We’ve questioned before whether Auckland Transport have bought enough electric trains. This has been prompted by repeated experiences of myself and others of packed trains at some times of the day. At the peak of the peak this is not unexpected but at that time services are also normally run by 6-car trains. The concern has been around services just outside of the peak where only 3-car sets are run.

Full EMU

We are also aware that there are still a few more new trains yet to come into service which can be used to lengthen existing trains and hopefully increase frequencies on the Western Line.

Yet with the extremely strong growth in train use that Auckland is experiencing any extra capacity we have will quickly be used up. It seems that AT’s solution to this is simply hope the level of growth starts to fall.

AT Metro general manager Mark Lambert said if the slowdown in growth did not fall to near the 5 percent forecast in 2017/18, the agency would consider options.

“If there’s crowding and either we can’t afford to, or there’s a long lead-in time for additional trains, an option could be, for example, to reduce fares either side of the really congested peak period to encourage people to take the less patronised services”, said Mr Lambert.

Mr Lambert said it was too soon to consider whether occasional crowding during the peak was a problem, as additional trains were still to be added, and teething troubles with new technology can disrupt travel patterns.

The agency’s decision-making is locked into forecasts made by a planning model agreed with the Government, called APT3, which would share the cost of any extra trains.

It said so far, the growth was in line with APT3, and if the existing fleet could cope until the opening of the City Rail Link in the early-mid 2020s, that downtown loop would boost the capacity of the rail network by allowing trains to circulate more frequently.

That’s quite an extraordinary statement really for an organisation that should be doing everything it can to boost growth and of course plays right into the hands of the government and Ministry of Transport who have said something similar as a justification for not starting the CRL earlier than 2020.

We expect to see continued strong rail patronage growth until around 2017/18, as the full electric train fleet comes into service and the new bus network is rolled out. From 2017/18, we expect the rate of patronage growth to slow.

The thing I do agree with though is the suggestion that AT should be looking to ideas like cheaper off peak fares to try and spread the peak out. But that is something that should be being done anyway rather than waiting till trains are full.

Another solution I heard suggested was to run some shorter running services on the western line to pick up people in the inner west. This would be a very poor way for AT to treat long suffering western line passengers in my opinion.

In another story it also seems that AT are looking in to whether they could add batteries to some trains to allow them to travel to and from Pukekohe without actually installing wires. If feasible this seems like it has the potential to be a good solution to get electrics’ to Pukekohe sooner.

Auckland Transport general manager Mark Lambert said he was in talks with the electric train manufacturer to see if whether could put enhanced battery technology into the existing trains, so they could get to Pukekohe.

The main issue with it would be that AT have said in the past that to extend electrics to Puke they would need at least two additional trains – possibly more. Without buying more trains that means trains would have to be pulled from current services which won’t do anything to help the crowding issues.

In the please no discussion about adding extra carriages, we’ve seen that a lot already.

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  1. One of the main blockers for electrifying out to Pukekohe has been clearance under bridges. A question that hasn’t been answered is why can’t we leave the bridges as they are and simply electrify either side? The EMU could lower the pantograph slip through on battery/capacitor/momentum before raising and hooking back up to the juice.

    My fear is that if the battery solution works (unlikely in my uneducated opinion), Pukekohe will still be reliant on it’s own little train set. It would also bring forward the removal of the DMUs and therefore any hope of a service out to Tuakau, Pokeno etc.

  2. They expect growth to slow as the New Bus Network – which is designed to deliver tens of thousands more to train stations every day – is implemented?

    This is not much of a solution. Aucklanders deserve better.

    1. Certainly the bus service to the stations and interchanges seems to be designed to increase rail patronage and reduce buses to the city centre. That was my understanding of the whole system changed structure so if the trains are now near capacity then the situation will be made much more evident by the end of 2016. AT needs to be making provision for that now.

  3. I will post it here : not that I’m really a big follower of Climate Change the Local Council has Signed up to bring carbon emissions down and need to basically stick electric lines everywhere if they’re serious

  4. Surely it’s a no-brainer to put another 30 units on order? I feel the Western Line is already approaching peak PM capacity, even with 6-car units being run.

