We’ve long been supporters of extending passenger rail services to Hamilton and have written about it on numerous occasions. Done well, it could provide not only a useful transport service but also open a new front to help combat Auckland’s housing crisis.

The idea of a rail service between Auckland and Hamilton was last looked at in 2011. On Tuesday, the Council’s Planning Committee agreed to take a high-level look at the issue again – although they also noted that that it was considered a low priority for the council, which is understandable given doesn’t exactly have its own house in order on transport issues. The high-level review agreed to includes to:

identify the key constraints, benefits and options of a passenger rail service between Auckland/Hamilton, including an updated assessment of customer demand, with a recommendation as to whether or not to proceed towards a detailed feasibility study

The agenda item followed on from work done by various council’s and transport agencies to review the previous 2011 report. They say the key conclusions of that review are:

  • There has been no real change in the transport policy context since 2011;
  • Network access at the Auckland end is a very real constraint;
  • There is no suitable rolling stock immediately available for a Hamilton to Auckland commuter service;
  • There are no funding sources and the current estimate of costs would need to be updated to reflect current conditions;
  • Overall, the 2011 proposal is no longer practically feasible for today’s conditions.

On the network access point, some later comments break that down with more detail

  • After the City Rail Link is completed, diesel services can no longer operate into and out of Britomart and network capacity is limited. It is likely that services would need to terminate in south Auckland with the inconvenience of a change of train;
  • The Auckland network is very congested in peak periods, which would make timetabling a regular and convenient service problematic;

The full review of the previous study can be found here. Below is the service that was proposed.

At over two hours per trip and only a handful of trips a day it will always be hard sell and one of the key reasons the 2011 study didn’t get any further than it did (that and no one could agree who should pay for it). In my view, if we were to do this it’s critical we get those journey times down. Some of that could come from faster rolling stock, like tilt trains that Harriet suggested last year but it also requires improvements to the tracks in Auckland. The most important project in that regard is of course the third main and that has also been in the news this week but not for the right reasons.

Given the importance of the project to improving the rail network we were surprised that that the project wasn’t included in this year’s budget. But even before that were keen to see what the business case said about project so Harriet OIA’d Kiwirail to get a copy. On Tuesday Winston Peters revealed leaked emails in parliament showing that the Transport Minister’s office was trying to block it being released to her.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges has been caught trying to block an official information request for details about a proposed new $50 million Auckland railway line.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters tabled an email trail in Parliament yesterday showing that Mr Bridges’ office repeatedly urged KiwiRail last week not to release a business case on Auckland’s proposed third main railway track.

Initially, his officials opposed the document being released, saying it was part of an unsuccessful budget bid, but were told by KiwiRail on Thursday that the law was clear it should be released.

After consulting its legal team, KiwiRail told Mr Bridge’s office it would struggle to justify not releasing it.

But on Friday Mr Bridges’ office again urged KiwiRail not to release the business plan.

This time it used a scatter-gun approach – arguing the report was only a draft, was on a misleading template and that its proposed release was making them “extremely uncomfortable”.

You really have to wonder what is so bad in the business case that the government wouldn’t want it released. Perhaps it has something to do with it being only expected to cost around $50 million, chicken feed next to crazy projects like the $1.8 billion East-West Link. At that price it probably has a stellar Benefit Cost Ratio, one that would make many of the government’s various motorway projects look silly.

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  1. I have to wonder what Steven Joyce was setting himself up for when he suggested that better discipline in assessing infrastructure projects was needed, and claimed that current motorway projects would provide benefits for years to come.


    I’m all for that discipline; but the man doesn’t seem to be aware which organisation would have the biggest problem in that respect. At least Auckland Council acknowledges the challenges with big ticket Wishlist items such as intercity rail.

  2. Since KR’s official correspondence unit promised response by yesterday I look eagerly forward to Harriet’s pending article on the third main business case 🙂

  3. “Mr Bridges refused to be interviewed but in a statement said his office had only offered a view on the proposed release of information and said it was up to KiwiRail whether they did so or not.”

