On Monday July 20 – less than a month away –  for the first time all services on Auckland’s rail network¹ will be fully electric as the roll-out of EMUs reaches its next milestone. Having all trains being electric should at least remove the issue of increasingly unreliable diesel trains from the network however it will also present it’s own problems. One of the biggest of these is travel times.

Coming to the western line soon
Coming to the western line soon

One of the most absurd situations we find ourselves in is that despite the new trains capable of much faster acceleration, deceleration and top speeds, they’ve actually been slower than the lumbering diesel trains they’re replacing. There appear are a couple of key causes for this.

  • Long dwell times at stations
  • An overly restrictive signalling system – particularly around level crossings

Both of these issues have a greater impact on the Western Line than the rest of the network as the frequent level crossings and closely spaced stations combine to prevent the EMUs from using their speed advantages to make up much time. Things are bad enough that at the end of March AT added three minutes to western line timetables so the stats didn’t look as bad to more accurately represent what customers can expect. I wanted to see just how bad the dwell times are and so over the last few weeks I’ve managed to have a few EMU journeys on the Western Line so I’ve taken the opportunity to conduct some tests.

Firstly here are some points worth noting about my testing.

  • The times are only for stations between Henderson and Grafton and a couple of trips on an EMU were only to Kingsland.
  • I took the time from as soon as I saw and felt the train stop to the time it started moving again.
  • Some trips were on a weekend when trains aren’t as busy. This is useful as it gives a more baseline comparison that isn’t affected by high passenger loads

So how do they compare?

The performance of electric trains seems to vary quite a bit. On a weekday morning the train averaged just over 1 minute per stop with the longest being at New Lynn. Things were a little better on weekends with an average of around 50 seconds per stop. No matter what way you look at it those are crazy numbers and there’s no way it should take that long compared to how international systems perform – or even compared to the diesel trains. Even on busy morning the trains the diesels averaged around 40 seconds per stop, considerably quicker than their electric counterparts – providing they weren’t overloaded.

So what’s changed to increase dwell times so much. As part of recording the times I hadn’t intended to do so but I started noticing some trends around how long things took. A rough example of what I saw is below using some of the faster times I witnessed.

EMU vs Diesel Dwell Time

Straight away you can probably see a few notable things going on.

  • With the diesels a good train manager will have the doors opening almost immediately as soon as the train stops and within 1-2 seconds passengers will be boarding the train. With the EMU’s there’s a 2-3 second delay before the button even lights up to allow the door to be opened. .
  • Once a door button is pushed it also takes longer for the doors to open and close, this is especially the case for the middle trailer carriage which has to wait for the little platform to extend. .
  • Another quirk is that some TM’s will signal to the driver as their door is halfway closed. It seems with the EMU’s this may not be possible and that they may have to wait for the doors to be closed before alerting the driver. .
  • With the diesels the driver is free to leave as soon as the signal is given to depart – although there is usually a slight lag as the engine powers up. With the electrics there is a long till the EMU can move. I’ve been told by staff the onboard systems have a minimum 5 second delay before the traction system will engage.

As you can see it appears a lot of the issues are primarily technical ones with the design of the trains themselves, the five second delay before the train can leave is particularly absurd.

With the roll-out of EMUs across the entire network almost complete AT, CAF and Transdev need to turn their attention to addressing these issues with urgency. This is because dwell times can have a huge impact on on-time performance. At say 16 seconds per station that equates to an extra four minutes per journey.

While a lot of the issues are technical I think some potential quick solutions could be implemented by changing how staff manage trains. One is to start encouraging faster boarding/alighting by leaving the doors open for a shorter period of time. Currently people can be quite pedestrian in getting on/off trains and TM’s don’t like to hurry people up.

Another potential solution is to shift the TMs out of the trains themselves and have them stationed in the rear cab of the train. This is quite common on many overseas systems. They could then close all the doors at once while checking out the cab door. This would save the time of them closing their door separately while still allowing them to check the doors are clear. This would mean they aren’t roaming the carriages but considering they don’t ever do anything to provide customer service anyway then it’s no great loss i.e. most won’t even ask someone to take feet off seats or turn loud music down.

These two measures along could easily shave up to 10 seconds off dwell times.

In addition to dwell times I also particularly noticed the issue around signals. This is especially the case when there is a level crossing next to a station – like there are in at so many stations on the Western Line.

Without getting too technical, signals are red if the barriers are up to stop trains from going through the crossing. To not inconvenience cars too much in case drivers get impatient and go around barriers, they aren’t set to close till the train is on the platform. The issue is that because the signal is red the new train control system means trains can’t approach a red signal at speed. As a result when there’s a level crossing next to a station trains have to basically crawl up to it – again making trains slower than they need to be. This isn’t an issue with the diesel trains.

The ultimate solution is that we need to get these level crossings removed either by closing roads or grade separating them. In the short term perhaps other solutions need to be investigated such as closing the barriers sooner and having booms that cover the entire crossing rather than just half the crossing like they do now.

Regardless of the solutions, all those involved in the rail system need to work on solutions to speeding up these new trains with urgency.

¹ with the exception of Papakura to Pukekohe

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  1. Great discussion. I timed afew stops on western line on the weekend noticing that 55 seconds was the consistent timing. It important to note that in many cases a 55sec dwell time is greater than the time it takes for a train to travel between stops. Kind of farcical really…

    1. If by “many cases” you mean “no cases”, that is. There are a few 2-minute legs with 80 second travel times, but that’s it.

  2. In Japan I think they have people on the platform itself that signal the driver. the driver controls the door from inside his controls from what I can tell so there is no button pressing which I think shouldn’t have been placed in the 1st place. Likewise whats the reason for the close door button if people will not use it.

