In September the final report of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) was released, many of you may have read about it, or most likely have heard about it. The Indicative Package was the below projects + 3 separate tranches of 21 Trains which were separated into three decades. First Decade – 2018-2028, Second Decade 2028-2038, & Third Decade 2038-2048. Please note that the package is indicative & some projects will likely move around subject to funding, changes in circumstances & individual business cases.


While we’ve talked about ATAP a lot in recent months, this series is concentrated on what I like to call the ATAP ASAP’s, decade 1 projects which really need funding As Soon As Possible. The first ATAP ASAP I am going to write about is the third main between Westfield & Wiri.

Third Main
Third Main

What is the third main

The third main is a proposed & semi built third track south of Otahuhu. Initially this would be to the Wiri Junction (where the branch line to Manukau starts) but eventually to Papakura & potentially onto Pukekohe. ATAP suggests a fourth main will eventually be needed too. The need for a third main is due to this area being of prime importance to both freight & passenger rail and is one of the busiest sections of rail in the country. The third main would give extra capacity by allowing freight trains to run separately of the passenger network allowing both freight & high passenger train frequencies to run.

So why is the third main between Westfield & Wiri an ATAP ASAP

It is because at this point freight and passenger services on the Eastern & Southern Lines share the current two tracks. In the past this hasn’t been as much of an issue as frequencies of both freight and passenger services were lower but both have increased in recent years and will continue to do so in the future. For example as part of the New Network, Auckland Transport need to run trains on the three main lines at a minimum of every 15 minutes Monday to Sunday 7am-7pm – but more so during the week – as shown in their Regional Public Transport Plan.


This is needed, the New Network focuses running bus services more frequently by using transfers to expand coverage. Many public transport trips may now require a transfer to a train so only having a train only every 20 or even 30 minutes would be frustrating to the people who need to transfer.

For most of the network sharing tracks is fine, either freight does not use the tracks heavily during the day or space still exists to fit in freight services however this is not the case south of Otahuhu. If properly implemented, the new network would see 12 passenger trains per hour running in each direction on weekdays, one every five minutes. Even on weekends there would be at least 8 services in each direction per hour. The question is, how feasible it is for KiwiRail to fit increasing freight services on the existing tracks. If they can, great, though given how the project has been described in the past, I am not optimistic they can. So a choice needs to be made:

  1. Is a freight curfew put into place effecting KiwiRail’s business & competitiveness?
  2. Are New Network Train Frequencies able to be put into place, or will they have to be reduced at certain times?

If the latter, I hope AT still increase the frequency of the Western Line trains, there is no reason they can’t be increased & just because we cannot increase in some areas doesn’t mean which shouldn’t increase the frequency in any area. Also frequencies wherever possible on the Southern & Eastern should be implemented wherever conflict would not seriously arise such as on the weekends.

So what would it take to complete the Third Main

Not much as I wrote before, it is already semi built from Otahuhu to Middlemore and from Puhinui to Wiri. KiwiRail in a presentation in 2015 said it would cost $50m to complete, with an additional $3m required to add traction (electrification so electric trains could use it too). I imagine a big chunk of the $50 million would be the upgrading of Middlemore Station realigning the platforms to accommodate the third main. The cost was revised to $55-$65 million recently, as mentioned in this article. It would also allow KiwiRail to not just continue services but to add another 6 peak freight services.

Third Main Slide
Third Main KiwiRail

Spending $55-65 million to dramatically increase the capacity and resilience of one of the most strategic transport corridors in the country is an outrageously cheap sum. We need to get on with the project ASAP.

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  1. You have to wonder why the government isn’t already funding it, given that they’ll drop a billion dollars on a road at the drop of that hat the second you call it a “freight corridor” and say its crucial to economic growth.

    1. Because, as everyone knows, they do not evaluate and fund transport in a multi-modal or mode-blind way. They pick winners. $1.85 billion on a very destructive and almost certainly dysfunctional massive road scheme to move containers on trucks after they’ve arrived in the city on trains, and not even $50 million to get those same containers more reliably and efficiently to this depots first by rail? Laughable. And this is not user pays, its a massive transfer from the private motorist to the part of the transport industry that gets in their way!

