This is a guest post by Robert Finley, a qualified Civil Engineer with a lifelong interest in trains and their operation in both New Zealand and overseas. He has photographed steam trains on most of New Zealand’s rail network in his travels.

So you think Auckland’s new trains are a bit slow and perhaps they’re not all that they’re cracked up to be?  Well in some ways you’re right since some services are slower than some of the steam trains of 50 years ago!

A direct comparison of the timings of the new Electric Multiple Units (EMU) with the timings of steam hauled trains in the early 1960s reveals some interesting facts. The comparison was made with a train service that was often hauled by a steam locomotive;  scheduled to depart from Papatoetoe at 8.05 am and arrive at the old Auckland station platforms (where spare EMUs are now parked)  at 8.42 having traversed what is now called the Eastern Line through Panmure.

Steam train leaving Papatoetoe station. Photo Robert Finley

Steam Train Service

This service – for the purists, train No 112 – actually originated from Mercer, stopping at all stations. It was therefore considered a long distance train thus requiring steam heating especially in winter and thus the necessity of steam locomotive haulage. Diesel locos were also used and, while the writer does not have many details of the diesel performance, those that exist are noticeably slower than steam.

Steam locomotives used were normally the 10 year old JA class with the occasional older J class. The train consist was usually 4-5 steel panelled carriages with a guard’s van, although sometimes timber sided cars were used. This service was very popular as it enabled people to reach city offices by 9 am using the very efficient trolley bus service that was waiting for every train. The number of passengers on this steam train service would be similar to that on recent EMU runs.

The writer was a regular traveller on this service and recorded, over about 30 different runs, the actual start and stop times at every station.

However to enable direct comparison with current trains some timing adjustments are necessary due to the changed configuration of the current network:-

  • Two stations do not now exist, Mangere and Tamaki. Thus it is necessary to deduct from the overall time not only the actual time stopped here, but also the associated acceleration and deceleration (acc/dec) required;
  • Sylvia Park and Panmure stations have been relocated but no adjustment to overall timings are required
  • Timings for the EMU’s arrival into Auckland are taken as if the EMU had stopped opposite the old platforms, now known as the Strand station, as well as at Britomart itself.

EMU Trains

As the writer is not now a regular user of these services,  7 different runs were made in the latter part of 2015, generally in the mornings.  Although a smaller sample, the results were surprisingly consistent and are therefore considered sufficient  be statistically significant.

The average overall  time from Papatoetoe station to the old Strand station platforms for the EMU trains was 29m 50s and the average running time was 23m 11s. The total stopped time for 8 stops was 6m 39s, or an average of 50s.

Summary Comparison

Comparison has been made of both the overall time and the actual running time from departing Papatoetoe to arrival at The Strand.

#   measured as average of actual times

##   some services scheduled at 31 min and some at 33 min

The average adjusted running time (i.e. the time the train was in motion) for the steam service was 27m 32s compared to the current day EMU service of 23m 11s – a saving of 4m 21s . But the average adjusted overall  time for the steam service was 30m 41s and for the EMU service was 29m 50s – just 51 seconds faster.

So the average overall EMU time is 29m 50s and the fastest steam time was 29m 06s – 44s faster! In fact, about  ¼ of the steam runs bettered that average EMU time. Furthermore, the fastest steam run was even quicker than the currently scheduled EMU time, adjusted for the Britomart-Strand timing.

Side By Side Comparison

Two typical runs are compared side by side in the following table.

Dwell Time

It should be very clear that the reason for the lacklustre performance of our EMU fleet lies almost entirely with the dwell times at stations. The average time that the EMU trains are stationary is more than double that of steam hauled trains!

But there are also permanent and temporary speed restrictions, slows and general delays caused by signals, track, points condition and other effects – I counted at least 5 such restrictions on one run.

In steam hauled trains, passengers had to climb up steps, probably gripping a filthy handrail, possibly even having to open the gate on the car platform and almost certainly opening the door into the car itself. Nevertheless, some total stopped times of just 7-12 secs at some stations were often recorded. This, of course, required a considerable degree of alacrity on the part of the entire train crew to ensure that passengers were hustled on and off and the train restarted rapidly, ensuring the utmost efficiency in order to meet or improve on the timetable. On one famous occasion, a steam run left Papatoetoe 10 minutes late and arrived in Newmarket on time!

In an EMU, you just walk straight in without touching anything except perhaps the door button. But passengers are to blame for some of the delay too – they just meander along the platform towards any old door instead of getting into the nearest one, likewise when alighting they just stroll to the door. These people would just get left behind in London!  A massive education program for passengers must be implemented. Incidentally, the same lackadaisical approach has a massive effect on the running of the whole AT bus system.

Analysis shows that on average it takes an average of 10.3s for the doors to fully open after a train has stopped. There is  5 secs after the actual stop before the green button light even comes on and assuming someone pushes the button immediately, there is a further 5 secs before doors are fully open.