    1. Melbourne’s train doors are passenger operated, and Melbourne has pretty good dwell times by world standards. It’s the procedure that matters more.

    2. In Japan, on lines where conductors / guards…aka TMs are employed, the conductor stays in and operates the doors from the rear EMU cab. There is no local door system like in Auckland, station staff on-platform in Japan do not signal drivers for door close and passenger-operated doors are only on services where patronage is less than 10 boardings per station per day.

      At peak times, on crowded station platforms where the platform is curved (eg: Kamata Station on the Keihin Tohuku Line), staff hold up red coloured flags on short poles to advise the conductor that it is safe to close all doors, even when there are CCTV monitor screens in place on platform for the conductor to check the full length of such platforms at a glance.

      The average dwell time in Japan on lines where doors are operated by the conductor and on lines that are driver-only operated for door close (called ‘One-Man Unten’), is from wheel stop to wheel start, 25 seconds in the off peak and 30 seconds in the peak. The Shonan-Shinjuku Line in Tokyo has recently changed its operating procedure so that conductors no longer have to push the ROW button after full door close. This is because 1 second after full door close, a clear-to-proceed lamp automatically shows up on the driver’s dashboard and the motor can then be immediately re-engaged. The driver now engages the motor on seeing the dashboard lamp light up, not upon hearing the ROW bell. The removal of the ROW button push step in the conductor’s standard operating procedure for station arrival and departure, has brought the average station dwell on the Shonan-Shinjuku Line down to 20 seconds for offpeak and 25 seconds for peak. EMUs on this line are 10 or 15 car set configurations with 4 pairs of doors per car. There is a bi-level car in the middle of each set with a pair of doors at either end of this car. This config makes operation similar to the AKL EMUs in that there is a special car in the middle of the train with a design that makes boarding and alighting there a lot slower than the other cars. It takes approximately a 14-19 second duration for a Shonan Shinjuku Line conductor to step out from the rear cab, walk three paces onto the platform, switch on the platform’s departure bell for 9 seconds, switch it off, blow his or her whistle, step back into the cab and close the doors. The remainder of that 20-25 second dwell time is taken up with a no-more-than 3 second duration from wheel stop to door open and a no-more-than 3 second duration from full door close to wheel start.

  3. Send the trains back for a repair or refund. Were there no performance metrics in the purchase contract? We should be looking at 20 seconds from train stopping to train moving again.

  4. Maybe AT’s managers should take a trip to Melbourne to see how it’s done here. There are many problems the rail network has here so I’m not claiming it’s perfect by any means, but one of the things I have been very impressed with since moving here is how efficient they are with dwell times on the trains. They simply do not mess around (most of the time). It’s such a simple process, especially with driver-only operation. The train stops, and the doors can be opened straight away with no delay. Driver closes the doors once everyone is on, and the train departs, again with no delays.
    Having recorded the dwell times on some of my journeys on the weekend, it’s usually 15-20 seconds at suburban stations. At some of the quiet stations, I recorded around 10-15seconds. Busier stations are around 20-40 seconds.
    If the long dwell times in Auckland are to do with the new trains, then surely this can be modified? I do suspect tho it’s more to do with staff and procedures however.

    1. If the management are scared of safety responsibilities, just look around over the world and adopt the most efficient and reliable system.

      If it works well else where, there should be less risk involved.

    2. Its like the people running Auckland’s trains have never been on a train in another city.
      I used one of the EMUs when they first started (I don’t normally use the trains as don’t live near a station) and was amazed by the excessive dwell time. I just assumed it had to wait due to the mix with slower diesel services. Can’t believe this hasn’t been fixed since (or was even accepted in the first place).
      I get a feeling any unskilled person that has spent a few years in Eurpoe could run these trains better than the managers that no doubt get paid mega dollars and have probably never caught a train in their lives.

  5. If I’m the only one boarding at a door, I’ll often close the door behind me, especially if I’m boarding at the trailer car. Could possibly help speed things up if more people did that.

  6. Coincidentally (out of curiosity), I took some dwell times on the 5:50pm western line departing Britomart yesterday, a 6-car EMU set.

    Similarly, dwell times were 50-55 seconds, but what was most interesting was that typically the doors shut around the 30 second mark, and it took a further 20-25 seconds for the TM to shut their door, the signal given for the driver to depart and the train to begin moving. Seems like low-hanging fruit to me.

    1. The doors close automatically after 30 seconds idle (no button pushing or proximity detector activation). TM can force close the doors as long as nobody is standing in the doorway or pushing the button, both of which will keep them open. There are fast and slow TMs, but if it takes more than 10 seconds more, it’s usually because of some other factor like passengers obstructing the door sensors, button fiddlers, question askers, dawdlers et al. The TM is also not permitted to authorise departure without the correct signals up ahead. Passengers usually can’t see or decipher the signals, so it seems like slow TM activity.

      1. pushing the button stops the doors from closing? surely when the train is preparing to leave the buttons get deactivated. In london you have to physically hold the door open if you want to make the train wait for your friends

  7. What is the purpose of the train control system if it is slowing trains down based on distance to red signals.

    If the system was completely automated I’d understand, but given the number of level crossings, this seems a long way off. Is it possible to turn this off until it’s needed?

      1. Just to add to that, it doesn’t stop them passing a red signal, it is a calculation of if the signal is passed, where is the conflict. It varies hugely.

      2. So we trust diesel drivers to not go past signals but not electric drivers, that doesn’t seem right, has the culture changed to make them less safe, given the pool of people is essentially the same?