    So now that this is out in the open and Simon Bridges is on-record saying it’s up to KiwiRail whether they release it – surely it will be released now?

  4. Any proposed release of information that makes a government feel “extremely uncomfortable” is welcome by me. Trump is feeling rather uncomfortable right now, as Mr Comey is speaking. Uncomfortable either means that you are ashamed of what you said (happens to us all at some stage) or that you know the info is incorrect (in which case it is surely better to take the chance to get it corrected). Mr Bridges – don’t be a dick like Trump – just be honest and transparent and stop hiding information. Thanks.

  5. Reminds me of the “failure mentality” recommendation… the government and transport authorities need to be willing to risk failure by experimentation, and need to recognise when failure is happening, with a plan for how to get out of it. Bridges, you’re failing, now pull out of it and learn a better way.

    Good old Winnie. I’d never vote for the man, but he never fails to amuse.

  6. There is a giant lack of will based on ideology for National on this one. However the track between Hamilton and Auckland does need improvement namely across the swamp south of Mercer and this is something that could be included in the State Highway One upgrades, if only someone had the will.

    Hamilton’s Mayor I believe is dragging the chain badly too, talking about considering it only when the line is electrified, knowing full well that is not going to happen in his life time.

    But Simon Bridges blocking the release of the information request is standard National Party operating procedure. Smother bad news, carry on like the control freaks they are so no one else thinks there is any other way than their failed vision of clogged highways and billions poured into private contracting firms to build more of them.

    Vote the pricks out if you want things to change cos it ain’t going to happen otherwise!

  7. If hamilton folk want trains to auckland then they need to consider whoom they vote for as electorate MPs. The current ones have suggested the future lies with the waikato expressway and electric cars rather than rail services.

  8. It seems like a non-starter to me. To succeed, the journey times need to be closer to one hour, and it needs to go right into Britomart. Of course, both these things are possible and would happen in most places overseas, but in this ultra-conservative “she’ll be right”, roads focused country it will never happen.

    1. I’m not sure I agree on the travel time, given it takes two or more hours to drive depending on traffic I don’t see why sixty minutes is the cut off for rail. The old Silver Fern time of about two hours would be plenty competitive.

      However given it is 140km between Hamilton and Auckland by rail, a train time of 90 minutes should be feasible with the right fleet and track improvements. That’s only an average of 93km/h.

      As for britomart, well once the CRL is open there will be slots and platform space.

      1. “given it takes two or more hours to drive depending on traffic I don’t see why sixty minutes is the cut off for rail. The old Silver Fern time of about two hours would be plenty competitive.”

        Remember that to actually be a faster journey for riders, they have to be able to get to the train station, wait for the train, take the journey, and then get to work all in the same time it would take them to get in the car, drive to Auckland, park, and get to the office from their parking spot.

        Granted that on the train you can work, read, sleep, etc, but for an apples-to-apples comparison of commute time you gotta remember the total time is what matters to commuters.

  9. I think this would need more than just a third main between Wiri and Westfield to succeed. It would need to go from Papakura to Orakei as these trains will really need to be able run at speed through Auckland to get the travel time down.

    It really needs to be a government lead project, with sufficient funds for the 3rd main described above, necessary track improvements south of Papakura, new rolling stock, that can run Hamilton to Britomart (probably hybrid) and priority over freight on the rail network.

    Any attempt to do this half arsed with trains taking 2:15 to get to the Strand or Newmarket with old rolling stock is doomed to fail.

      1. +1, although I think it is more than just a privileged few who work 9 – 5, traffic patterns would still suggest they are the most common working hours.

      2. I’ve got to go from Auckland to Hamilton next week – and the only choice i have is to hire a car or take a bus. I’d far rather take a train, but that isn’t an option. Can’t fly either.

        Def not a 9-5 thing for me.

        1. And if you were most places in Europe or even parts of Aussie you’d get on the train without thinking twice. When you’ve lived and/or travelled overseas and seen this is just a normal part of the infrastructure fabric it’s very frustrating not having the same here. I’m always hanging out for my next overseas trip just so I can take a bunch of high speed or even normal speed intercity expresses and feel the joy of being a normal everyday joe travelling by rail.