  2. The reason the third main stops where the picture above shows is the Middlemore train station, that station (that belongs to AT and is near the top of the list to be gated shortly) is the main thing stopping the continuation of the third main. The Middlemore station has the potential to stall the building of the third main in the same way the Drury motorway on ramp bridge is blocking the electrification to Pukekohe.

    1. Are you saying that reconfiguring MIddlemore for the third track is additional to the $50m? I’d assumed they’d included it in the figure of “funding required to complete”.

      1. Seeing as there is only 3.5km of track to lay and there should be no land purchases other than around the Middlemore station. Even the OHL equipment is placed to support a third line with the only requirement being hanging the wires. I have wonder for a while why this has not been done for the last few Christmas shutdowns.

      2. I don’t know if it is additional or not but it appears AT have no intention on re-configuring the station any time soon, AT have got gating the current configuration high on their priority list of gating stations. AT own the station so could be behind the slowing of this project, I can’t think why they would but as there is no mention from them on the Middlemore station rebuild. The easiest way to get the third main through is to convert the up platform to an island but due to lack of space it would not be able to be wide enough so will end up being rebuilt back to allow the third main to run down the centre.

    2. The picture above is actually out of date. The 3rd main now starts just north of Middlemore station with a connection into the Up Main to allow it to be used as an arrival road for northbound freight trains.

      The problem with Middlemore is that it will probably need the lift to be moved and therefore replaced, which is a large cost to replace a relatively new asset, but doesn’t get any cheaper while we ‘think’ about it.

      1. Will the lift on the Middlemore up platform need to be moved? I thought the 3rd was further west to allow the up platform to become an island with west face to the 3rd. The road and carpark may need relocation but was this not already agreed with the health board? An issue may be the private properties just south of the up platform, again have KR not already sorted this out?

        1. The corridor itself is basically wide enough for four mains, just not with passenger platforms so the private properties you talk of should be ok.

        2. Four mains through the Middlemore station area looks interesting, at least in how KR would achieve this. Not sure the down platform could be pushed closer to the hospital and if only one up platform was available then the 3rd and 4th mains would just bypass Middlemore. It still looks like a very tight squeeze. The OLE supports only looked spaced for one further main, the 3rd.

        3. If you read the comment properly “the corridor itself is basically wide enough for four mains, just not with passenger platforms” so why would you then mention the location of the platforms with four mains?

        4. I did read it properly hence the reply that 3rd and 4th mains would probably just bypass Middlemore. Otherwise your observation is meaningless as it is unlikely Middlemore station would be closed so that all current rail corridor width could be allocated to fit 4 tracks.

        5. Why would the freight/express lines need to use the platform anyway? This would not be the only station in Auckland where there is not a platform on all the lines. The corridor is wide enough at the south end of the hospital grounds but relocating the station removes the convenience of getting off the train and walking straight into the hospital. You will find nearly all of the NIMT corridor with in Auckland is sufficiently wide enough for four mains (it would require new tunnels and earth works but the corridor itself is wide enough).

        6. ok, point taken, why indeed, so no additional platforms for 3rd/4th main necessary, so could both of these just bypass to west of up main?

      2. Thanks Harriet. Its difficult to understand why the 3rd main is not being completed since the cost is rather trivial. From the junction to the up arrival road just north of the 3rd main track seems complete right up through Westfield to north of the southern and northern junctions to the inland freight terminal past which it joins the up main to Newmarket. The track actually goes a bit further to a dead end which an unfortunate DC loco or shunter loco with several trucks managed to head into a few weeks ago and the loco toppled on its side. KC cleared up the mess in a couple of days and there are now ballast piles blocking the way.
        Interestingly the OLE pylons at this northern end to where the line diverges into Westfield yard have the support poles set back to include this line
        It also looks trivial to complete the 3rd through Wiri since it just needs track laying as the ground is prepared. The dead end at Puhinui could be extended a few or hundred metres to join the up main. Since the OLE is in place on this section this would make a nice emu overtaking section for possible southern express service.