        1. That’s one of the problems, diesel drivers were going past red signals far too frequently and in a few cases almost caused crashes.

          Here’s an article about it from earlier in the year, two in a 12 hour period and 17 in less than a year.

      3. How often have we had such accidents with the diesels, and how serious have the casualties been? Imagine if cars slowed down to 5km/h when 100m from a red light because once, somebody sped through a red light.

    1. It’s not really a control system, more of a protection system. It only controls the train if it is operated outside of the programmed acceptable parameters.

  8. There are a couple of other factors involving dwell times and the EMUs. Unless they’re regulars and because they don’t know where a train is going to stop, potential passengers can disperse up and down the platform which leads to delayed boarding times as they attempt to locate an open door. It appeared AT had sought to address this issue by installing large signs indicating 3 and 6 car EMUs. These are ignored by drivers and, in any case, are irrelevant as passengers have no idea as to whether an incoming train is a 3 or 6 car service. It’s further complicated by train managers starting to, once again, indulge in the unhelpful practice of closing off one of the three car sets on 6 car off-peak services. Boarding times could be sped up if passengers knew when to stand when awaiting an approaching train. It would be a relatively easy exercise to indicate via platform PIDs whether a train is a 3 or 6 car service; and, surely, it isn’t too difficult to stop at a standard location?

    1. It would be great to have an indicator on the platform of where the middle carriage is going to stop, too, so people with bikes or pushchairs or wheelchairs don’t have to guess.

    2. Does Auckland have automated voice announcements at stations yet? Lots of cities have an announcement at the end along the lines of ‘the next train to arrive on platform (x) goes to (x) via (x)………this is a (x) car train”. Probably to advanced for Auckland as they would need to load the automated system with which set/s are being used for each service.

      1. New Lynn is the only one I’ve heard with something like that. It’s quite odd in that it doesn’t actually synch up with train arrivals, though.

      2. We could also copy a useful but simple feature from Russia IIRC, and have announcements for inbound services use a female voice and outbound services a male voice (or vice versa).

    3. This would also be great training for passengers to stand to the sides of these markings so that those disembarking can get off without people blocking. common courtesy

    4. That was not TM indulgence, but mandated on safety grounds until all the stations on those journeys had been trialled and certified as fit for 6-car operations. Standard locations would be fine if there were a standard platform layout, but there’s no point in all trains stopping in the same spot if the exits or shelters are sometimes in another spot. Until the marker positions have been fully trialled and audited, they’re nothing more than a guide.

  9. In all the years catching the train in Auckland, I still have yet to be on a broken diesel, but have been on plenty of broken electrics. Their reliability does not seem particularly thrilling. The increase in travel time due to the door dwell and signals is quite evident too.
    It feels like the phase-in has been too fast. All services about to be completely electric, yet there are still fleet-wide issues with doors, signal control and reliability. When a fix is found for each problem, each train will have to be cycled through modifications, and will be held back by the unmodified trains on the same network. It seems strange that the fleet is completely taking over with known issues (unless, hopefully, there is a fix underway which should be rolled out before everything goes electric). It’s just a very odd way to tackle an issues of get them all in service while sill modifying them all for problems which have existed from the start.
    However, once these problems get fixed (the vast majority new-to-service bugs usually get worked out at some point), then it will be good. Fleet commonality works wonders for scheduling, lower fuel burn and parts for the old diesels must be getting harder to come by. And the acceleration on those electrics, when they can show it off, is really a step up.

    1. I’ve been on a broken diesel a few times, sometimes that’s required another train to come and push it out if the way, other times it’s limped to a location e.g. Newmarket then forced everyone off

      1. Case of different people, different experiences I guess. I’ve been stuck on an electric for 40+min, others for not as long but still complete shut-down. Most likely just entry-to-service issues which will get worked out as the system matures, as happens with every new piece of equipment, but the number of issues continuing vs the rate of introduction seems out of balance

        1. Ive been on many diesel trains in auckland that have broken down. One even caught on fire. Kind of funny and scary.

    2. My brother catches a train, once. Has problems with it. I, on the other hand, with a year and a bit of frequent train commuting, have had three problems with the trains I’ve been on (as opposed to other trains somewhere else along the line*). The first, was a minor door thing that didn’t cause any real problems but did result in a few seconds delay. This was in Onehunga a few months after that line went electric (I was trying out the new trains). The second happened a few weeks/months ago and involved the doors being totally stuffed or something so we told to hop off… we hadn’t even managed to leave the original station. That was a diesel (the nicer kind). The third was another electric and that was two weeks ago. Train was shut down at Penrose and had to wait a couple of minutes.

      In short, the most reliable trains based on my experience are also the least appealing ones… the loud, fumey and cramped diesel ones.

      *Or as sometimes happens at Papakura, the train going to the wrong platform necessitating a trip over the bridge. First time I got caught by it my friend and I looked at the passengers in it discussing where they thought they were going. That train left without us. The same thing happened the next day too but the staff managed to realise and informed us of the surprise change in platform.

    3. My first ever trip on an EMU was to Onehunga, but it turned out to be a one way trip. At Onehunga they couldn’t get it moving again, then lost power completely, leaving us in the darkened carriage parked at the platform for almost half an hour. Eventually they got the doors open, then we walked from Onehunga to Penrose and caught a diesel train from there back to Britomart.

  10. The ultimate solution is that we need to get these level crossings removed either by closing roads or grade separating them. In the short term perhaps other solutions need to be investigated such as closing the barriers sooner and having booms that cover the entire crossing rather than just half the crossing like they do now.

    Safer just to fix the technical bug, so that a train that is stopping is treated differently to a train that is not meant to be stopping.