          In my opinion it’s definitely not a downer if it can’t go into Britomart. Stopping at Otahuhu would in my opinion actually offer an advantage in flexibility whereby customers could easily transfer to all the different lines in Auckland to continue their travel. As the late great professor Mees said it’s all about the network and connectivity.

          Anyone know how much those QR tilt trains cost?

    1. I’m not sure it needs quite as much infrastructure as that. Bear in mind even a very extensive intercity network would mean only three or four trains an hour at peak.

      Consider this:

      Britomart to Otahuhu via the eastern line takes 24 minutes, assuming it slots in between the suburban trains and takes the same amount of time.
      Otahuhu to Wiri/Homai, 7.2km on the third main, assuming a cruising speed of 80km/h that equals 5.5 minutes.

      Wiri to Papakura takes 12 minutes, again assuming it slots in between the suburban trains and takes the same amount of time.

      So we have an intercity pattern from Britomart to Papakura in about 42 minutes, assuming one stop somewhere in between (I’d say Papatoetoe or Puhinui for connections) and the basic third main from Westfield to Wiri.

      However, given on the bits of track outside the third main, the eastern and then the southern will be running at relatively broad headways (five to ten minutes at best) there may be some opportunity to shave perhaps ten minutes out of that by timetabling things carefully.

      From Papakura to Hamilton station we have 105km of track. It’s not so crazy to assume that can be done in an hour and twenty minutes or so.

      1. The Northern Explorer is currently timetabled at 55 mins from The Strand to Papakura and 1:35 from Papakura to Hamilton.

        You are looking at shaving off 15 mins Papakura to Hamilton, while at the same time adding five stops (Tuakau – Ngaruawahia). That is going to require some sort of investment.

        You are then looking at shaving 13 mins off the The Stand to Papakura times by running on the 3rd main, which skips four stations, but will still stop at one of them so it’s only really three. I can’t see that working either.

        Look at the V-line trains in Melbourne and the Intercity trains in Sydney they run on express track through the metro area, I think we have to do the same for this to work.

        1. Yes there will need to be some investment, but I think in vehicles as a priority rather than tracks. A purpose designed E/DMU regional set that can accelerate quickly and have a good top speed, like the V-Lines, for example.

          From the Strand to Papakura it’s not just the third main, but the third main and only running on tracks with one service on them. For example leave the city just before a departing eastern line train and you can cruise through to the start of the the third main at 80km/h in 14 minutes without catching up to the train in front, literally saving ten minutes, then once on the third main you could get through to wiri and if the timetabling is right you do it again, you have a ten minute window to skip the suburbans and cruise through non stop to past Papakura. Again there is another ten minutes to be saved there.

          15 mins off the Northern Explorer time south of Papakura is no big deal, that thing has no pretensions of being even remotely fast. It’s a tourist cruise liner that averages 65km/h. You only need to get that up to 78km/h average to shave 15 mins off.

          The right kind of train, say a Queensland or japanese style tilt train, could get up to the line speed of 110km/h and stay there through the curves.

          FYI until recently the V Lines didn’t have their own tracks into Melbourne, they primary focused on going quickly once clear of the suburbs. Sure it’s better now they have their own tracks, but you can do a lot without having to spend hundreds of millions on tracks.

          At the end of the day the NIMT south of Auckland is mostly double tracked and carries only a couple of freighters an hour at most. There is a lot of opportunity there.

        2. Yes I agree Nick R, but even not saving too much time would not be the death of it. I think reliable and consistent timetable are probably just as important if not more and quality vehicles. Every hour throughout the day, say, like your original post. I still think you could terminate more south of the city centre if post CRL we have too many services including freight (which may want to greatly increase also). Perhaps freight not running in the day at all would work if the metro service was to keep at 10min freq all day? A big upgraded Puhinui station (while doing it for the bus to airport solution anyway) could be a good terminating point with an extra platform, heaps of space there. Solves the awkward dead end at Manukau and lack of south facing track. This means only a small shared section of track with Eastern, Southern & Freight.

