This is not a post about Busway’s vs Rail as modes, but a fun comparison of my experience on the Northern Busway to our Rail Network.

I recently went to the North Shore for an appointment where I had the pleasure of using the Northern Busway. I had not used it for some time, well before Double Deckers were a regular occurrence. As a person who usually uses the rail network it was interesting comparing my experiences, so I decided to create list of where I think each excels.


  • The dwell times – The dwell times are good even on the Double Decker’s, as a rail user it was pleasant for it to feel like a stop, not a whole century.
  • The motorway alignment – I swear nothing is more awesome than sitting top deck watching yourself race past all the cars at standstill on the motorway, you partially have that experience on the Southern, but the long dwells kinda ruin it.
  • Double Decker’s – That view of the Waitemata from the top deck going over the bridge.
  • The stations – I like the stations, they feel accessible, easy to use/transfer (when the bus turns up on time, curse you 881) and many have extra useful amenities inside.


  • The ride – Smooth and so quiet, except the ADL’s to Puke but they are the fun part of any trip the Puke, though understand the people using it would rather have the Class AM’s for everyday use.
  • Single deck – Yes I know I said I loved the Double Decker’s but it can get quiet frustrating having to wait for people who only used the bus for a short distance coming down from the top deck, use the bottom for short journeys >:(
  • Speed – It’s always fun on the Eastern when you speed through the Meadowbank-GI section especially the Purewa Tunnel.
  • The Stations – We’ve not got some fantastic stations. Britomart & New Lynn are my favourite, there is something about underground stations under fantastic architecture, and I always love coming into the New Lynn trench. Grafton is ok but I rate it 0/10 would not try Wifi through again.
  • Fully separated – the Busway is great but it can be frustrating when it ends, you have some bus lanes on the Motorway but not in all sections, and when I was using the NEX a car was using the Bus Lane slowing us up around Onewa Interchange.

So what are your favourite strengths of the Northern Busway and the rail network?

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  1. I was on board a double decker when the driver gave a passenger a good telling off for using the top deck – she only travelled from the city to Fanshawe St

  2. What is the difference in cost between building say the northwestern busway from scratch vs building a new light rail line along the same route?

    1. Not much the tricky bit is you need to do all the way to CBD in one go, while buses you can do the busway route and then can use SH16/GNR

    2. If you built both from scratch for the full length to the same grade separated standard, the cost would be about same. However with a busway you don’t necessarily have to build it all in one go, you don’t have to do every bit grade separated, and you can move from bits you have built to bits you haven’t (i.e. shoulder lanes, bus lanes) quite easily. So in the long run the busway would be cheaper in practice.

        1. BRT tends to be a lot cheaper than light rail, but only because BRT usually doesn’t include fully dedicated running for its entire length. Most BRT systems will have sections of bus lane, street running, using highways or motorways etc. The Northern Busway is an excellent example, it’s only actual busway for about a third of it’s length, the rest is running on the motorway or street. You can’t do that with light rail obviously, you have to build the rails all the way, and the depot and stations for that matter. One of the great benefits of BRT is being able to be a bit flexible like that, which makes things a lot cheaper. On the north shore we build 1/3rd of the route as actual busway, and got 80% of the value of a LRT line for perhaps 20% of the cost.

          However if you are talking like for like with a dedicated grade separated running way, same overbridges and tunnels and stations etc, the two are about the same. Same design geometry, same basic station design and footprints, and while LRT requires electric overhead and tracks you can do that as relatively cheap ballasted track, which compared to a busway engineered pavement with drainage, crash barriers etc isn’t appreciably more expensive.

          Heavy rail is a different story again, far more expensive that either light rail or busway due to much more difficult geometric constraints.

        2. Nick R: “Heavy rail is a different story again, far more expensive that either light rail or busway due to much more difficult geometric constraints”.

          Here we go again. Generalisations unlimited. . .

          Let me amplify your statement:-
          “Heavy rail is far more expensive than either light rail or busway if tight geometric constraints are present and can be tolerated in spite of their degrading effect on the bus/light-rail service, and also if bus/light-rail can be superimposed on existing streets without requiring the benefits of segregation. On the other hand if full segregation is seen as necessary and tight curves are seen as undesirable for any mode then heavy rail, light rail or busway are likely to cost a similar amount.”