    1. It’s not a bug and is actually the system being overly cautious. The train control system knows the destination and stopping pattern of every train so it knows is a train is stopping at a station or not. If it isn’t the barriers activate sooner and the train can just carry on through no problems. In this case it’s an issue because the train is stopping and Kiwirail don’t want to hold cars up too much.

      1. How is a system being overly cautious not a bug? The system is not operating as the owner expects it to, that’s a bug.

      2. False. The train knows where it is, how fast it may go, where it can allow doors to open and what the next signal is, but it knows nothing about whether it is supposed to stop at a platform. The information display, control and safety systems are separate and independent.

    2. A few times lately Train Control has managed to override the problem by setting the signals for a non-stopping train, even though it’s stopping. I.e., the signal is already at green when the train arrives. On the plus side, there’s no speed reduction or time delay for the train. On the down side, the barrier arms drop before the train is even at the station, holding up road traffic for an extra couple of minutes. AT will probably hate the idea, as it completely defeats the purpose of the safety system.

  11. Get rid of the Train Managers altogether. They aren’t needed, they add complexity when it’s not needed, and they must cost a fortune to have (not sure how much they earn but say $50k x 200 = $10 million. Also if they are late/short staffed then this causes other delays. There is a shortage of drivers so perhaps retrain so train managers to be drivers and retire the rest. The money saved could be spent in other areas like gates etc to collect extra revenue from free loaders and to improve safety (most crime on trains is likely to be from those already breaking the law and not paying for a ticket).

    1. The only downfall I can think of with getting rid of them is that you’ll most likely see a spike in graffiti and vandalism on the trains unfortunately. If it is costing them that much money, then they’d be best to put that money into some sort of transit police/patrol. But that’s another matter entirely.

      1. Get rid of the train managers and use some of that budget to fund the NZ Police to operate a permanent transit squad. TMs can’t and don’t do much with troublemakers anyway.

        1. Exactly as Nick says. The TM’s don’t do anything to prevent graffiti or other crime anyway. Security guards are cheaper but what is really needed is transport police as they have the power of arrest etc.
          However installing more gates etc on the network will reduce the amount of passengers without a ticket (and these are generally the ones that cause all the problems anyway) not to mention increased fare collection.

          1. Gates reputedly cost more to install, operate and maintain than they gain in fare recuperation or staff reduction except at the bigger stations. Can’t win, sometimes.

    2. Considering they do nothing (I’ve seen someone smoking on the same carriage as a TM and nothing being done about it), take up space and seem to be slowing down the services by at least 20 seconds a stop, they really need to be gotten rid of and be replaced by staff with some customer service skills. Although I’ve heard that the union threatened to strike if doors were able to be operated from the cab, which has resulted in the current situation.

      1. I disagree there. I’ve seen many a TM help a person with a pushchair, ask someone to not stand by the door if seats are available, tell a person to get their shoes off the seats…

        1. Too right.

          Take today’s train. A couple of idiot girls playing music too loudly… TM tells them to stop. They do but then resume as soon as TM wanders off (not TM’s fault). Also, opposite us there was a family with a pram. The TM asked if they would need any help or anything like that. And there was at least one person who was tempted to feet seat that attracted attention. This is by far the norm. I have heard, however, of one dodgy TM who was apparently stood down or whatever the terminology is after saying something like, “You people shouldn’t be catching the trains at this time” to some dude in a wheelchair.

          The TMs provide an important service in monitoring train behaviour. The driver cannot do it. Maori Wardens aren’t always present. Ticket Inspectors are there to do a different job. Police? Not sure if it is really appropriate to have the police be responsible for keeping shoes off seats… Also, a little bit of discretion is a good thing on the doors from time to time.

          1. Not to mention the small matter of trying to prevent people dying by being dragged down the platform as happened in Australia recently. TMs are there for safety above all else. It’s either one trained person on board or several on every platform, all day, every day if we want a safe service.

          2. XKR: “It’s either one trained person on board”, and the single-crewed urban rail systems round the world choose to have the driver as that one person.

          3. Mike – when they do so, the platform is usually manned with more than just a bored security guard and equipped with comprehensive CCTV or similar to allow the driver to check for themselves that it is safe to move off. Most of Auckland’s platforms are very far from being suitable for driver only operation and taking TMs out of the trains and putting them on the platforms won’t save a cent, prevent vandalism, fare dodging or a decline in safe operation. It’s very disappointing that so many people are happy to trade safety for seconds.

    3. I don’t think that would be possible; the union threatened to strike if TMs weren’t given control of the doors.

      1. If true, then that is a good example of ridiculous union behaviour. Looking after employees does not extend to creating unnecessary jobs that undermines efficiency of whole pt system. That creates a massive price for everyone else. What a joke. Get rid of tms i say.

  12. A bit off topic, but all services being electric from next month raises the question of what’s happening with the SA/SD carriages. As I understand it, despite expressions of interest for some of the fleet from organisations like Greater Wellington Regional Council, AT has decided to sell them only as a job lot. It appears that such an offer has not been forthcoming, so the carriages are being parked up at Taumarunui until one comes along.

    1. Got any firm info on the interst expresses by GWRC?,
      I’m guessing they would whack a toilet in them somewhere and look to use them on the Wairarapa service to escape the “tow and hook” charges from KR….
      They could also be looking at using them to Palmy if the Capital connection stopped running…

      1. Potentially for the Wairarapas – but they wouldn’t eliminate the need for KR to provide locos, just the need for the loco to run round.