        3. Interesting point regarding the tilt trains, if they are a cheaper way of doing Hamilton to Papakura quicker than getting more speed on the straights then definitely go for it.

          I’m not sold on slotting the trains in behind suburban services though, as a regular passenger on the Onehunga services I can assure you they don’t get anywhere near 80kmh between Newmarket and Ellerslie. I think gains from this would be limited. Also I imagine the Northern Explorer already tries to do this and it still takes 55 mins to get to Papakura.

          The timetable might say there is a 10 minute gap between services but in reality this varies. If there is only 8 mins between trains, then by the time it leaves 2 mins later and stays 2 mins behind the preceding train it is only really a 4 min gain. This may not be able to be repeated between Wiri and Papakura as the Hamilton train may not join this section the maximum possible distance behind the metro train.

  10. The link needs to be electrified to bring the journey times down. Why we didn’t even electrify to Pukekohe is another example of short termism. Especially now that area is being intensively developed. We could have had the infrastructure in place in time for the demand. I went to Wellington by rail a few years ago. On the way there Diesel 10 hrs 45mins. On the way back electric all the way to Hamilton. We got to Hamilton in 6hrs 45 mins. According to GPS we were hitting 140 kmh in places. Changed to Diesel at TeRapa, Amost three hours Hamilton to Auckland. Why is everything beneficial so hard in the country.

    1. 140kmh doesn’t sound credible on the NZ rail network (I could be wrong though). Also it is not possible to go from Wellington to Hamilton by electric train, there is a wire gap between Waikanae and Palmerston North.

      I don’t think there is that much speed difference between a diesel and an electric that are built for the same purpose. The reason the train is so slow between Hamilton and Auckland is conflicts with suburban passenger services and freight.

      1. You would need to upgrade the network, certainly. And that would involve investment.

        Little of note has been done since the major NIMT upgrade of the mid-1980s (immediately before the network was sold for a pittance to private interests).

      2. Yes you are correct it was diesel to PN then electric to Hamilton which makes the time even more remarkable. The performance from the the electric was substantially better than the diesel. You were actually pushed back in your seat by the acceleration even when the loco was at speed. We were racing past traffic on straight stretches next to open road highways. And the reading was from gps. While you would think that progress would be monitored, maybe there are some sections where they can open it up a bit.

  11. 140km/h shouldn’t happen in New Zealand currently, thats well above the legal limit which I believe is 110km/h overall and much less in most places.

    It’s not however impractical, there are plenty of narrow gauge systems where trains go faster than than. You need only go to Queensland to find diesel trains running at 160km/h in places, on the same track gauge as us. Malaysia does 140km/h on their metre gauge lines.

    1. I think 130kmh would probably be sufficient, no need to muck around with tilt trains. I have no idea how much work would need to be done to the existing tracks to make this possible over significant distances.

        1. A tilt train can certainly do 130km/h (and more – Australia’s fastest trains are 1067mm-gauge tilt trains), but only if the track is designed for that speed. NZ track isn’t, so the line would have to be upgraded and subject to more intensive maintenance: at higher speeds track takes a greater pounding and is less tolerant of imperfections. A 50km/h difference between passenger and freight train maximum speeds would mean suboptimal performance for one (or both) types of train: for example, and to reduce track forces, train tracks are canted (banked) round curves, and a train going round a curve at a speed higher than the design speed will put extra wear and sideways force on the outside rail, and conversely on the inside rail if slower. (Whether the train tilts or not doesn’t come into it – that’s solely for passenger comfort.)

          These things can be addressed, but they cost money – sometimes lots of it.

        2. Agree, but I don’t think its so much a case of designing or upgrading the track for higher speed so much as keeping it maintained to higher tolerances.

        3. Yes of course, nobody is saying this would be free. But compared to the casual billions that get dropped on the likes of the waikato expressway, it’s still an order of magnitude cheaper.