          Remember, we are not talking about an alignment suitable for 1000+ ton freight trains here (so no need to get into the “gradients” argument again – )!

    3. I would prefer to see it as the NW rail (HR) line but as has already been pointed out by both Nick and Harriet the busway doesn’t need to built all at once, rail light or heavy does and needs to come all the way into the CBD so in the case of LR all the way to the CBD or HR to link into the existing network west of MT Eden.

  3. NEX is turn up and go and speed wise competitive to car.

    Rail depending on which line. Eastern line is faster than driving, which is attractive.

    Other rail lines are generally not that competitive regarding to journey time. On peak time they are still a bit slower than driving.

    Rail off peak is very uncompetitive. Frequency is too low to be turn up and go, also speed is at least 2-3 times slower than driving.

    A lot of work still need to be done on rail to speed up journey time and increase off peak frequency.

  4. + Northern Busway. Forward thinking and proof that for a few years we could think outside motorways for the betterment of Auckland.
    – Despite the obscene hundreds of millions spent on the revamp of the North Western motorway, there is NO busway there. And add in State Highway 20 to that. Backward thinking and complete proof of how myopic and useless this government really is.

    + The zero emission of and combination with smoothness and sheer speed and stopping power that our EMU’s are capable of that make a very fast 21st Century machine come alive.
    – That because of AT all that speed is not available and then what is, is then taken away by ridiculous platform dwell times and retarded signalling equipment that combine to reverse all the above gains with interest to make one miss the diesels and leaves one wondering, what happened to that 21st Century thing again?

    1. re: bus lanes on Waterview Connection: It’s a ‘Quality’ Transport Network!

      SH16 and SH20 Bus Facilities
      [Reference Section 42A Report paragraph 13.1.15, requesting consideration of the proposed use of bus shoulder lanes on SH16]
      1. There is agreement that provision of bus shoulder lanes are an appropriate treatment for bus priority on SH16 in the Project area. This is consistent with the PTNP12 and the RPTP13 which indicate that this section of SH16 forms part of the Quality Transport Network, not the existing or future Rapid Transit Network.
      2. It is agreed that bus facilities in the Project area are not identified in the PTNP or the RPTP and they were not previously requested by ARTA.
      Signatories: Ian Clark and Andrew Murray

      1. Got a date for that? Yes ARTA failed to serve the NW and the city well with this. Because, it seems, it isn’t a rail line, which they were obsessed with.

        However this doesn’t get NZTA and MoT off the hook either. Neither advocated for a busway, as far as I know, and they are the well resourced experts with all the data on the Northern Busway, so they know it is the only thing that enables SH1 to flow at all north of the city.

        So the poor outcome of the SH 16 widening represents two institutional failures with essentially the same cause: single mode obsession: ARTA with rail (especially under Lee), and the central gov ones with general traffic motorways.

        1. “they are the well resourced experts” – Yes… Yes they are.

          They also have issues with internal mode bias. I know two people who used to work for KR and now work there. There is disagreement between the engineers and management. Management appear to be favoring “moar roads” and not much PT, whereas the voices of the engineers are being lost in the wind… Engineers in general tend towards pragmatism, with mode-bigots being in the minority. With the current situation however, NZTA is politically driven. Pure and simple.

          We need more public oversight, to make it harder for politicians to interfere. Would also be nice if the politicians could be held to account for low BCR projects (it seems that this is all forgotten by the majority, come election time)…

  5. Maybe I’m paranoid, but is anybody else even slightly worried about travelling across the Harbour Bridge during high winds in the outside lanes on a double-decker bus with a small guard rail separating you from a 43 meter drop?!

    1. Look on you tube there are tons of videos show that buses can be on one wheel at a 45 degree angle or similar and still won’t fall over. The real danger on the AHB is being in a car and having someone else drive into you, being on a bus regardless of the weather will always be safer.