    Wellington will have 83 units once their fleet is complete in a few years – yet Auckland has higher patronage.

    1. That’s when they do send down six-car trains on the Western Line. One of the 5pm services yesterday was apparently a three car crush.

    2. Not disagreeing with you about needing more trains, but to be fair Wellingtons trains are 2 carriage trains not 3 so they’re a lot smaller. 83 trains equals 166 carriages vs Auckland’s 171. Wellington doesnt have more capacity than Auckland even with more train sets.

      1. In Wellington, the core morning peak services are 8-car (usually Ganz sets) inbound from the Hutt. Solid loadings too; only some standing. Wairarapa morning peak trains are standing room only by Petone. The most common off-peak is 4-car – good loadings but not standing like I see in the Auckland pics, occasionally 2 cars. (At least that’s my casual observations here for the last few years).

    3. I would agree. more trains are going to be needed post CRL anyway so why not order more now? the only problem i see is there might not be much money to pay for them at present, but i wouldn’t be opposed to the council borrowing the money to spread out the cost.

  5. A very small capacity increase could be gained by forming trains as 6 car sets: AMP-AMA-AMA-AMA-AMA-AMP. That would remove two cabs but with the same power output.

    1. How?
      All you’ve done is taken usable 3 x 3 car EMUs (AMP-AMT-AMA configuration), turned them into 3 x 2 car EMUs (AMP/AMA pairs with an AMA/AMA pair in the middle), with 3 trailer cars out of the system and unusable?

      Only answer is more 3 car EMUs be ordered ASAP.

    2. “so far, the growth was in line with APT3, and if the existing fleet could cope until the opening of the City Rail Link in the early-mid 2020s”

      That comments a fact juxtaposed with a big “we hope”, coupled with a subtext of of “we also hope the government changes next time so we can order more trains.”.

      All evidence and logic says that with growth going the way it is, regardless of what APT3 says, the system can’t possibly cope until the 2020’s when CRL opens.

      The government doesn’t play catch up with roads and motorways – they build em well in advance of need, so why the reluctance to do so here.
      Other than mode bias.

    3. Except that the AMAs are cab cars, and the centre cars without cabs are unpowered trailers.

      So are you proposing an entirely new design powered centre car?

  6. Whatever the solution, it needs to be agreed and implemented quickly in order to allow the trucks to retain the gains made by the number of Single Occupant Vehicles (SOV) being reduced on the roads, particularly during peak times.

    The consequence of inaction is electoral doom for whomever is left standing/blamed when the music stops in this game of chicken/musical chairs.

  7. As you indicate, AT’s “solution” is a head in the sand solution, as growth is still expected – it would only be a “solution” if growth went to zero and that’s not going to happen.

  8. Three o’clock train to Swanson stopped at Grafton to pick up school pupils who got middle carriage and had to be asked down to the next carriage. Only a single train three carriages

  9. The incompetence is that of the Government, its’ transport funding policy and the road bias of NZTA. Auckland Transport are doing their best in very difficult circumstances with one hand tied behind their back. Please direct your ire in the right place.

    1. I tend to agree, but it’s not like Auckland Transport couldn’t free up money for new trains by canning low value roading projects like the half billion they’re planning to spend on the Mills Rd highway starting in a few years, for which they currently spending millions on planning, designation and court proceedings.

  10. I guess we’ll see shortly what’s the patronage for August – first month with EMUs only in service. Western line, even with 6 car sets definitely is getting there in terms of capacity.

      1. The patronage reports usually come out a few days before each AT board meeting. The next board meeting is on 28 September so expect the next round of patronage statistics a few days before then.

  11. Longer trains are not a solution as the platforms aren’t long enough. Furthermore even if the platforms were lengthened the spacing between signals at Quay Park and Britomart tunnel will probably not be big enough for 3 EMU’s coupled as the previous section track it has passed over will not be unavailable to the following train all of which defeats the purpose. And capacity at junctions is going to become an even bigger problem if any more services are added out West.

    Gating Grafton may make a difference as its a good bet plenty of students aren’t paying anyway and this may drop demand.

    Longer term more services could work out West but only if they pass through Newmarket and head south and avoid Britomart and a link was installed from Platform 4 to the Western line to increase flexibility!