It then takes an average of 22.5 secs from when the main doors close before the train moves. The Train Manager checks that everyone is on or off and closes the main doors. He then gazes around at the scenery and then closes his door, and the train still doesn’t move.

So there is at least 33 secs of dead time at every single stop.

But not only is the overall service slow, the EMU’s can not even meet their own timetable. For the 7 (off peak) runs the average schedule lateness departing Papatoetoe was 120 secs. Not one single run was able to recover this and in fact all lost further time to arrive at Britomart an average of 3min 19 sec late.  If I had been  wanting to transfer to a Penrose train – due to leave 2 mins after scheduled arrival from the Eastern line I would have missed it on every occasion.  Does the small army of clipboard wielders at Britomart monitor this situation? If not, what do they do?

Incidentally, some recent  check runs indicate that there has been no change in these basic operating parameters

In the same era as these steam services were running, there was also a train that left Auckland at 5.25 pm and ran via Panmure  non-stop to Otahuhu and thence to Papakura. It, too, was frequently hauled by a steam (tank) loco and provided a schedule of just 19 mins compared with the current EMU service of about 24 mins.

Why does AT not run some non or limited stop services at peak times? Other railway operations can manage this. With the huge amount of money spent on upgrading the whole metropolitan signalling system I cannot believe that the train control system is incapable of this.

How do Other Systems Perform?

Is this typical of railway operations elsewhere?  In Brisbane, the door light comes on when you press the button as you approach the station and the doors open immediately the train stops. The average time from the doors closing to the train moving is 4 secs.

In Wellington it averages 7 secs and if it took any longer on the London Underground, the whole city would grind to a halt! And in Mumbai they don’t even bother to close the doors at all – its not certain that they even have any doors!

Adelaide, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish. There the time lapse from doors closing is so short one would need a very accurate system to measure it – it is almost instantaneous. The Adelaide EMU’s are of almost identical configuration and age to the Auckland EMU’s. They cover  36 km from Adelaide to Seaford in 52 minutes with 22 intermediate stops. Some peak services make just 5 stops with a time of 38 minutes.

Trains from Britomart to Papakura cover 31.5 km  in 53 minutes with just 14 intermediate stops.

A measure of performance might be ‘distance x no of stops over time’.  Thus Adelaide’s performance factor is 15.2 while Auckland’s is 8.3.  Go figure!

Further, on some Adelaide trains where no passengers board or alight, the total dwell time at a station can be as short as 8 secs. There is no conductor, guard or train manager apart from the occasional ticket inspectors. The driver is in complete control, he has cameras and platform mirrors at his disposal to monitor the progress of passengers and leaves as soon as he is ready. Furthermore, if a wheelchair passenger needs to board, they wait at the marked spot on the platform which correlates to the front door of the train, and the driver gets out of his compartment and places the ramp onto the platform! There are also no security staff on trains or at stations.


The new Auckland trains are quiet, smart, smooth, comfortable (if you don’t have long legs!), clean and brisk in starting and stopping.

But there is also clearly something drastically wrong with either  the specification, design or construction of the EMU’s or, most likely, Auckland Transport’s operation of them. Either AT does not recognise it has a problem or, if it does, is unable or unwilling to rectify it.

So, with respect to the extended door closing and opening durations it seems most likely this feature is a result of AT’s specification and operation of the trains.  What is the reason for it, given that no other metro transit system appears to have it?

Is there some other ulterior motive for this feature?

And, finally, how is AT proposing to rectify this appalling situation? This must be rectified for optimum performance of these otherwise very efficient EMU’s.

Has anyone from AT ever been to other metro operations to see how they are run? Is anyone at AT aware of just how bad the performance of these new trains really is? If AT cannot even organise any of these matters  it does not bode well for managing the added complexities and options once the City Rail Loop is built.

The new trains are little faster overall than not only the diesel trains they replaced, but also the steam trains that preceded them! So come on Auckland Transport, how about you see if you can get your fancy new trains to get into town faster than a steam train!

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  1. Was on the train from Onehunga to town for a meeting – first for a long time – and a conductor waited for almost a minute while a passenger looked for their card then walked to the tag pole, then onto the train.

    It was a later morning train and not full. Maybe there isn’t the pressure on the schedule at the moment.

    Interestingly I got to watch the local door mechanism that was discussed recently on this site.

    1. Yeah, there are lots of ‘kind’ actions like this by Train Managers, and it is one of the reasons dwell times will improve by going to driver only operation; passengers will only hurry up when they have to, when they know we have a professionally run railway that will leave them waiting for the next train if they piss about. Efficiency, I think, is preferable to kind heartedness in urban passenger rail management. Although the O-Line is so low frequency that it is not hard to feel for both the TM and passenger in this example, but delaying a minute there can have knock-on effects for the rest of the network and, of course, it trains users to expect a dozy system, so they too can dawdle…

      1. Kinda like our highway systems at times? That truck passing on a two lane or than driver doing 90 in the right lane.

        Systems tend to settle to the lowest energy state – if the schedule was tighter and conductors got performance reviewed on the basis of these types of delayed, then I’m sure they would be more efficient (heartless) and these outlier passengers would also speed up.