  13. Firstly this door system on EMU’s was obviously installed to eliminate Train Managers. The driver operates the door release now and can close them too but there are several safety checks the train does both opening and closing. The T car in the middle is especially delaying because it deploys the wheel chair ramps if a door is operated there. I can attest to the fact that although the EMU’s are quicker between platforms they hold following diesel trains up whilst at platforms.

    Secondly the signalling on the network. The western line has so many red lights all because of level crossings, some hundreds of metres away such as between Sunnyvale and Glen Eden. Otherwise most of the red signals on the network are supposed to “protect” the many dangerous (by nature) pedestrian level crossings, dangerous because you can walk out without lights or bells with a train bearing down on you if the signal prior to it for the train is at red. But what say the train over shoots, then what? Get rid of this system, it potentially lethal and it unnecessarily holds up the EMU’s

    Thirdly AT are being cute about diesel break downs. Possibly moire EMU’s play up for all sorts of reasons but this seems to never be mentioned. I agree with others here!

  14. Been on trains all over the world, never seen anything like our new EMU’s in terms of door, lights, managers. Big lack on #8 wire!

    The best trains have no mangers, no ramps, no blinking lights, no beep beep beeps, just door that open when you pull into station, or when you push the button, and the train is stopped or about to stop. Ramp should only be extended if a card is swiped (a HOP card for people whom need them!), or at least a separate button

    Since our stations are open to the weather, how about people detectors (IR) to open doors to people waiting outside, again no button to push

  15. If anyone doubts that the Western Line timetable had three minutes added for electric trains, consider this:

    3 minutes was actually added to the Western Line timetable in December 2014, but only on weekends, not weekdays. AT of course were preparing to introduce electrics on weekends early in the new year, but not weekdays.

    The 3 minutes added on weekdays in March was in the lead up to introducing electric trains on weekdays.

  16. Level crossing barriers can’t extend right across the road because you need to leave the exit point clear for any traffic on the line when they are lowering. That’s why half arms are used in NZ. Full arms are considered dangerous.

    1. Full arms are used commonly in Switzerland somewhere I’d consider a lot safer than NZ and certainly run by people who have more of a clue than in NZ.

      1. Full or pairs of arms are used for manually controlled crossings, where the entire road width can be closed off safely; but all crossings in New Zealand are automatic ones and so have barriers covering just the entrance side of the crossing, for the reasons GB has given.

    2. Plus then if the crossing is malfunctioning then you can drive around the barriers rather than having to make the queue of cars behind you back up so that you can do a U-turn and go the looooooooong way around the block 😉

  17. Can’t understand how it could be an issue with the trains – surely these trains are also used in Europe? They wouldn’t stand for that!

    Maybe if it was a long distance train this would be OK, but it would never have even passed testing as a commuter train in any European city. Over there the train pulls up, doors open immediately for a few seconds, doors close, train leaves almost immediately. I would guess our dwell time is almost twice as long as theirs.

    1. They are used elsewhere, but some of the features would have been custom made for Auckland. The people in charge of their procurement probably added all the extra “bling” to them.

    2. Auckland’s electric trains are AM class EMUs, specific to Auckland, which are a member of CAF’s CxK railcar family, the other members being DMUs of Northern Ireland, so not very widespread. However, given CAF’s experience with a wide range of metros, I’d tend to think this is just an Auckland-specified issue (maybe concern over sudden door operation: passenger-operated doors are new to Auckland, so maybe playing it too safe?)
      Maybe they could have something like “push twice for ramp” on the middle carriage. Those ramps take far too long to come out

      1. I don’t understand why the doors can’t open while the ramp is being deployed, it is the one after the other that takes the time.

        It seems the details of the Siemens ETCS for Auckland were written to a completely panicky brief. If fail-safe to this degree were to applied to the road network there would be a top speed limit of around 10kph on all roads, perhaps a little faster on motorways, but not much. There doesn’t seem to be much balance between likelihood of harm and utility on the level crossing station approach issue….

        1. Again, I’m assuming some safety spec, not wanting passengers to be able to access “the gap” before the ramp is out or step on it while the ramp is moving. At some stops it is necessary to get out before the doors fully open otherwise those wanting to get on force you back (a little (un)common passenger courtesy would be nice: let others off before you get on rather than barging on…..). Provided its a specification affecting only the software, not the hardware, a software patch to speed it up should not be beyond feasible.
          Unfortunately another additional dwell time is coming with Parnell…. Hoping for a door fix before that opens

        2. Right, it’d be easy to set a foot or wheel wrong if you stepped too soon. The delay is awfully long, though. Hopefully it can be sped up some.

        3. The approach speed for the EMU’s at certain locations was reduced to 10km/h to prevent overrun. Then to avoid exceeding that reduced speed they were set to 9km/h to ensure they don’t overrun the reduced speed for overruns.

          We shouldn’t expect any great improvement from the people who come up with this stuff. Delivering the slowest timetables seen in half a century for our brand new electric trains is probably the best we can hope for!

          1. The only place the speed limit is 10k is inside certain depots and approaching the end of the two short platforms at Britomart.

          2. XKR, can you please stop spreading sensible comments around the place, these guys like a good yarn….

    3. I’ve heard from an inside source that the union threatened to strike if drivers were allowed to operate the doors, so I doubt we’ll see any improvements in dwell times any time soon.

        1. A bit ridiculous that our entire rail system is being held to ransom by an unaccountable entity… Could someone OIA AT to get conclusive evidence?

          1. Let’s hope that’s one thing that can be knocked on the head with a new service provider after we get rid of TransDev.

          2. I’m not sure whether something like this could be investigated using an LGOIMA request (does anyone with more knowledge of the act know whether it covers this sort of information?), but it’s easy enough to submit a request, so it’s definitely worth a try if you’re interested.