    1. Not sure if anyone was advocating for 9-car trains? I think if they can first get all peak services to 6 car, then get 5min frequencies that would be better than getting bigger trains. If still at capacity after that, then maybe that could be considered. That would be years off however.

  12. Answer:

    a) During the peaks, run only 6-car EMUs (except Onehunga of course)

    b) In the freed-up train paths (which there will not be enough 6-car EMUs to fill), RUN THE SPARE SA sets*.

    c)This will tide things over until new EMUs can be ordered, built, delivered and commissioned (likely several years).

    d) What could be any more obviously straightforward and sensible?

    . . . . *Oh that’s right. The spare SA sets are in the process of being disposed of.

    I despair at the stupidity.

    1. In response to those ‘answers’

      A) There are not enough trains to run all services on the mainlines as 6 car services at peak, only some of them (thus the need for more trains)

      B) They implemented full EMU service earlier than originally planned to improve reliability as the mixed fleet was very unreliable. Reliability has already improved significantly (according to AT). So going back to a mixed diesel/electric fleet would be a backwards and self-defeating step.

      1. If you were going to mix fleets by reintroducing SA cars, wouldn’t you want to lease electric locomotives that would have the appropriate performance characteristics rather than bringing back the diesel engines.

        I don’t believe that globally there aren’t what we would require available. Cost, time frames and certification being issues that would need to be resolved as well.

      2. My understanding is that reliability declined with the diesel fleet as it became known that the end was near and priority-maintenance was wound down. This was premature. (The same thing happened with the English Electric fleet in Wellington just before the Matangis took over, but at least in that case the pain was short-lived and went away as soon as the new trains took over).

        To re-introduce a supplementary diesel operation, WITH ADEQUATE MAINTENANCE, in slots vacated by 3-car EMUs which have been doubled into 6’s, should not be such a big issue provided the trains are still available. The diesels would not be heavily taxed as the duty required of them would be for peak hour supplements only, not the mainstay that they were previously. This would assist with reliability. However if they are no longer available then idiocy has prevailed and AT has shot itself in the foot.

        So which is better? A nice, new, reliable, all-electric service, so full that it regularly leaves large numbers of passengers standing on the platform, or supplementation by some unsexy diesels for an interim period enabling demand to be accommodated. As a passenger faced with this choice, I know which I would prefer.

        And what alternatives do the “no diesels” brigade suggest?

        All I seem to read above is “Order more EMUs”, and in the meantime hope (like AT) that a proportion of passengers will quietly give up and go away until such time as the new batch arrives. In fact this may well happen if overcrowding becomes self-limiting, but what a pathetic look for rail it will be.

        ‘Spreading the peak’ with fare-incentives as Mark Lambert suggests may well help, but will it be enough? Or will it simply encourage more patronage overall, and more people moving in to fill whatever space is vacated on the busiest trains?

        Houston we have a problem. We need a solution here and now, not in 2-3 years’ time. Diesels offer that solution, (or ought to be able to).

  13. Firstly why are you trying to kill discussion about adding a non-powered car to each set to make 4-car EMU to boost the 3-car EMUs relatively cheaply?
    Have yet to hear any evidence to say that this is a) not possible, or b) not feasible. (sure there have been a few posts by people speculating that they would be underpowered – which is false as they operate like this elsewhere and our EMUs are overpowered to cope with the gradient of CRL).

    Secondly AT should be doing all they can to help the rail network reach it’s target so that the govt will fund CRL. (I get the feeling that there is some behind the scenes agreements in place that the govt will pull this out as an election year bribe and AT are being told to keep a lid on it).

    Thirdly the bus network… specifically the NEX. Today I saw a north bound NEX bus that was completely full while 2 other NEX buses went past (not in service) to make their way back to Albany to pick up the main flow from there. This is not a pleasant passenger experience, it is a waste of resources, and buses are just burning fuel driving empty. One simple solution would be to make those buses doing the dash back to Albany (and vice versa in the evening) true Express (flyer even lol) buses that operate non-stop from Britomart to Albany (or vice versa). Would free up capacity on the buses operating the normal service and provide a more pleasant experience for passengers whilst also growing the route as I’m sure there are plenty of people that would be interested in a faster express service! All helps with the farebox recovery too.