      2. Exactly. I disagree with the statement that we need some sought of “passenger re-education camps” to speed up boarding/alighting.

        Just speed up operations and everyone will get the message to be ready at the doors when the train arrives. It would be pretty cool if we could get automated stopping, so the trains always align with the platform the same way (and thus we could have floor markings showing where the doors will be).

        1. Think in Sydney they indicated number of carriages on overhead displays, but these days probably doable to light up some overhead and maybe LED lights embedded in the platform to indicate where to queue for doors in the next train to stop (+ wheelchair access points).

          Mind you, seeing the queue shambles during some ferry boardings at Devonport, we are still some way off having the basics of signage sorted.

        2. Yes, it always amuses me to see AT publicising that passengers should move along the whole length of the train to speed up boarding, but they don’t give any advanced notice of how long the train is.

        3. @Grant, in Sydney it’s pretty simple, trains are 8 cars long unless, it is a line that doesn’t pass through the city (Cumberland & Carlingford lines) or it is one of a few intercity trains which are 4 cars long.

          The trains are 2 four car units joined together, apart from the last order, which are all eight car units.

        4. “But passengers are to blame for some of the delay too – they just meander along the platform towards any old door instead of getting into the nearest one, likewise when alighting they just stroll to the door.”

          Is this not the symptom, rather than the cause? If you know you could finish War and Peace in the time between the train appearing and doors actually opening, why bother rushing? If you want to change this then open and close the doors quickly, don’t expect passengers to speed up when it’s slow.

        5. Yep exactly my point. The trains sit at the platform for almost a minute so there’s no hurry for the passengers. They take half a minute in dead dwell time, so the TM isn’t given the impression time’s particularly important either.

        6. My last few train journey’s I’ve notice the TM’s seem to be blowing whistle and trying to shepherding people a bit faster than I’ve seen previously?

    2. I got to witness local door operations going from Homai to Mt Roskill on a Friday night. I was not shocked when I got a text saying the service behind mine was delayed by 10 minutes due to a customer issue.

      1. That same nonsense happens out west at night (especially between Swanson & Fruitvale), I have emailed Transdev several times and they have assured me it is not allowed unless there is a SPECIFIC safety issue going on at the specific station and they will/have disciplined the TM/LE, however it keeps happening with different TM/LE’s all the time, at every stop between Swanson and Henderson.

        In anticipation I thought I would throw my phone on record and low and behold another half-lit EMU (AMP, AMT units unlit/disabled and local door operation from one door in the AMA). Luckily I was at the right door this time, running down the length of the train to board is a nightmare. Also what happens when cyclists or people with mobility issue want to board the trailer car?

        There is absolutely no point to doing this, there were already obvious troublemakers and fare evaders on-board despite doing this, and I have seen them board through the local-opened door in the past. It serves no purpose but to anger passengers and cause delays.

        I have gotten stuck on-board and seen others stuck on-board because of this. Not to mention annoying having to run the length of the platform if you are at the wrong end. It really needs to stop.

        1. Peter would you prefer the trains not to stop? If the H&S act is followed correctly once troublemakers have been reported on a platform it should be bypassed until there is confirmation the platform is safe.

        2. But you realize there are no safety issues on the platforms when they are doing this? They are just doing it from Swanson-Fruitvale specifically whenever they happen to be doing an evening run.

          Who wants to get stuck on the train and wait 30 min in the cold for the train coming back or potentially have to get a Taxi all because some TM/LE’s want to make up their own rules and not release the doors (as I have said Transdev confirmed this is NOT acceptable). I am considering just driving in the evening now, less drama. I wonder how much patronage has been lost due to folks in the same boat.

          Whats the point of a train you have to struggle to get on and off of. Your attitude kind of stinks, might as well not stop the trains at all eh?

        3. You do know they have radios and everything from disorderly people on platforms to people wandering along the corridor are reported so just because you were not aware of something doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening. Transdev would say it is not policy but they are having enough issues caused by not addressing security, rule 1 in the railways allows trains to be stopped if there is an issue around safety.

        4. Right or wrong it is done in the interest of safety, just like locking of the back of a 6 car.
          IMO 6 cars should not be running after 1900 unless there is demand due to a special event.

        5. There’s nothing in the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 on this. Every PCBU (organisation) will have their own policies for what they judge to be health and safety issues, and how they deal with them. It’s debatable whether AT has the balance right.

        6. John the H&S act allows for the prosecution of someone that even sees an unsafe act but doesn’t do anything to stop it, that could even include you while just travelling on the train.

        7. Bigted, if anything its a health and safety risk not releasing the doors, passengers don’t know where to board and have to run up/down the platform to find the right door, not to mention people get stuck inside. I also believe it would break some of MoT rules surrounding passenger trains.