  12. I agree it should be a Hamilton Auckland link, however if you could board at, say four locations on the journey – Huntly, Ngaruawahia, Te Kauwhata, Mercer – you’d fill a train to the brim. With the commuting populations in the North Waikato able to park and ride locally, instead of driving to Pukekohe or Papakura to board I would suggest filling the train wouldn’t be an issue. I know many of my North Waikato neighbours who park and ride from those locations, and they live in the above places and Pokeno.

    1. I’d swap mercer for pokeno and add in Tuakau. But yes, this is as much about the towns in between as it is about Auckland and Hamilton.

      1. Which is why the Waikato council should be pushing the development from Frankton to Tuakau/Pokeno first. There are significant benefits for that region in terms of combatting Hamilton congestion, providing access to affordable housing/job between the region and the CBD, etc.

        The Auckland add-on should and can come later. I guess the only issue is they need to electrify it from the start in order to connect seamlessly with the Auckland network, as opposed to using Auckland’s old diesels to get a service going ASAP.

        1. Nah just buy dual mode trains, diesel and 25kv and run them through. The cost of that is perhaps 5-10% more on the cost of trains, maybe a couple million on the whole fleet.

  13. To make a Hamilton to Auckland commuter service feasible some significant Capital expenditure is probably needed such as the third rail, upgrades to track, new stations, electrification all the way to Hamilton, new rolling stock.
    However compared to the amount of money spent on things like the Waikato expressway or the proposed East-West link etc. the sums needed are probably not huge and some of this needs to happen with or without a commuter service and will be beneficial for freight operations.
    What this country probably needs is a centrally funded RONS (RAIL of national significance) program

  14. I think 2 hours would be OK given the quality of ride & I would assume road travel is only going to increase along the highways, particularly coming up the Southern motorway. Many will just use intermediary stops anyway. Huntly & Pokeno to the city could be quite popular for example. I think it would be more feasible to just terminate at Otahuhu given hopefully 10min all day frequencies of our metro service. Could this be too congested even with a third main(?) so ideally Manukau is a good termination point if more cost was put into south facing tracks at Manukau. Would then connect with many other services including future light rail to airport which would be important. Would this then keep clear enough of our increasingly busy freight operations & southern + Eastern lines? Advantage of going further to Otahuhu (perhaps initially) would mean you could connect to the bus to airport solution from Puhinui & a better southern line connections.

    1. I think it would flop without Britomart as the terminus, while I’m sure there will be passengers going to other destinations, Britomart will no doubt be the most popular.

      This needs to be done properly, even if that means it takes longer to become a reality.

      1. I disagree. It will never happen if it’s going to be gold plated. Simple step across the platform & transfer to our electric metro trains. Don’t need electrification to start with & don’t need high speed or tilt trains even. Just decent speed somethings if we can manage a ~2 hour service. Don’t even think we need to get too carried away with skipping stations once we hit the metro area, just perhaps a few like Takanini & Te Mahia, maybe Homai.

        1. I’m not suggesting that they need to be high speed tilt trains. I can’t see how you could give a 2 hour trip from Hamilton to Auckland with the last leg of the trip being on an all stops suburban service. The current Northern Explorer takes 2:30 with only a stop at Papakura.

          Bearing in mind if that service is successful (which I don’t think it would be), you would fill up a large chunk of a metro train before it even left Manukau, there would be little room for passengers once it got to Panmure and Glen Innes.

        2. “..you would fill up a large chunk of a metro train before it even left Manukau, there would be little room for passengers once it got to Panmure and Glen Innes.” Yes, that could be a problem, especially if actually very successful. Could be offset by increased frequencies of the metro Eastern to Southern line to say 8-12tph, will improved signalling and the CRL itself handle this? We can’t have diesels in Britomart again & certainly don’t to terminate at the Strand.

        3. Post CRL the eastern line will have 9tph at peak initially, but by then AMETI will hopefully have been completed or nearing completion and trains through Panmure will need all the capacity they can provide.

          It would be better for the Hamilton service to just plod in behind the suburban trains but I can’t see that delivering a two hour service. Personally I think it needs to be 1:45 to be appealing enough to start filling trains.

