Is Auckland getting ripped off when it comes to the cost of running rail services? Councillor Mike Lee has long thought so and has frequently raised the issue by way of comparing the costs of running the Auckland and Wellington rail networks – $125.6 million vs $85 million in the financial year to 30 June 2014. At that time rail patronage was also almost identical in each region. He has frequently blamed the way rail is set up saying:
A contributing factor may lay in the fact that in Wellington services are a matter between the Wellington Regional Council and KiwiRail. In contrast the Super City’s rail services management system is a complex, unwieldy ‘too many cooks’ arrangement of Transdev, KiwiRail, and of course Auckland Transport (AT) – which is demonstrably too expensive, inefficient, and allows too much room for dodging accountability.
Auckland Transport have looked at the differences in the past and come to the conclusion that the differences will largely iron out once electrification is finished however I don’t think Mike has ever been happy with that – and he seems to have an intense distrust of AT and Transdev in particular.
The Council’s Finance Committee tomorrow are presented with the outcome of that review which has found that when you account for the differences in the volume and nature of services provided, the costs aren’t all that different. Further it needs to be remembered that for FY14 Auckland had only had electric trains running on the Onehunga line for a few months. As such the efficiency of the Auckland network is only expected to improve – especially when combined with the growth in patronage expected. Here is what he found:
As mentioned above the costs in Auckland are much higher. The biggest single difference comes from labour costs – more on this soon – and train maintenance. The latter should have been reduced substantially with the arrival of the electrics.
So what causes the costs to be so much higher in Auckland. One major aspect is that there are considerable differences in both how many and how services are run. The report notes that in Auckland services are run stopping at all stations along the way. By comparison Wellington runs multiple short and long run service patterns on most of it’s lines. Boiling down the results they’ve been measured on the basis of how many full line services they equates to. Using that measure Auckland ran 2210 services per day while Wellington ran 1778. This highlights that one of the main reasons for the difference in cost is simply a difference in service provision.
Another factor identified was the level of dead running. Basically if services in Wellington terminate somewhere they can immediately go to a stabling yard nearby. In Auckland they often have a lot of travel some distance to get back to a stabling yard and all those trips add up to over 200,000 km per year. I suspect some of this has already been improved through the use of the newish stabling yard at the old railway station.
All up when adjusting for all of these factors the report says that the Auckland network is only approximately 7% more per hour to operate and that’s before taking into account the impact electrification will have.
On the other side of the ledger is the revenue from passengers. The report notes that the fare structures are fairly similar between the two cities however the average fares are quite different at $2.65 for Auckland vs $3.72 for Wellington. The main reason for the difference is that trips in Auckland are generally shorter. It had almost 1 million trips (9%) that were one or two stages while in Wellington the main lines of Kapiti and Hutt Valley most trips are a minimum of three stages due to the local geography and design of the system.
Overall it suggests that rail in Auckland isn’t as bad as the headlines often suggested which is good news
I’m sure this is a topic that will come up again and now the electrics are rolled out then for the future we should finally have more accurate figures to work with. One thing we do already know is that the subsidies are coming down with the subsidy per passenger km coming down.