          I myself find it a major inconvenience, I cant imagine how difficult it would make things for an elderly person or mobility user.

          Also the train being half lit was a 3-car not a 6-car. Only 1 car was lit – the AMA.

        8. The TMs check for the likes of mobility implied persons and by keeping everyone together there is no need to open all the doors to allow people off, also I have never seen a 3 car half lit and I’m not sure it was even possible as the lights are controlled by a single switch.

        9. Check the video Bigted, it clearly shows the other two carriages are not lit when I go to sit down… Just because you are not aware of it does not make it impossible.

          Again, unnecessary local-opens is complete chaos and a serious usability problem, Transdev have confirmed its against the rules and it needs to stop. I have raised this matter with them again.

        10. There must be a trick with circuit breakers or something because as far as I know there is only one switch and it is either on or off.

        11. Bigted: I suggest that if you take a good look at curent H&S legislation you will find that it does neither of the things that you are suggesting in this sub-thread. Perhaps you could identify the particular sections that require trains not to stop at platforms where there are “troublemakers”, or that uninvolved bystanders can be prosecuted for H&S breaches?

        12. It would also be nice if you can clarify what safety reasons you are talking about, I have highlighted how local-opens creates safety concerns for passengers and does not accomplish anything but you have just formed the idea that they do it for safety reasons from thin air.

          To me it just seems like Transdev staff playing attempting to play cowboys to accomplish in actuality nothing but bad customer experience. It does nothing but cause patronage to shy away and causes serious safety concerns.

          If *I* someone who doesn’t want to drive and does my best to use PT as much as possible doesn’t want to use the service anymore due to this ridiculous procedure, how do you think others will react?

        13. @Mike – I’m assuming BigTed is referring to s46 of the H&SaW Act which imposes a duty on anyone at any work place of which a rail station or train would be included. This section seems enormously broad that it captures doing anything (or not doing anything like reporting a risk which then results in an injury) anywhere by anyone and imposes a potential penalty of 5 years prison or a $300,000 fine.

        14. Peter I would not expect the act would not be used that way but when the inevitable happens and there is a death /serious injury due to security issues who knows how wider net work safe will cast. It is possible no matter how unlikely they could look at you as actively working against people trying to provide better work place safety and what you have posted here could even help with your own conviction. Like I said it is unlikely but until the act gets its first court room outing who knows how it will be used.

        15. Big SDW: s46 of the act is about people exercising due care with respect to their own actions – it says nothing about bystanders being required to report unsafe act, as Bigted alleges (but hasn’t substantiated). Clearly it would be helpful if he actually took the trouble to read the act before bursting into print.

          Blaming health and safety legislation is easy, but very often people’s understanding is at significant variance from reality.

        16. Mike like I said, who knows how wide the net will be cast by work safe and whether the act will be used like it was intended or not.
          Once something is reported as unsafe (in these cases rail platforms) it has to be declared safe by an independent authority (there is not really a definition of independent authority, it may be able to be a police patrol) so it is well within the H&S laws to use local door or not stop at all until it declared safe again.

    3. It’s a train. If you’re not there on time, it leaves without you and you wait for the next one. You keep doing this until you learn to arrive at the platform before the train does.

      This is how trains work.

        1. Was just talking to my wife about this. We just spent a year in Budapest.

          Like most cities with good public transport, fundamentally we’ve discussed this problem doesn’t really occur. Frequency of bus, trains or trams is generally every 10min. No need to plan leaving times or rush (too much) for stops. You only need to worry about connections.

  2. Very interesting! The one plus about the EMUs over the diesels are you can at least be confident it’ll show up and you won’t see a big C on the board. Mind you in the last 12 months I’ve used the train going from Britomart to Homai, usually in peak (this goes back a bit as my time using PT at uni was a split between the Southern Line and the NEX) and on a very regular basis, found myself sitting at Penrose and/or Otahuhu waiting for our departure time.

    I even recall a TM talking to a commuting TM about how they were excellent in their review of running a service, except they departed Otahuhu too early!

    For better or worse I’m now an Onewa Rd bus user rather than on the trains, so my experience now is when I use the Eastern Line to Panmure to connect to a Botany bus visiting my dad – shaving about 30 seconds off that run would probably mean I didn’t often step out of the station to watch my bus drive off!

  3. Cameron I have an off the topic question but in a way it is on the same theme. Do you have travel times for Rolleston, Rangiora or Kaiapoi to Christchurch with steam train technology compared with what the buses offer now? Which is over an hour in peak morning traffic for Rangiora to Christchurch CBD. These slow times meaning virtually no one uses public transport in Greater Christchurch from the major urban growth areas and car based sprawl is entrenched for the forseeable future. Unless we too in Canterbury learn the lessons on how to create a rapid transit service -with a emphasis on the rapid part.