      1. The drivers do operate the doors. Train stops, driver unlocks the doors and opens whichever ones he deems necessary. Driver can isolate certain doors. Passengers and TM can use the green buttons only when unlocked. Doors close automatically after 30s idle. TM can close all doors, then check that it’s safe to depart and close their own door. TM is there to ensure safety without the need to have multiple trained personnel at every platform all day long. Not exactly a vast union conspiracy.

  18. I thought we hired an operator, Transdev, with experience operating trains at international practise standards? Could be worse, could be Kiwirail. How’s that bidding process going?

  19. Thanks for your data Matt. I raised the dwell time issue while on a tour of the EMU stable facility last week but just got snowed with explanations rather than acknowledgement that there is a problem. Progress on level crossings is painfully slow. Although we should be grateful that there is funding in 2015-2025 LTP, there is no funding in any of the first 6 years and about $6.5 million in each of the last 4 years (total of $26.7 million). This is for 3 purposes: 1. detailed investigation of a few crossings which could be simply closed; 2. minor safety improvements to existing pedestrian level-crossings (e.g. extra warning devices, more use of gates, possibly a few new overbridges); 3. detailed investigation, design and consenting on the top priority level crossings but nothing for actual grade separation. In the next 10 years we should however see a handful of crossings eliminated [Sarawia St. in 2017, Normanby Rd. grade separated as part of the CRL, George St. & Porters Ave. closed as part of light rail – but that still leaves 46 to go!

    1. Graeme, do you have any idea if others are planned to be closed? Woodward seems like an obvious one once the Waterview tunnel is opened (taking almost all of the traffic) and would speed up buses and traffic on New North by removing a couple of signal phases.

  20. I’m trying to post my opinion that excessive dwell times are partially due to the unions demanding that TMs be retained, although my comments are constantly getting deleted. Why are my reasonable comments on a transport-related issue being deleted by a blog that claims to advocate for improved public transport?

    1. Your comments aren’t being deleted – we very rarely delete anything and only from trolls. Sometimes the system that monitors comments holds them up for a while, such as if you post too many links, post too many in short succession etc.

        1. You’ll see above that I’ve heard the same thing about the unions involvement in keeping the TMs on trains when they don’t need to be there

    2. It’s utter bullocks to suggest unions are threatening a strike. Who dreamed that one up, Whaleoil? Most drivers don’t want the additional distraction of watching cameras for passengers plus operating the train plus watching to see if the red light in front of you has cleared when sometimes they don’t, maintaining timetables and every other distraction going on. For all the criticism of TM’s there have been very very few incidents or deaths. Can we guarantee this with driver only? Overseas systems use platform staff to mitigate incidents and THAT won’t happen here!

          1. I’d be interested to know which rail service providers you’re referring to: large metropolitan ones like the London Underground and the Paris Metro don’t employ TM equivalents, and neither do most of the mainline suburban operators in London.

          2. The alternative to TMs is more platform staff and much more in the way of CCTV infrastructure to allow the driver to ensure that it is safe to depart. London Underground platforms are riddled with cameras and monitors for this purpose. How long do naysayers think the monitors would last at a wasteland platform like Te Mahia? Onboard cameras and monitors are far from suitable alone.

          3. as Mike said I don’t know of many (if any) that have a TM and certainly not on a 3/6 car set.

  21. “excessive dwell times are partially due to the unions demanding that TMs be retained” – your evidence that a) the presence of TMs creates excessive dwell times, and b) TMs are only there because of union demands?

    1. a) There’s usually a 15-20 second gap between the doors closing and the TM closing their own door. Those 15-20 seconds would be saved if TMs did not control the doors.
      b) Close friend with a driver (whom I will not name for obvious reasons)….

      1. Errr… No. If the TMs weren’t there to force the doors closed and stop people dicking around with the obstruction sensors and green buttons, the doors would forever be opening and closing due to fiddlers, late runners and layabouts.

  22. I must admit, the dwell times for Wellington’s Matangi trains are way faster than what has been mentioned in this story. 55 seconds is ridiculous!! Then again, the Matangi don’t have retracting platforms, and I don’t think the train control system in Wellington is as paranoid as Auckland’s. Most of the time I have been on the Matangis, the train stops, the TM releases the doors. Most passengers are on in about 10 – 15 secs. The TM closes the doors and as soon as the signal is sent to the driver, the train is off! Probably average dwell time is 30 – 35 secs. Slightly longer in peak.

  23. Dumb question, but is there a way that a timer can be put up showing people how long the train is going to be at the station, like the timers on the downtown pedestrian crossings? Even just the psychological effect of seeing the timer count down might get people to rattle their dags.

    1. That would be so much better than the flashing blue light and asterisk there currently is! Given the system does still have a highly manual component to it, it probably is hard to accurately predict unfortunately, but it certainly would be nice

      1. The blue light isn’t there to hurry late runners, it’s there to tell the driver that a signal has been requested and the TM when the signal has been given.

        1. Interesting, wouldn’t have figured. Seems a bit far back for the driver to see with the longer trains poking their nose past the stairs at Britomart. Either way, the status boards are almost never accurate as to what train is at the platform (or not, case depending)

    2. Just close the doors. Don’t wait for people. Missing your train because you forgot to walk through the doors while they were open is a sure fire way to get those dags raggling next time.

      1. I agree here, TMs are actually too nice to stragglers. There really should be zero tolerance for latecomers; the timetable has to take precedence.

  24. So this threatened strike – is it only of TMs or drivers too? If just TMs, give control to the drivers, TMs strike, they get made redundant once everyone realises how much better it is. Problem solved. Profit. I’m only sort of joking.