  6. Moved from Manurewa to the Shore recently. For a period of time I was with a lady friend who went to uni at Akoranga while I was attending AUT in the city, so we’d drive from her place in Hillcrest and I’d catch the bus.

    The busway just owns on frequency. The stations beat out the far too exposed railway stations (excluding the obvious ones).

  7. Harriet, I would like to understand the basis for your comment that the cost difference LRT v Busway is “not much”. Can you break down and/or comment on the cost differences between infrastructure, vehicles and operating costs?

    1. Laying tracks is not that expensive, its the corridor works for example the third main from Westfield-Wiri is around 58m of which a large chunk would be realigning Middlemore rather than trackwork. I believe they extended a passing loop on the ECMT by over a km a few years back for something like $500,000.

      For the NW Busway you would need a similar level of property purchases, over-bridge adjustments, stations, earthworks etc. in fact LRT could be less as you can get away with a narrower corridor and potentially use ballasted track while a Busway would still need a road layed. The grades would also be fine for LRT.

      LRT becomes more expensive however when you need to rip up streets and work with underground utilities, in the case of the “NW Busway Corridor” either that situation either doesn’t exist, or would apply to both modes.

  8. AT could quite easily and cheaply run an education campaign to teach riders to go upstairs for longer trips and stay downstairs for short trips. Even posters in the buses would work.

  9. The ADLs to puke may be diesely noisy and a tad rattly but they do have comfy seating with plastic corrugated backs to make vandal scratching less likely and they do speed along nicely often getting over 90km/hr.
    I just wish they put some of them on a Swanson or Henderson run to Huapai or Helensville

    1. I still miss the comfy SA/SD and ADL seating on my now longer Western Line trips, but I think it’s probably a fair trade-off in terms of noise, fumes and vibration.

      1. I fondly remember my regular Saturday morning from GE to BM in SD where train was 5SA and a SD towed by a DF loco. It was quiet, you could barely hear the DF inside the cars and you certainly never smelt diesel fumes. IIRC it was fast too, no creepy crawlies up to level crossings or weird dwell times.
        2014 and it was often standing room only.

  10. Took the Western Line recently, first time in a while. New Lynn to Britomart. Its all good except for the dwell times. after about the 5th station (halfway) it starts to get excruciating.

    I’m not sure if I did it every day that I would get use to it, or it would do my head in and I would need to revert to the car to retain my sanity. The only saving grace is getting off at Britomart. It might not be old and grand down there, but its a very striking downtown station, as good as anywhere in that regard.

    1. The dwell times are frustrating, but I don’t think they could ever match having to drive at peak hour for sheer ability to do my head in.

        1. errrr…. no continuous wifi in emus so trying to deal with email is slow and patchy at best.
          Even my vodafone cell card in ipad has difficuly in moving emu. Maybe a phone works better

        2. I don’t know about you guys but I spend about nine hours at my desk a day, I don’t want to get on a train and do more work – I want the train ride to be as quick as possible. Kiwis do far too much unpaid work as it is, using at as a selling point for PT is highly suss. Just make the PT as fast as possible so we lose even less of our unpaid day to the commute and that’s that. Wifi for relaxing/comfort but the expectation that one should work on the commute is more suited to a country where people aren’t pulling 50 hour weeks by default.

  11. Frequency for me, as a rail passenger. I was a daily rail commuter for the first couple of weeks of the year (and will be occasional the rest of the time) and really appreciated the 10-minute rush hour ‘turn up and go’ aspect.

    Also, I know this is more of a public transport benefit generally, but there’s nothing like being able to sit down and enjoy a book chapter – or a few blog posts – all while you’re getting to your destination faster than driving.

  12. Best PT: The new EMUs – I can still remember my first trip on a train. It was a subbie from Mt Eden to the Strand – 4 carriages, 1 guard’s van and a WAB
    class tank steam engine. 60 years later, we finally go electric.
    Sad that the trips are often spoiled by the selfish ones who just have to smoke in the Station shelters or on the platforms. They are nearly as bad as those who insist on playing their choice of noise ( I won’t call it music) at volume so that everyone else in the carriage has to hear it too.