  4. I like to think I have a pretty fast reaction time and from watching others I am at least a bit quicker than most, but I definitely can’t keep up with automatically opened doors. By all means use the buttons after 8 or whatever when things seem to be faster but the weather has to be extreme to really notice a difference in the day.

    I would also question the timetable itself. Either my train manager and driver switched off for a bit last week or they’ve kept it so that the train can’t leaver before X time at some stations. Are those times ambitious enough?

    Regarding comfort… I agree the old ones were roomier/didn’t lose leg room with stupid curved walls/offered some seats with that bit more space.

  5. I’ve mentioned this fact before as well, as the distance from the (now closed) Tamaki station to the Strand Station was advertised routinely as only 17 minutes by train when land in that area was being sold off as lots for development in the late 1940’s.

    Its even more of an indictment of both the EMU dwell time and ETCS implementation when you consider that from Sylvia park onwards to Strand station there are precisely zero level crossings to hinder or delay the train or ETCS – unlike on the Western line.

    Of course the old steam train doors could be used without any waiting “delay”.

    I wonder if the EMUs were actually as noisy as the old steam trains were so you’d hear them coming from some way off, if the ETCS would be so cautiously programmed.

    1. Greg – you are correct that “…from Sylvia park onwards to Strand station there are precisely zero level crossings to hinder or delay the train or ETCS” and therefore the ETCS does nothing to hinder performance in this area, unless you consider prohibiting the driver from exceeding the line/curve speed by more than a few percent as hindering performance? Also, weren’t the SD’s limited to 90km/h? The EMUs can hit 100km/h along this journey.

      1. What about station arrival and departures and ETCS?

        I’ve seen many an EMU slowly creeping into the stations along the Eastern Line – for no apparent reason I could fathom.

        Those EMUs can slow down and speed up a lot quicker than they seem to be actually doing.

        Are all the train drivers dead cautious or is the “uninvolved” ETCS along this strip really the cause and is simply too conservatively programmed near stations?

        Like I said, would that be needed if the EMUs sounds like steam trains?
        Everyone would hear them coming and keep clear of the platform edge. So the EMUs wouldn’t need to crawl along the platform.

        Don’t care what the Diesels did or didn’t do – its not relevant here, we’re comparing EMU performance in practice with steam powered trains (in every sense) from 70 years ago!

        Seems we not really got much actual improvement over what we had back then through an illusory focus on “safety” and poor management of the new trains.

        1. [Quote] I’ve seen many an EMU slowly creeping into the stations along the Eastern Line – for no apparent reason I could fathom. [/Quote]. So you assume it must be caused by ETCS!

          ETCS when running on green signals (as trains should be on the Eastern Line with 10 minute headways) will have zero effect on the braking/acceleration profiles approaching/leaving stations. Maybe they are taking it easy because of TSRs or they are running early or they just look slower as the are nice a quiet?

          Also when the railhead is wet, the degradation on the coefficient of friction is the same for a new train as it was for a steam train – in both cases you end up needing to drive very cautiously (especially if it hasn’t rained for a while and the rail is greasy), or risk overshooting and a visit to the spiky chair for an explanation.

          PS:I can assure you that many people in the railway business do not work hard to create “only an illusion” of safety – hence why you don’t hear about trains crashing ever day like you do cars.

        2. Although power will be distributed at the locomotive only with steam vs spread throughout the consist with an emu which makes a difference with train handling in conditions of poor adhesion.

        3. The eastern line has a large amount speed restrictions that slow the trains more than ETCS and 150 metre long 6EMUs take a long time to clear speed restrictions before line speed can be resumed.

  6. This is a very enlightening post and analysis! About a month ago I was on a western line train on a Sunday. When we reached each station, about 4 seconds after the train had stopped all of the doors along the train opened automatically without the buttons needing to be pressed. Not only did this make it much easier for people to get on and off the train, but it improved the overall speed of the train service, and I think we were about 3.5 minutes ahead of schedule by the time I got off in Glen Eden (having gotten on at Britomart). Unfortunately I haven’t had it happen, and none of the train conductors I have talked to knew anything about it, but maybe AT could be finally trialling this option?

    1. great post Cameron!

      Surely an achievable target of 45mins from Papakura to Britomart is a goal AT should strive for.

      I think all doors should just open automatically, saves the passengers hopping on or hopping off the train pressing a button – often new passengers don’t understand how it all works. If the doors are only open for a brief time, then the wind / cold / rain is only a small and quick inconvenience for those already on board.

      Trains crawling at slow speeds in and out of stations is also very frustrating, once again, surely this can be easily fixed.

      Then other parts with signal areas is probably a lot more complex and involves other trains and freight issues and track dis-repair stuff.

    2. The driver on that service would have been using the “open all” button rather than the door release.

      They tend to do that during peak times – less so off peak

  7. An interesting read. One thing that doesn’t seem to be covered is service performance. AT are currently achieving well over 95% on-time running and service delivery month after month in 2016. This is quite different from when the EMUs were new and the TMs and drivers were still getting used to them. I would guess that there is a fair bit of fat now in the timetables, which is how these impressive on-time figures are being achieved. Did the steam services manage such a good service and were they being run every 10mins in peak? Having a fast timetable for your steam train doesn’t mean much if the train was always late.