    1. Perhaps because the business case and the timetable were predicated on the performance of 3 car sets. Using 4 car sets ruins that, but also hamstrings AT in that platforms can’t be extended past 6 car sets.

      1. No reason why a 4 car set wouldn’t accelerate fast enough (remember these units are overbuilt with extra traction and power for the CRL gradient). How do 4 car sets hamstring ATs ability to extend past 6 car sets? If anything they help in that 7 car sets would be possible (although with our network it would make more sense to have more 6 car EMUs).

  14. Just adding my 2 cents. Definitely need more trains. Order them now, figure out how to pay for them later. Traditional government finance. I assume that our trains are purpose built and there are no other systems in the world that have trains that we could use. That’s unfortunate, because there might have been options for leasing/lease purchase. But will the system as it stand now allow shorter headways? Isn’t the dead end thing the real brake on capacity?

    Bruce’s comment about buses. As a bus user there is nothing more infuriating than to be passed by a full bus only to have an empty one go by that’s “out of service.” Or – and I have seen this one too many times – the full bus stops, 3 people squeeze on, meanwhile, a half empty bus goes flying by. With the technology we have now, AT should be able to manage capacity in real time. They need to think of the NEX, say, as a single machine – rather than a number of machines – and optimise the machine to pick up the maximum number of widgets in a given time. Instead of air traffic control, AT would have bus traffic control.

    Or, bugger the schedule, put every spare bus in operation, and train the drivers to be in regular contact with each other or through the controller.

    1. Yes in London they have a system called “on diversion” an automated announcement occurs on the bus and the front outside display says on diversion. Simply the bus doesn’t stop unless a passenger wants to get off which allows the bus to leapfrog/shortcut the buses in front to space out the bus service or to even out the passenger loads per bus.
      Back to the super express idea I had of those out of service buses running non-stop but with passengers it would take only a couple of minutes to load the passengers on at the beginning (and could be done while the others are exiting via the rear door anyway and same at the other end of the route). Win-win for everyone.

  15. Buy more trains buy more trains AC people shout. How? The way we bought the first trains was a $500M loan from the Govt, where is AT supposed to magically pull the funds from.

    1. 1. Borrow the money. 2. Build less new roads. 3. Rip up some existing over-engineered roads so we don’t have to pay to maintain them. A massive 40% of the council’s transport budget is allocated just to renewals and replacements. 4. Or at least, de-prioritise and slow down the rate of renewals. I note that the 10 year budget says they will have an “enhanced spend on renewals”. Why do we need that?

      1. If those renewals involved street diets and installation of bus and cycle lanes I’d agree with that being accelerated however the programme appears to be on autopilot, simply repainting the status quo on top of fresh seal.

  16. The problem with all suggestions for buying new EMUs (as the solution to TODAY’s overcrowding), is that with the best will in the world it will likely be 2-3 years before they come.

    Yes, of course we need them but the problem is occurring here and NOW!!!

    What to do in the meantime?

    Heads out of sand, please!

    1. If we made all the 3 car EMUs into 4 car EMUs using additional centre cars we could have these a lot quicker than 2 years (we could have the whole lot done within 3 years if not sooner). They are easier and quicker to build than the motorised units (not to mention cheaper), the design etc is already completed and from what I hear the manufacturer isn’t exactly busy right now. Also they’ve only just finished building them so it wouldn’t take long to get back into it. Order the 20 or whatever number it is now. Then in a couple of years time order some motorised units to complete the sets to 6 car EMUs.

  17. That’s imaginative to explore the battery option.

    If it worked, it would extend the north-western line to Waitakere, if the tunnel could handle it. Or – more practically – on to the next stop at the mega-growing area of Huapai.

  18. Would be really great to see a post about standing space per person compared to other major cities especially crowded metros like NY, Tokyo, HK, Singapore. I feel Auckland trains are not too crowded yet. however at the current frequencies do need fixing. If we had 3 min frequencies and still crowded then thats population being the result. Current frequency however means we are still fixing things around. One thing would be to change the seating to metro

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