  13. The Northern Busway is great until it comes to transfers. Mine’s to the University and there can be quite a wait. Not much take-up for public transport usage at Massey, it’s very car-centric. Would be good to see some ways to make PT more attractive for these potential users.

    1. Busway will require yet more houses to be demolished and the cycleway to be rebuilt yet again. LRT could be elevated and avoid these issues.

      1. Bryce, a busway could be just as easily elevated, or rather just as not-easily and not-cheaply elevated. There is very little difference in the structures required to support busway or LRT.

        Sailor Boy, 6.6m is a little tight even for street running LRT, it’s more like 7.5m when you take into account curves and the dynamic envelope of the vehicles (they do shift on their suspension). Furthermore that is really just for a street environment. In a light-railway environment you would be required to have clearance to any structures to give a safe evacuation route, i.e. a gap between the running way and any adjacent crash barriers big enough for people to walk on without getting hit. Also you need to allow for overhead poles to be located outside the envelope although there are various creative ways to accomodate that. With all said and done, you’d need more like 9 to 10m between crash barriers to get a twin track LRT line in the median, about the same as a busway. Unlike some overseas motorways we just don’t have medians with 10 or more metres gap going spare. Currently most of the Northwestern has a median the width of a concrete barrier with a metre or so buffer either side, so effectively you’d need to wide the motorway by a lane each side and shuffle everything over (or just take the middle lanes!).

        For median and elevated alignments you also have to consider the footprint of the stations, where they are located and how people get to or from them. A station needs a minimum of about 18m width for about 80-100m length. That’s four or five lanes worth, hard to fit in a median, especially in a median near an existing overbridge to provide access. If you elevate, well that is a lot of structure to build up in the air. There is no free lunch in either case unfortunately, you either consume a lot of land, or you have to build a lot of structure.

        1. Easiest option would be to reclaim (again!) north side of causeway to accomodate LRT/busway (no need for house purchases or rip up of cycleway albeit there are issues with the park and Pollen island). Te Atatu station is on north side and continuity to city could be achieved via Gt North Road. Presumably the Westgate to Te Atatu busway solution has already been sorted, at least a preliminary design anyway, given that its a Decade 1 project? Speaking of which, I hear Lincoln Road station is on other side of motorway so I’d be interested to see the Lincoln to Te Atatu section of busway and where the motorway ‘crossover’ occurs.

  14. Need more “shuttles” offering high frequency connections to busway from western North Shore. Even the new network is about funneling into the city so Northcote, Birkenhead, Chatswood etc can go over the bridge OK on non-NEX busses but it’s nearly impossible to easily and quickly go North.

    1. AT deserves an F for not even trying.

      They’re so close in Glenfield — the line going from Glenfield to Constellation station should be frequent. Ideally there would be a cross-town between Birkenhead, Northcote (lots of planned growth over there) and Takapuna or Milford. The tricky bit there is how to cross the motorway.

      1. If we’d built a bus station at Onewa it would be quite easy. Bus along Onewa Rd & switch to a bus from the City to Takapuna at Onewa Station. Would be a reasonable crosstown for no additional buses, and better frequency than any crosstown could offer.

  15. Need more shuttles offering high frequency connections to busway from western North Shore. Even the new network is about funneling into the city so Northcote, Birkenhead, Chatswood etc can go over the bridge OK on non-NEX busses but it’s nearly impossible to easily and quickly go North.

  16. My wife and I enjoyed taking a nine year old grandson from Wellington on the Double-decker from Sunnynook to Britomart and then the train to Meadowbank for a walk around the Orakei Basin and return from the Orakei Station.

    While we usually sit at the lower level on the NEX bus from the city to Sunnynook there was no way I was going to stop the young lad from enjoying the front seat upstairs even though it may slightly slow things on disembarking.

    Harriet – you comparisons are certainly very valid but is worth noting also that at the raised rear section at the lower level of the double-decker buses it is almost impossible for any one of moderate height to avoid hitting your head on the roof……………..after a couple of bumps you learn to duck.

    1. Yes, the Double Deckers top deck on the ones used on Mt Eden Rd are best suited to midgets or U boat crews used to cramped conditions (minus the torpedoes of course!)

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