    Also if they weren’t running 10min services from Papakura and effectively 5min services from Puhunui and 8 Western/Onehunga services into a 2 track station throat on top, then we are not comparing apples with apples, when it comes to fat built into timetable to deal with junction/platform conflicts.

    PS: Totally agree about the dwells. Melbourne had a very impress 2-3 seconds from train stop to doors fully open and people going through them when I was there last. Closing doors to depart wasn’t much different.

  8. Well you convinced me. It is time to upgrade from the EMU’s built by the cow-killers to some new JA’s from the Hillside workshops. Might get a bit smelly in the CRL tunnel though.

  9. Passengers would get left behind in London because there’s no TM on their metro to hold up the service for them. Another delay to be attributed to train managers.

    Great article. Auckland – the town that time forgot.

  10. On a recent trip to Moscow, I was stunned to see how quickly the doors on the Metro opened and closed. Basically, if you weren’t in the door within a few seconds of it opening, bad luck! Mind you, there always seemed to be another train within about 90 sec. Even at that frequency, there seemed to be a huge turnover of passengers at most central stops.

  11. If the steam trains gave such a good service maybe we should return to their speed and frequency.
    11 trains per day from Papakura via Newmarket, along the western line, eastern line from Otahuhu, no Onehunga trains, last train stabled at out stations by 1950hrs Monday to Friday no weekends etc.

  12. I can’t stress too strongly that in a competently managed urban rail service of this type an off peak minor station dwell should be around 20-25 seconds. For example, in Sydney this is typical: buffer 1, door opening 4, handling passengers 10-15, door closing 4, buffer 3, total 22-27. ‘Buffer’: the time between when the wheels stop and the door starts opening and vice versa. This is with 2-person crews and large (1800mm wide) plug doors.

    And obviously doors should be set up so that opening can be pre-ordered for some period before the train stops. And there should be a light or similar response to tell the passenger that the door has received their order, as is common when pressing the button to order ‘next stop’ on buses (do Auckland trains have this?)

    1. John the door closing/opening would be around 10 seconds due to the ramps needing to be deployed, the opening buffer is a little longer due to the windows XP computer needing to be sure the train is stopped before it allows the driver to release the doors, so add in the closing buffer (that needs to also check the doors are closed) and you see why the Auckland EMUs have dwell times so much longer than trains in other places (including Wellington that uses the ‘Auckland door system’ that the SA & ADL fleets use/used).

      1. If I’m right the TM can’t begin to close their door until the ramp is all the way in, which is a ridiculous waste of time. I agree our trains will always be a bit slower with the ramp, but I don’t think it needs to be that much slower. I can’t see (in principle) why the ramp can start deploying just before the train pulls up, so it’s maybe 2/3s of the way out and then completes the move as soon as the train stops.

        1. The computer will not allow the ramp to deploy before the door cycle starts, according to CAF the ramps can’t even stay out at the same distance of the fixed ramps to save door time. Most TMs will close their door as soon as the doors are closed (the ramp is still retracting) but the train still can’t move until the computer has talked to all the doors and ramps to confirm they are closed/retracted.

        2. If CAF want to, it would be interesting to see how the ramp sequence could start before the door sequence is started but not so early that it extents into the platform while the train is still moving.
          It would probably be easier to train the passengers to not use the doors that require the extending ramps unless they are required.

        3. “It would probably be easier to train the passengers to not to use the doors that require the extending ramps unless required”.

          C’mon there is no way you could put that message out effectively on an ongoing basis and if you tried it would make the trains look like a laughing stock. Basically saying, we’ve muffed it up so much, you can’t use one door..?!

          I cannot believe there is not an engineering/programming solution to this. It’s all just lines of code. CAF need to figure it out and change it. Half extend the ramp when approaching a station. And pre-ordering the doors is just crying out to be implemented!

        4. ‘Hi CAF, we want to buy 20 more EMUs. Would you like to fix that code to allow ramps and doors to retract at the same time and allow door pre-ordering or shall we go to Japan for the next lot?

        5. Reading this I thought the ramps must be some significant structure or device. The AT video shows 8 inches of nothing sliding out. Why does that door need to be requested? Why not spring load the ramp to pop out at every stop? Why not let it retract as the train moves off? There are probably dozens of ways to sort this out.
          The ramp is at 1:17 for anyone else who hasn’t seen it.

        6. Hi Sailor Boy
          Thanks for your inquiry about electric trains, unfortunately the ramp must deploy before the doors can open and can’t retract until the doors are closed due to the safety risk of someone sneaking through and opening or closing door and falling between the platform and train. Your inquiry about preordering doors should be directed to AT as only they can request that. Also note we deal with 200 train orders so if you want 20 it is neither here nor there for us as we will have to set up the assembly line specially for your tiny order anyway.