        1. “Its difficult to understand why the 3rd main is not being completed since the cost is rather trivial”

          It’s not trivial to KiwiRail though, and it would be difficult to part with that much money just to get their own freight trains through their own track because another operator has caused congestion. I would argue that other operator (AT) should be paying the lion’s share.

          KiwiRail made an attempt to proceed with the project in 2012, seeking a 50/50 funding between themselves and AT. Unfortunately AT were not interested, so the project was put on hold.

          This year, KiwiRail has begun a second attempt, as part of a package of projects for targeted funding from 2018. I understand that instead of seeing another round of $200m per year, they are drawing up business plans for specific projects nationwide for “targeted funding”. Double tracking through Christchurch is another example.

          It’s a shame AT won’t just come to the party. They find billions for roading projects nobody wants, but they can’t find $50m for this?

          That’s my photo you’ve used BTW 🙂

        2. So if AT are not interested in contributing (I assume because of existing agreements between AT and KR) also as AT services will not be using the 3rd main, then is KR able to prevent the Papakura- Pukekohe electrification since it has already made that contingent on the 3rd main project.?
          Can AT just keep increasing KR rail corridor usage forcing KR to build 3rd main else reduce freight services? Without a 3rd main when will this rail traffic capacity be reached?

        3. I agree that the amount of money is relatively trivial for AT to find but this would mean that AT was funding government owned below rail infrastructure contrary to the current above rail/ below rail split of funding responsibilities. Also I understand that there was concern that an Auckland Council organisation would effectively be funding KiwiRail to more effectively support Port of Tauranga to compete against the council owned Port of Auckland. My understanding is that the Third Main and other wider network improvements needed for post CRL operations have now been included in the Government/ Auckland Council CRL funding agreeement

  3. On the Middlemore issue, I recall a presentation to council some years ago where Kiwirail said they already had plans for the station sorted. They have a deal with the hospital to move that carparking building (or something like that) and effectively turn the western platform into an island.

    1. So given that why oh why has it not been done. The amount of work required is trivial when compared to other AT / NZTA projects.

      1. It would be a breach of ethics for Dr Levy to do that. He cannot consider his other roles when acting as chair/director for a specific organisation.

    2. The plan I saw back in 2008 showed the western platform being given a curved western face, with the third main curving through the station to minimise the land swap required. There’s no straight track involved, just three curves.

  4. A few things: 1) Yes the 3rd main needs to be built ASAP.
    2) AT needs to be prevented from wasting money – by this I mean that AT should not be gating a station and then 2 months later turning around and deciding to go ahead with moving platforms/replacing station and going through the whole gating expense all over again (as AT invariably will do!). I’m pro-gating but not when it is going to be a needless expense. Knowing how AT works even if they reuse all the gating on the new platform it will still end up costing a boatload once they have 50 million consultants decide if the gate can be reused etc etc.
    3) Building the 3rd main should also take into account the needs of the future 4th main. By this I mean that they should build it with the idea that the 4th main WILL be coming so do whatever they can to minimise the costs of building the 4th in future (future-proofing). Actually where possible I think they should just building the 4th at the same time (where it is easy and cheap to do so – so obviously not things like junctions and underpasses – unless of course these are being rebuilt for the 3rd in which case the 4th should be incorporated into the design).
    Should hopefully allow for some limited express trains (perhaps for those coming from Pukekohe – all stops to Manukau then express as far as they can towards the city).

  5. The third main is cheap for what it is and does but sadly could’ve been even cheaper too. Just a few years ago Kiwirail rebuilt many of the road over bridges to allow for electrification. Yet instead of building some of them with space for three tracks from the start, they rebuilt them for two tracks but with space in the corridor for a third but to do that it will require them going back to add new abutments and spans causing more disruption and costing more.