        4. The eastern line will have 9tph initially, but between Britomart and Quay Park there will be another 6tph of southern line trains, making 15tph, with 24 tph ultimately, and with conflicting moves at the junction. That’s a pretty high frequency – Thameslink in London is going to be using Automatic Train Operation to cope with 24tph, and – so how would Hamilton trains fit in?

          I can’t see that The Strand is feasible as the CBD stop – it’s a lot less accessible than the old Beach Rd station (of which of course it was once part, but with much better access to the city), and we’ve seen how successful that was for commuter traffic.

          So essentially the choice is either a South Auckland terminus, with the disadvantages (and hence reduced patronage) as noted, or upgraded CBD infrastructure. How much money have we got?

          Of course the latter could happen, but there have to be the political will and structure to make it so, and we currently have neither.

        5. Yes terminating point is a bit of a dilemma, I’m tossing ideas around a bit (post CRL). Given AMETI & freight is mainly on the Eastern line, why not run the Hamilton service using the Southern line (apart from the Onehunga line screwing that up perhaps). What about Newmarket even? Just thinking if we aren’t running duel locos initially, still better to terminate south a bit, if you did that at Otahuhu a big portion of travellers would of unloaded by then I would guess. South Auckland workers, airport etc etc. I can see going right in troublesome for maxing out the Metro service come CRL. An advantage of terminating earlier is the time saving may be just right to save on train sets too. Of course longer term you would want the whole line electrified & 4th mains etc, then the service would surely shine.

        6. I think there are several options post CRL:

          1) Terminate at Britomart, using the spare central terminus platforms. Adding one or two trains an hour to 15tph entering the Britomart tunnel from Quay Park should be possible. We manage 20tph per direction today.

          2) Terminate at The Strand, but reconfigure that station so there are platforms for the eastern-southern line too. This leaves the terminus just outside of town which isn’t ideal (one step from where people want to be, and one step from ferries, buses etc), but easy access to CRL stations by a quick change of train.

          3) Terminate at Mt Eden via Newmarket, on the NAL platforms. As above, this give easy transfer to the CRL.

          4) Terminate at Parnell via the Strand, with a new platform face and third track at Parnell station. This again givens easy connections to the central area.

        7. For either of those options, would it stop at only selected stations on the way through? Stopping at, say, only 4 stations after Puke would keep down commute time.

          Otahuhu might also be an option. I have seen post-CRL plans to run a crosstown service skipping Newmarket. With that operating pattern, terminating at Otahuhu would allow transfers to all bar the O Line, without going further into the CBD.

        8. Personally I would only stop it at one point, either Puhinui if an upgraded station can be built, or Papatoetoe if not. That gives you access to Manukau, the airport, and both suburban lines going to points north like Middlemore, Ellerslie, Newmarket or Panmure.

          After than run straight through to terminal.

          I’d maybe not even stop at Pukekohe, but possibly if it was the last/first stop on the southern line.

        9. @Nick R “I’d maybe not even stop at Pukekohe, …”
          Surely you would stop there, would seem a shame to run a service all the way and not stop at a significant town on the way. Tuakau would be a good one to connect with Pukekohe and beyond with the current bus service very limited to 1 stop in morning & night with a couple of extras in the mid morning & mid afternoon on Wednesday!

          Just looking on Street View & noticed the 2012 town sign near the rail crossing at Tuakau: https://goo.gl/maps/LE5jn2kHq532

  15. Great use for those SA and SD carriages parked up at Tauramanui. A train with two SA and one SD and a DFB loco that is capable of 113km/hr could do a 90 minute journey time running over 90km/hr. Can see it now all liveried up in bright intercity colours and logo.

    1. I think you would need a top speed of more than 113kmh to do a 90 minute journey once you account for stops, sections of the track which don’t allow full speed and having to follow AT trains once in Auckland.

      1. That is actually where the tilt trains excel, especially under the Japanese operating model.

        It’s not that they are especially fast in top speed, but that they maintain relatively high speeds the whole way on normal tracks, including through curves. For example I took the Shinano line from Nagano to Nagoya, 270km across the japanese alps in 3h01, with seven intermediate stops.