          Regards CAF.

        7. ‘Hi CAF,

          Thanks for your prompt reply, you are disqualified from tendering for further services due to your track record of poor post production customer service. Please do not submit further tenders for service as they will not be evaluated.’

          In case you hadn’t had your morning coffee yet, I was clearly demonstrating that AT could use these lines to get CAF to fix these issues, not actually requesting them myself. Not sure why CAF would direct AT to ask AT something.

        8. Actually Jezza they can and I’ve seen that *some* guards have figured this out – they start their local door close after they’ve seen the low-floor cars’ doors are closed but before the ramps have retracted.

  13. A couple of things the JA was good for just on 70mph if not more according to some crews. The stops at Westfield and Sylvia PArk mentioned where most likely no passengers as the main traffic at both places was always start and end of shifts 7am and 4pm otherwise both places were ghost towns. And yep if you didn’t hustle you missed train none of this shagging about choosing a door…

  14. The EMUs certainly don’t have a shortage of power. Consider this, Ja steam loco has1250 horsepower and weighs 110 tonnes, plus five cars and guards van, maybe 200 tonnes. So all up perhaps 310 tonnes. The three-car EMUs have 3650 horsepower and weigh (from memory) 150 tonne or so. Obviously they are not being used to their full potential. Perhaps AT ought to visit London or better still Paris to see how it’s done.

    1. You are correct, they have had their acceleration power restricted almost from the get go. I believe they do not ever run at 100% performance at AT’s request

      1. My guess is that AT requested a certain acceleration rate in the contract for the EMUs and it was up to CAF to decide on size of traction motors (to be able to cope with worst case) to deliver this. CAF are also responsible for maintaining the trains for 10 years, so there is no advantage for them configuring the software to allow 1.4m/s/s acceleration if the contract only requires 1.1m/s/s as it will just result in everything wearing out sooner.

        AT would have to request this and then pay for the additional maintenance. I doubt it would make much difference in running times.

    2. The EMUs are majorly dialed down, when they are not standing is impossible and seat belts are advisable so you are not thrown out of you seat.

        1. The point I was making is they could be dialed up significantly from their current levels of acceleration and still allow people to stand comfortably and sit without seatbelts. I don’t doubt that at full acceleration they would be a bit uncomfortable.

  15. The door opening and closing time is appalling. It is exacerbated by the “T car”, that being the middle car with the steps that have to come out at glacial speed and retract similarly slow. BUT with the previous sets the train could leave with doors open so they were less safe. But really 45 seconds to a minute per platform is bloody hopeless. Plug doors are also a hindrance. And TM controlled doors were a lot faster and I know that will disappoint some. Now they passenger controlled we have these issues.

    Then there is the ETCS. It truly makes our trains safer. A collision can almost be avoided and even it the train does run a red it is not by much. This is fantastic and a lot better than the trains we had 3 years ago with nothing at all in so far as automatic oversight of braking went and a hit and miss improvement over the SA’s and ADL’s ETP.

    However If the EMU train is a 3 car it must stop at a stipulated point to allow the T car to line up with certain raised points on the platform because if I am not mistaken there is a design cock up that allowed the steps on the T car and the other cars to be at different heights. Therefore a 3 car will stop a long way from the signal,, more mid platform, Glen Eden up springs to mind and then it has to crawl down to the balise, that is the sensor between the rails to tell the trains computer that the formerly red signal is now green. Any faster and the emergency brakes deploy. This was supposed to be mitigated by fitting balise’s further up the track to compensate for shorter trains. But AT never fitted them. And stations like Glen Eden that stop BEFORE the crossing should have had those platforms located AFTER but no one gave it much thought.

    There is so much they can do to make these potentially fast trains fast but it takes a will to do so. AT appear to have little will to move forward at the moment.

  16. Thank you for a most interesting appraisal of historical –> current train speeds. I do however think that narrow/standard/broad gauge rail systems need to be factored into many of your comments. While Australia still has narrow gauge rail they are biting the bullet and moving up… Because it must be understood that narrow gauge not only places significant restrictions on carriage-width but also maximum speed – especially through complex junctions like at Newmarket.
    The physics is simple enough, although I expect most folks (including the politicos) will be yawning about now.

    Think about this when next on the train. Why the bumps and clanking (all from the undercarriage and couplings) in various portions of the NZ rail network – especially Auckland suburban?

    And yes, I agree there is no need for anal-retentive OSH factors to have such an overarching influence on simple door open/close protocols.

    1. I’d like to point out Japan.

      Apart from the Shinkansen, and a few minor isolated railways, nearly everything runs on meter gauge and they absolutely make the most of it.

      I don’t see why it’s a huge issue. Trains run fine at 100km/h+ on narrow lines. The Southern and Eastern lines already have very good geometry, and the Western lines has too many stops/curves to need higher speeds.

