Here truly is a the key to a ‘multimodel’ solution to a corridor issue. That phrase that so easily trips off the tongues of government ministers but is not so evident in their budgets.

  11. Took the 0645 service from Onehunga this morning. The media outnumbered the passengers on the platform, due to Len arriving on the inbound service.

    The air con noise is certainly very noticeable, primarily due to the absence of train noise.
    The new announcements are, sadly, not voiced by Nathaniel Lees.
    There is impressive acceleration on the rare opportunities the driver could give it some welly.
    We had a mysterious delay departing Ellerslie this morning. According to my work colleague in the lead car, this was due to the train captain’s door key breaking off, and a mad scurry trying to find a spare key. Think they might need order stronger keys!
    Looking forward to leaving this evening, boarding the shiny new train surrounded by the old warhorses.

  12. Now we need the freight locos to be replaced by electrics to speed up them up, reduce delays. That and build the third freight line from Otahuhu to Papakura.

    Rail – pleading for money since 1965.
    Roading – money for anything needed or not!

    1. Apparently this is costed at only 45mil. In a rare piece of future proofing KR [or someone] got the overhead wire masts in place already, ie not in the way….ready to go, only somewhat tricky bit is at Middlemore Station. And it would make a huge difference to the efficiency of both freight and passenger services.

  13. Got the 09:36 to Onehunga this morning and then the return journey from Onehunga to Britomart (at Ellerslie had a Britomart bound EMU train on the other platform at the same time).
    So at least one of them was pretty late.

    Not sure which one. Looks like they had Trains running late in both directions (still in catch up mode from the earlier delays?).

    Then train pulled out of Ellerslie ok, then got held up at signals just out of Penrose waiting for the (next) Onehunga line to clear (the Britomart Onehunga bound train).

    On return journey station indicator and announcements refused to budge and kept saying ‘Te Papapa” was the next station.
    Then indicator board skipped ahead and said the next station was Newmarket before we’d even hit Ellerslie and stayed stuck on that until we got to Newmarket then it said we were at Britomart.

    When it got to Britomart they canned the (scheduled) return service and took the train out of service and then there was no Onehunga bound train for 1+ hours!

    Looked to me like way too many (Transdev) Chiefs and not enough indians on this line today – “AT” ambassadors were everywhere at all stations.

    Hope they sort their shit out by tonight.

  14. Based on a timetabled 44 minutes (electric services) and a distance of ca. 31 km between Britomart and Papakura average (mean) EMU speed is around 40 km/h. On that basis it may well be the freight trains that are being held up or running on yellows. Either way, changing to electric locomotives for the freight trains will not improve the situation since better acceleration at low speeds will be required and in this respect the locomotives will be adhesion limited, not power limited, in other words better acceleration for a given train mass will require more mass of locomotives which, given axle load limits, means more locomotives, irrespective of diesel or electric traction.

    Between Westfield and Wiri mean EMU headway will be 5 minutes (both Southern and Eastern line trains) so mean EMU spacing will be 3.3 km. A south-bound freight train (say 650 metres long) will have to negotiate turnouts at Westfield at a signalled “medium speed” (25 km/h) before accelerating to the 40 km/h mean speed of the EMUs and using the extra flashing yellow signal aspect to regulate speed. Mean spacing between freight and EMUs ahead and behind will be around 1.3 km or 2 minutes. South of Wiri EMU headway is 10 minutes so a lot more leeway.

    It will be interesting to see how this works out but this sort of analysis illustrates why a third main is desirable and why it would be between the yard at Westfield and at Wiri, where the Manukau branch diverges.

      1. @ MrV
        Turnouts at Otahuhu for freights entering or leaving Westfield yard were renewed Christmas/new year 2013. They are now 1 in 18’s (=60Km/h) !

  15. “….it seemed the frustrating Sarawia St level crossing didn’t work in our favour and we almost had to completely stop as a result.”

    All of the uphill delays at Sarawia Street are caused by the junction, and are unrelated to the level crossing. When the overbridge is built, the delays will continue there unchanged.

  16. No, this is true. Which is why I was interested in asthetic nose cones, to make them look like a finished product rather than some new faster, quieter, better train that is missing a finishing touch.

    1. I think nose cones would interfere with the autocouplers. Might be fine for now when we only have a couple of single units, but no good once they routinely link and unlink trains each day.

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