  6. From the above argument, we appear to have a rail ownership problem…..and for a future transport solution vision someone needs to take full control.
    1) Is it an AT issue or a KiwiRail issue at Middlemore? What has been agreed and what has not been agreed?
    2) From an earlier post I note AT owns the 8 (or is is it 10) diesel units, some sitting idle.
    KiwiRail has none – so how do we get agreement to use them South to Hamilton with cals at Auckland satellite towns like Tuakau, Pokeno, Te Kauwhata, Huntly and Hamilton.
    So I think The Hon Simon Bridges needs to do the unthinkable – integrate Auckland Rail Transport with the rest of the country…….that is KiwiRail.
    And when he is on to it, sort out Auckland Ports landlocked problem – join up with North Port and or Tauranga. That will mean a third main from Helensville.

    Auckland needs freight to ensure it can grow and survive – sorting out the freight lines now is a no brainer.

    1. 1) AT own the station, Kiwirail own the land and tracks.
      2) AT own 10 ADLs three in use at one time. The ADLs are not suitable for an intercity service, the best you could hope for with them is Mercer (Huntly at a stretch). Running the ADLs south of Pukekohe is not an AT/Kiwirail problem it is an AT/WRC problem, trains were at not long ago going to run to Tuakau but no one wanted to pay for the required infrastructure there like platforms and points.

      IF the POA was to move or join up with North Port and or Tauranga there would be need for a second main from Helensville before a third was considered and try getting a third main through the New Lynn trench.

      1. We need to get a train going Auckland to the Mount a few times a day and Auckland to Hamilton hourly or better. That needs to involve AT, Waikato RC, Bay of Plenty RC, Waikato DC, Hamilton CC, Matamata-Piako DC, Western Bay DC, and Tauranga CC, and Kiwirail to work. This needs to be driven by one organisation and I think it should be Kiwirail driving it to try and charge some track access fees.

        1. Silver Fern’s, while quite old, are apparently in good condition. They’re also Diesel-Electric. I wonder if a pantograph couldn’t be added for mixed use?

        2. Yes, in time it could. I’m talking about something that could start running next year if we wanted.

        3. Two of the Silver Ferns are nicely refurbished (one is mothballed) but I heard they aren’t the youngest sprogs mechanically which is why they keep them for charter type stuff rather than intensive commuter service.

        4. The Silver Ferns entered service in 1972, so are 46 years old. I can’t imagine that any sensible case could be made for bringing such old equipment back into reliable intensive service, let alone spending money on converting them to straight electrics (which would be a major job).

        5. Any interregional rail passenger service is unlikely to be able to be run on a fully commercial unsubsidised basis. Unlike urban PT services which are jointly funded by the relevant regional council and NZTA, current government policy is that NZTA does not subsidise interregional PT services.

        1. Anthony there is no Tuakau council, Tuakau (along with the rest of the old Franklin council area that was outside the old ARC boundary) is within the Waikato district council area that covers a land area that is not much less than the Auckland council (give or take). The platforms have always been the cheap part but they are of no use without rails and points.

    2. AT own the station with KR owing the corridor, tracks etc. If AT doesn’t want the major expense of relocating the up platforms then the only option for KR is to build the 3rd where the road and carpark building are behind the platform. This would need AT to extend the walkway over the 3rd and install another lift for pedestrians plus have an western platform face to the up platform.
      Those spare DMUs would be more suited to a Western service between Helensville-Kumeu-Swanson although all previous requests for this service have been refused by AT.
      There are suitable carriages available for a Hamilton Auckland train, the AT owned SA/SD sets. Also KR still has the 3 Silver Fern DMUs

  7. Harriet. Thank you for your post. It has made the whole question of third and fourth tracks in South Auckland much clearer for me and reinforces yet again the stupidity of the decision making at government level regarding priorities and the transport funding mechanism adopted in this country.

    Yes, further evidence of spending too much transport (taxpayer) billions on roads and not looking at what would be best for Auckland as a whole.
    Patrick says it all so very succinctly in his 7.50 am comment above.

  8. Surely AT/Kiwirail can just commit to tripling the whole NIMT Pukekohe to the port and quad tracking Westfield to Wiri over the next couple of decades. Then every time a structure nearby gets rebuilt or modified it has to accommodate the correct width in the correct places and Kiwirail just lay the tracks and hang the wires as needed?

