Last week Auckland Transport were talking up how prepared they were for the expected upcoming March Madness. As part of that, and as we’ve seen from board reports for a few months now, a new rail timetable comes into effect on March 12. We already knew what most of the timetable changes involved, consisting of:
- Westfield Station will close
- Parnell Station will open, served initially by Southern Line trains with Western Line trains only stopping in evenings and weekends.
- Onehunga line trains will skip Greenlane, Remuera and Parnell stations. This is said to be to speed up services enough that it frees up a 3-car train.
- Speeds on the other lines will also be improved, enough that it frees up an additional two 3-car trains.
- In total the changes free up three 3-car trains, which will be used to boost capacity on some peak services.
In terms of the information surrounding the changes, overall I think AT have done a decent job and for anyone who bothers to read it – which let’s be honest, most won’t bother to do so. They’ve bullet pointed the key changes for each line nicely and it feels like they’ve been more open than they have in the past about why some of the changes are being made. One example being the Onehunga Line changing to limited stops which they say is to “improve travel times and the number of units required to operate the Onehunga Line“. In the past it has felt like changes have often been made with little explanation.
With all of the changes and linked to early in the page, AT have introduced a new map of the rail network that will presumably be added to the trains. I have mixed thoughts on this map though, here are some of them in no particular order
- It’s great that AT have finally included the Northern Busway as this is something we’ve wanted to see for years, but ….
- With the inclusion of the Busway, perhaps it’s time to drop the Train Network terminology and refer to it as a singular Rapid Transit network. Perhaps we could just call it ART – Auckland Rapid Transit (yes this was also the official name of Robbies Rail in the 1960’s and 70’s).
- What’s with showing the connection between train and bus as a massive walk. While I appreciate that there is a walk between Britomart and Lower Albert St and that this is a schematic, not a geographically accurate map, the walk between the two looks substantial, about the same as between Newmarket and Britomart. It is not particularly arduous and showing it this way feels like it has the potential to put some people off trying this as an option. Suggesting you have to walk through the Ferry Terminal is also incorrect. All of this isn’t to say that the connection between the two services couldn’t be improved but that’s a discussion for another post.
- I’m no graphic designer but what’s with the 90° corner at Penrose for the Onehunga Line when all other corners are dealt with as curves
- I’m also in two minds about showing the Western Line as doubling back on itself. While it’s technically accurate and may help avoid confusion from new users, I’m not sure it’s entirely necessary on a schematic map, especially as it appears to be one of the reasons the Busway can’t be closer.
- AT have dropped the aircraft symbol from Mt Eden but retained it at Papatoetoe. I wonder if this is anything to do with the Skybus service being fully commercial.
- AT have added in hospital symbols for Auckland and Middlemore but why not North Shore Hospital, which is a similar distance walk from Smales Farm station as Auckland Hospital is from Grafton.
- It’s interesting that they’ve includes information about toilets as it highlights how few of our stations have even basic amenities.
As a comparison, this is what it currently looks like.
As mentioned earlier, on of the key issues we’ve been waiting to see is just how much faster the timetables were. That’s because our trains are being run significantly slower than they were required to be able to achieve as part of tender to buy them. The changes in travel times are
- Western Line – services are 1-minute faster to Britomart and 3-minutes faster to Swanson by 3 minutes – in the evenings and weekends the Western Line will stop at Parnell yet there is no impact of doing so on the overall travel time
- Southern Line – Services are 3-minutes faster to Britomart and 1-minute faster to Papakura. AT also say they’ve reduced the transfer time at Papakura to/from the Pukekohe shuttle.
- Eastern Line – No changes in time despite no longer stopping at Westfield.
- Onehunga Line – 5 minutes faster to Britomart – although even in the evenings when it stops at Remuera and Greenlane, it is still 4 minutes faster than today.
While time improvements are definitely welcome, these ones are nowhere near enough the level they need and as we’ve highlighted before, the likely best opportunity to achieve them is to improve dwell times.
Also disappointing is that there has been no improvement to inter-peak frequencies. This was particularly needed for the Southern Line where the new bus network has already rolled out and for which the rail network was meant to be the all-day frequent backbone. Did the rail team not read the strategies that have been publicly discussed and consulted on for many years now?