  25. Things will sort themselves out as complaints will keep coming. There will be no other option but to sort out the Dwell time mess so passengers can enjoy the benefits of an electric train service.

  26. Wellington has another thing going for it. The passengers are that used to the trains that they know exactly where to stand on the platform so the train doors stop exactly in front of them – and the drivers also know where to stop the trains in exactly the same spot every time. I found that out the hard way when I had to catch a train into town during rush hour and I made the mistake of standing in someone else’s spot

  27. Reply to Feijoa re Closure of Level Crossings. Although 16 crossings have been investigated as possible candidates for closure, not all of these will actually be closed – for example 2 adjoining crossings might be investigated but only one actually closed for the obvious reason that the traffic displaced from a closed crossing point will require a convenient alternative. 16 crossings have been identified as the highest priority for grade separation – I have a copy of the high level analysis but it is heavily redacted (all the financial information has been blacked out) and the appendix containing the maps was withheld. Woodward Road is arguably the busiest by traffic count but Manaroa and Walters Road in Papakura are not far behind and have more train movements. These three plus Morningside Drive and Saint Jude Street are the top five priority crossings but each report I have seen over the last decade uses slightly different criteria so the priority order varies. But sadly there is no money to even make a start on the first of them.

    1. Graeme I’ve just seen this in an AT doc but it doesn’t match another part of the doc saying $25m
      $90 million from 2020 to facilitate significant improvements to other rail level crossings (When they say other they mean other than Sarawia St).

      1. No one is saying replace all level crossings this year, but maybe 3 or 4 pa, starting with the lethal pedestrian Lx’s, by undergrounding them, aka Kingsland, Mt Albert, Parnell, etc. It would have the added benefit of hugely speed up the EMU’s by eliminating red lights

  28. Whether or not we can get rid of the train masters, surely an easy improvement is to get rid of the stupid wait time between the button being pressed and the doors opening. The door should open as soon as the button is pressed. The beeping I can understand when the doors are closing, but why beeping stage before they open? It’s just a pure waste of time.

    The train should also start moving the second the doors have closed. No need to sit there and wait for 5 seconds.

  29. Re dwell times: you can’t stress too strongly the absurdity of a 50-second average dwell. Dwell for trains of this type, except at the busiest stations, should be 20-30 seconds. Were there no performance standards for this in the contract for the trains? This sounds like A-grade incompetent procurement (as it appears there are technical issues with the trains as well as political issues with the train managers).

  30. RE level crossings: I assume the issue is that there is a red signal at the front of the platform protecting the level crossing, and another red signal in rear protecting the first signal (as is normal for fixed block systems), and the system enforces a standard ‘extreme caution’ speed when allowing the train to pass the red signal in rear.

    The technical solution would be to install some intermediate speed-limiting ‘train stops’ (or whatever the electronic equivalent is called) in that section, which would enforce a sensible braking rate rather than enforcing an arbitrary ‘extreme caution’ speed all the way from the signal in rear.

  31. The door close button and key are part of the traction circuit and the key has to be removed to allow the driver to apply power.

  32. Another issue that is not an easy fix is the use of plug doors that has to open and locate along side the train. Not so bad opening but closing is so slow and they have sensors that reopen the doors if a late passenger touches them. Then the whole process begins again. The diesels use a far quicker air operated sliding door and the much maligned TM assists here as well.

  33. I heard a while ago that there was some research on dwell times done by AT/Transdev when it was only diesel trains. The old timetable was built with 30 second dwell times which was obviously part of the performance issues. Apparently the dwell times were 45 secs in peak and 30-40 secs during offpeak.

    Someone said that is why the TMs started using whistles. From memory I think there was some posters pasted up also to encourage people to move away from the doors to let people board and for those getting off to be ready nice and early.

    I wonder how much benefit could be gained by having one person at each of the 10 busiest stations during peaks to help speed things up and gradually educate passengers on etiquette to help. Could have 5 others rotating around the next 10-15 stations. Over 6 months the public and TMs would be a lot faster.

  34. Re level crossings: Insanely excessive risk-aversion. When will we see the new road rule that says that heavy vehicles must approach a red traffic light at 10kph from 100m away (or whatever the comparable figures would be) just to reduce the risk of overrunning the light?

    Many Melbourne train lines have just as many level crossings as Auckland’s western line. The train signals, mostly, don’t protect crossings or respond to the state of crossings. Where there’s a platform just upstream of the crossing, the closed time is increased by roughly the time that the train loses in stopping (since the track circuits that trip the booms have to be set back enough to allow for a non-stop train). Yes it’s a nuisance for traffic, but the train lines could not operate with acceptable efficiency otherwise.

    And, by the way, a system that cannot tell passengers whether the next train is of 3 or 6 cars is incompetently managed.

    1. My experience in Sydney is that almost all trains are the same length (8 cars), apart from a couple of lines, which are lower frequency and are 4 cars. There are also numbers painted on the platforms to let you know where the 4, 6 or 8 car fronts will be.

      The last order of trains are all 8 cars in length. This is why I’ve asked if you were going to order more trains, would they by 3 car or 6 car units, alternatively is it possible to add cars to existing 3 car units to increase capacity. I understand there are issues with fleet management and traction once the CRL opens if cars are added to trains.

      The uplift in passenger numbers will fill current capacity in how long? Solutions are needed soon as the lead time on capital purchases could mean we are in constant catch up mode, or capacity becomes a problem (again).

      The dwell times that are the main point of the thread will be sorted out once enough noise is made to force those responsible to act. Similarly the Union/TM issues will be sorted one way or the other over time.