    While they are at it throw in the shared path parallel to the tracks as well.

    But we should triple this section tomorrow.

    1. tripple-ing the tracks further south may be tricky. The new takanini motorway off ramp being constructed now does look like it’s only designed for the two existing tracks.

  9. I also understand that a decision is close to getting this the go ahead. It is astounding that this has dragged on for so long. KiwiRail has gained at least a grudging admission that it is here to stay as far as the government is concerned and that may be helping the case now.

  10. About the potential to increase waestern rail frequencies I asked transdev. They are not considering more frequent weekend services at all. If they do it will be 6 m+


    1. Alistair, you asked the wrong people. Transdev do not decide the rail timetable. They operate the timetable Auckland Transport decides on (I’m sure they have some input into the decision but).

  11. Harriet the third main also exists in part from Wiri to north of Homai. The formation is there – all they need to do is add track and they can have a long loop Homai to Puhinui.

  12. The third main has progressed quite some way recently in planning. I have only heard it is currently all go and construction starts not to far away at all (Christmas, or just after). That there will be a island platform at Middlemore. Third main running West side of Up main (after various track slews of up and down).

    Additionally, isn’t the third main actually re-joining double track south end of Wiri, not far from Puhinui where the 60kmph turnouts are already located for its arrival? A lot of work was actually done in 2012…. I believe there was a falling out about funding between AT & KR wasn’t there? That AT expected KR to cough up all the funds for the third main, but KR was like, hang on, we already have rights to the current double track, and you want us to pay for moving aside?

    1. Do you have any links or maps of what you’ve heard about?

      The funding issue is a fallacy based on KR playing the dual role of looking after the tracks and running freight services. The issue is there are more services wanting to use this part of the network than the double-tracking can allow for. So, the network provider should pay for the triple-track and then they can charge more for access to recoup the costs. The charges should fall pro-rata on the users i.e. KR and AT as freight/pax providers. KR is torn by having to play both roles and getting screwed with funding constraints by the Nats and constant threats of just pulling the plug on the whole rail network.

  13. ‘and constant threats of just pulling the plug on the whole rail network’ – and transport watchers will be well aware of the lobbying going on behind the scenes to present rail as somehow fragile and unsuited to New Zealand, while coastal shipping is resilient.

    This ignores a couple of inconvenient truths – both the Port of Lyttelton and now Centreport faced and face multi-million dollar repairs bills. According to this summary –
    The insurance claim settlement was $438.4 million for Lyttelton. They are now engaging their ratepayer shareholders with a 30 year ‘ $900 million rebuild, reconfiguration and enhancement plan’. This is on page 14-16 (23-25) of the document.

    Meanwhile in Wellington, GW chair Chris Laidlaw has asked the government to fund repairs to Centreport – ‘Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) chairman Chris Laidlaw has vowed not to let CentrePort fail and warned the government may be asked to invest money into the quake damaged port.’. ‘While some log and container movements have resumed, many aspects of the way the port operates have been heavily modified, and are likely to be disrupted for years, chief executive Derek Nind said on November 21.’ – both excerpts from this link:

    Meanwhile, rail after the Canterbury quakes was very quickly back up and running to 100% capability. This point is grudgingly acknowledged in the following opinion piece which also sets out the case to shut down the national rail network in favour of coastal shipping – And here is the quote from that article: ‘The Canterbury earthquakes caused huge damage but hardly closed a single vital road artery and rail was quickly back on stream’

    In truth, all modes are needed for resilience.

    1. Very good points tuktuk. I believe this is one reason the NAL is really still open, even though it is down to a few trains a day.

  14. From what I can see that is not Middlemore station thats the old Mangere Station at the top of Hospital Road. Middlemore Station is directly opposite the Hospital main entrance and has platforms on the outside of the track. The corridor for the train in that area is very narrow. Bordered by Hospital Rd and housing. From that point to the old Papatoetoe terminus station there is little or no room for expansion of the rail. Its nice to here that ‘planning is being done” but the reporting is flawed.
    Seems tragic that this report was dated 2016 and its now 2021 with little or no progress reported.

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