      There’s few major junctions on the Auckland network (New Market, Britomart and maybe Otahuhu) so regauging the entire network for better junction performance would be truly mad. It would cost less just to grade segregate the major junctions (hell, you could grade segregate both Auckland and Wellington’s urban networks for the cost of the national regauging).

      Yeah, standard gauge would be nice, but it’s so far down the list – even cheap projects like the AMETI busway or Mt Eden buslanes would probably have bigger impacts on patronage (and at a infinitely lower cost).

      1. Japan is narrow gauge 3’6″ like we are, not metre gauge. But yes they routinely run at 140km/h+ on the same gauge as we use, including through curves using tilting trains.

        In Australia the in-service speed record is jointly held by the Queensland Tilt Train (narrow gauge 1067mm), the WA Prospector (standard gauge 1435mm) and the Victorian VLocitys (broad gauge 1600mm). All do 160km/h with passengers on board, and I believe all have done over 200km/h under test conditions.

        Unless you are talking about 160km/h+ the track gauge doesn’t matter, what does matter is the geometry of the track and especially the level of maintenance. If you had standard gauge track with windy curves like ours and the same basic level of maintenance then it would be just as limited. If we have broad curves and tight tolerances our narrow gauge could support 160 km/h or more.

        ANyway, this is all pretty irrelevant for suburban services. Top speed is hardly a factor, its stopping/dwell times and speed limits well below a hundred that are the issue.

        1. I understood all that Nick. Thank you for the informative comments. Bottom-line our rail system is STILL on its knees. Agreed suburban does not require speed.

    2. You couldn’t get tight curves like Britomart or the NAL with standard gauge. And the noise at Newmarket is largely down to the fixed diamond turnouts that leave a significant gap for the wheels to pass over in opposing directions. They are what restricts speed to 40 km/hr up from Sarawia crossing. But then again most railways have those types of features. And yes the Japanese have proven how fast one can travel on so called narrow gauge.

      1. I didn’t think there were and ‘tight’ curves on the NAL, at least after Newmarket curve up to beyond Swanson. All good for 110km/hr

    3. JP: a) the fastest trains in Australia are on the narrow gauge (in Queensland), not on standard or broad gauge;

      b) for track gauges of 1-2m train height and width are independent of track gauge: for example, London tube trains (tiny) and Chunnel shuttles (huge) are both standard gauge; and BR Mk 2 carriages have operated on broad, standard and narrow gauges.

      1. I stand corrected Mike. Thanks for that info. But you have to admit that if narrow G. is to persist in NZ we collectively need to get our act together in respect of comfort and pleasure of travel (for the tourists alone). I DO understand our rail system is more suited to the undulating terrain of our country (I did not 2 weeks ago). But I am still concerned that the details are being glossed over.

        For example, despite the ability for narrow gauge to handle smaller radius turns, the customer/rider experience is still something you would expect from the 1990’s (rocking and jerking about). And the Newmarket interchange most certainly needs a major make-over to avoid delays and speed issues.

        Thankfully, the suburban rail system at least has upgraded (I believe) to pre-stressed rails (PWR) that make a significant difference to commuters (clackedy-clack noises). I am overall quite impressed with the external noise quieting on the Auckland Electric train cars currently in use.

  17. yes.AT says they will speed up trains in march 2017. bout with a top speed of only 110 kph, i’m not sure it will be much faster than driving on the motorway.

    1. Pretty sure the EMUs already run at 110km/h occasionally.

      What we’re concerned with is average speeds, which are currently very slow (30-40kph) but hopefully could be raised towards 50-60km/h (on the Southern/Eastern lines at least) which would cut huge amounts of time off trips.

      1. I have observed a gps based speedo on my iphone on most of my emu trips. Never goes above 94km/ hr and that was on the Takanini to Papakura track, almost all others get to near 90 but never above. The dmu to Pukekohe often just exceeds 90

      1. I wish there was a third main between Newmarket and Ellerslie just so that a morning express, not stopping at Ellerslie, Greenlane or Remuera, a 6 car emu could do 120km/hr + towards the city. This alone IMHO would do more to get those in the morning motorway crawl out of their single occupant car into an emu.

      2. For some strange reason line speed up the hill is only 70 – unless it has been increased lately. There is probably no reason why it couldn’t be 100. Mind you when the mudspots join hands it’ll be 40.

  18. This is crazy. How incompetent are the top management to permit this to happen? It is almost criminal that we used to run steam trains quicker than we are now.

  19. Never mind steam comparison. Now that KR have made the decision to replace the EFs with more DLs, there is the opportunity for AT to get some of the 20 EFs and make up EF, SA and SD trains to get the much needed capacity needed in the next year or two.

  20. Oh for some professional railwaymen to run the show, in the offices as well as driving.
    But I bet H & S has a lot to answer for these days

    1. Correct: clearly an organisation that has run railways in many countries for many years, and consistently achieves or exceeds the key three customer-service targets – punctuality, reliability and patronage – is not right for Auckland.

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