      I doubt the issues we’re talking about this year will be the same issues we’re talking about in 2 years time.

      1. This has been discussed previously. Yes 3 cars can be added to make a 6 car EMU (this is what the 6 car EMUs are).
        What we haven’t had is an answer as to whether an extra centre car can be added to either 3 or 6 car EMUs (to make 4 or 7 cars).
        The centre car is the cheapest so assuming that they can be added on then this would be the most cost effective method of adding capacity. In future additional drive units could be ordered to convert them to 3/6 car EMU if more trains needed. My understanding is that there wouldn’t be a traction issue on the current network however once the CRL is operational there might be an issue with a 4 car EMU and possibly a 7 car EMU. Has anyone with influence asked AT this question?

        1. The platforms are designed to accommodate 3 or 6 car lengths. 4, 7 or 8 car sets would be too long and thus no use. Limiting access to compatible area would undo the whole point of a single type fleet. The 3 and 6 car units are already much greater capacity than the units they’re replacing. Frequency is the solution to capacity issues.

    2. Yes it’s a nuisance for traffic, but the train lines could not operate with acceptable efficiency otherwise.

      Exactly. There are a lot of segments where traffic is delayed for almost half the time in peak hours. And that’s okay, because the train is carrying hundreds while the tens of cars are carrying tens of people. We need to implement that practice here.

      Why do we always compare to Melbourne and other cities? Because there are places where things are done much better, and that means we have the opportunity to do better as we transform our city.

    3. After reading here, and reading that trains in Auckland have to wait for the crossing to close before they can depart a station (which is beside a level crossing), I thought I would observe and see what is done at Melbourne’s (many) level crossings, most of which are beside stations. In Melbourne, the opposite happens as compared to Auckland. The gates start closing about 30-60 second before the train even gets to the platform and stay down till the train departs. This means the gates are closed for at least a good minute or more before the train goes through it.
      This drives road users crazy as it does mean long wait times especially on the busy lines such as my local Frankston line which has about 15tph at peak so the gates are often down more than they’re up. I guess here they put more of a priority on rail movement and efficiency.
      In Auckland, clearly the reason the train has to wait for the arms to go down instead of visa versa, is to cause less convenience to the all mighty road user, heaven forbid!!

      1. Just to clarify: the closed time of a competently managed automatic crossing, in Melbourne and elsewhere, is approximately:
        – warning bells, boom closing and opening: 20-25 seconds.
        – train is on the crossing: under 5 seconds for a short train at speed, up to 20 seconds for a longer train starting or stopping at an adjacent platform.
        – buffer between when the boom is completely shut and the train enters the crossing: about 15 seconds.*
        Total: with no nearby stations: 40-45 seconds. Where there is a platform immediately downstream: 55-60 seconds. Where there is a platform immediately upstream: 90-100 seconds**
        * The buffer is just an extra safety margin to allow vehicles to clear the tracks. It’s not related to the braking distance of the train. If a vehicle becomes trapped on the track, there is no expectation that the train driver would be able to avoid a collision.
        ** That is, 40-45 seconds plus the time lost stopping at the platform (since the track circuit that trips the booms must be set back far enough to allow for non-stop trains). The time lost is the dwell time plus the time lost in accelerating and braking, assuming a dwell of 20-30 seconds.

  35. And the reason for the ridiculous disparity in safety between rail and road?

    Because if any mishap involving death or injury (or even potential death or injury) occurs on rail, the law comes down on the company like a ton of bricks.

    But when death or injury occurs on the roads everyone just shrugs, the law included by and large.

  36. As nice as these electric trains are, the first time I saw one in real life – with push-button doors, inside and out – I thought they would be much slower to get in and out of a station…and more variable, which is even worse. Variables mess up scheduling something fierce. I’ve thought about it since many times…and there doesn’t really seem to be any way to speed them up much as long as you leave control of the doors with the users. There will always be those who are a little ‘late’ to open to get off…and slow to open them to get on. A few seconds at either end…and you’ve got a minute instead of 40 seconds. Across many stops that’s a variation of 2-3 minutes.

    I wonder why this wasn’t picked up right back on the drawing board.

    1. People will learn. Push button doors are widely used around the world in systems with orders of magnitude greater demand than Auckland’s. They reduce wear and tear on doors and reduce reduce noise and draughts for passengers where the door does not need to be opened.

      It’s possible to set them up so that you can pre-order the door opening before the train has stopped.** Then there does not need to be any extra delay whatever.

      ** If this is not the system in Auckland now, it should be.

  37. I’m always bemused by the obsession that road authorities and grumpy motorists have with level crossing closed time. You hear it a lot in Melbourne too. ‘In peak hours the such-and- such crossing is closed for up to 30 minutes in the hour shock horror!’

    But think about it. At almost ANY major arterial road intersection with a 3 or 4 part traffic light cycle, the intersection is closed to you, wherever you’re coming from, for 30-45 minutes in the hour. There are thousands of such intersection in a big city, and no-one thinks twice about them. What’s the difference? It’s an wildly irrational over-reaction. People are used to being held up by other cars, but not used to being held up by trains.

    On any major road, the traffic lights 200 metres beyond the level crossing are almost certainly a greater bottleneck than the level crossing that is closed for 30 minutes in the hour.

  38. Checked dwell times on Melbourne trains today during peak hour. Averaged about 25 seconds at the busiest stations on the network. How could Auckland manage to be twice that?

    1. Drivers can open all doors or just the middle car doors as they see fit. Usually at a very busy platform, the end of the trip and when ramp users are present. It doesn’t make much difference to dwell time in practice.

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