In the first week or two of the Onehunga Line’s switch to electric trains there were major issues with the trains keeping to timetable, apparently due to overly conservative speed restrictions being put in the trains as part of their safety systems. It seems like the Onehunga Line’s bugs are sorting themselves out in more recent times, but a further article yesterday highlighted that it might be a long time before we see the trains providing their promised speed boost:
Auckland’s new $400 million electric trains will run as slow as their diesel counterparts for at least another year, Auckland Transport says.
Auckland Transport spokesman Mark Hannan said the electric trains would reach their full potential after all 39 diesel passenger trains were removed from the network.
“We can’t really get the proper benefit from them until the full rollout when everything is electric, which will be the middle of next year,” Hannan said.
Also, new timetables will need to be introduced and software controlling the trains’ speed, called European Train Control Systems (ETCS), will need to be reprogrammed to improve transit times, he said.
The ETCS is a protection system to assist train drivers and ensure advised speeds and signal rules are adhered to and to prevent collisions. If drivers operate trains outside a designated speed range the system intervenes to limit speed.
The restrictions created by running mixed electric and diesel fleets is understandable, as otherwise the electrics would soon catch up to any diesel train ahead of them and throw out timetable consistency. The issue with ECTS is more worrying though, as this should have been sorted out a long time ago to ensure the promised 10 minute faster journey times between Britomart and Swason/Papakura are delivered.
Adding to this worry, the train drivers’ union RMTU doesn’t seem to think the electric trains will be able to deliver the promised speed increase without a major upgrade to the signalling system:
But the Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU) said the 57 new electric trains would not be able to speed up until a costly upgrade of the ETCS software.
RMTU general secretary Wayne Butson said Auckland Transport had bought the cheapest, entry-level ETCS software.
The only way to increase speeds would be to upgrade to more expensive versions, which could handle trains running closer to each other, he said.
“I’m told that Auckland would operate a lot better if it purchased two or three versions higher,” Butson said.
Train drivers were frustrated they could not operate the trains to timetable, he said.
“We believe that it was a foreseeable issue.”
I’m not sure just how true this is as the same signalling systems is used in a number of countries including on some high speed lines while the stand two levels up is still under development so it’s not like we could have brought that. Also leading me to be cautious about Wayne Butsons comments is that the signalling system wasn’t brought by Auckland Transport but by Kiwirail (who own and run it) and the contracts for the system were signed before AT even existed.
If true that the signalling system is causing extra delays though then this is a screw-up of unbelievable proportions. We did not spend $1.1 billion on rail electrification and new trains to find that we can’t run them faster than the old ones because someone got cheap and nasty with the system. I sure hope the responsible parties sort the issue out to ensure the 10 minute time savings can be delivered as promised – otherwise a lot of heads will need to roll.