        The trains max out at 130km/h in service, but they stay at about 100km/h while underway despite winding through the mountains.

        1. From memory, the Queensland tilt train has a top speed of 160 km/h. But yes, higher average speed shouldn’t be difficult to achieve with the right rolling stock. Track improvements for commuter rail would benefit freight as well.

          It would also be interesting to see where Waikato commuters usually go. I looked at some trends on census data a while back and mostly South Auckland was the main destination. Otahuhu as a final stop, with commuters heading further north transferring to Auckland commuter trains.

        2. South Auckland is the destination for Hamiltonians when their transport is by car. Who wants to drive to work to a job with the unpredictability of Auckland’s central traffic.? If you can go by train from Hamilton to work, with a reliable and quick schedule anywhere near the train line will be possible. Why stop an intercity train at Britomart? Whangarei would be a more aspirational destination. Sure getting a speedy journey from Auckland to Whangarei by train would be more expensive than doing it to Hamilton, but why shouldn’t Hamiltonians look at jobs in Whangarei?

        3. As much as I’d like a rail trip to Whangarei, we have to start where the need is greatest. Census data is exactly the right place to start. And the number people that are going to commute from Hamilton to Whangarei is minimal. These projects have to make some kind of economic sense.

        4. Congratulations – finally someone who recognises that actually finding out where people want to go is quite important. The assumption that large numbers of people are driving all the way from Hamilton to Queen St is a foolish one. The bulk of those cars clogging the motorway from Drury to Otahuhu each morning are travelling only a tiny portion of the whole distance. How many? Where from? Where to? We just don’t know. All the grand proposals are useless until we do.

        5. Actually we do, I’ve run the numbers on the census journey to work data. A fair amount go through to central Auckland and Newmarket, some to the area around ellerslie and greenlane, quite a few to middlemore, the airport area, east tamaki and across south Auckland. Negligible amounts to west Auckland or the North Shore.

        6. I love the idea of commuter rail to Whangarei. I just dont see how it can be time competitive with a car given the dog-leg west after Newmarket.

          The most direct route is currently a busway and will likely be light rail eventually, and the cost of building a new more direct line on to Whangarei would be astronomical.

          Shame, because Whangarei as a place to live and commute down to Auckland would be great. Would open up the region.

        7. I just took the diesel tilt train between Hakodate and Sapporo a couple of months ago and that or the QR one would be great.

  16. I think the best thing for this service would be to just start it based on the speeds and journey length we can achieve now, then work to make improvements once the service is running. The Northern Explorer timetable does seem a little long (Capital Connection for a similar length journey is 2 hours 5 minutes) but most people catching the train aren’t going to be doing so solely to save travel time – it’s two hours each way that you have back to do work/relax and unwind/enjoy not having to stress and concentrate on maneuvering through heavy traffic.

    I’m surprised that the proposed map didn’t include Ngaruawahia or Taupiri though – I’d add at least one as trains have to slow in those places anyway due to curvature of the tracks.

    1. Starting with something that we can *actually do* is the only sensible plan. A statement of the obvious – but apparently not obvious enough. The majority of the proposals, both the formal and the plucked-from-thin-air, are simply not possible in the next five years and maybe quite a lot longer. Do we want a service within a few years or not? If we do, then talk of 160km/h tilt trains and electrification of the gap is a waste of time and probably more harm than good. If we want to hold out for the kind of thing we’d expect in Japan or Australia, we’re in for a very long and painful wait.

      1. Mechanically refurbish the three Silver Ferns and put them into action by summertime, with a series of basic station upgrades, planning to run them to death for three or four years to build patronage and awareness. Put in the order for the first tranche of dual mode tilt trains and have them ready to replace the ferns in four years time, in combination with more extensive track works and new stations.

        1. Two Silver Ferns and one basket case, isn’t it? Only 96 seats each, to Scenic standards and charter work to do – are they really as available as required? Are they capable of cost effective commuter operation in their format? If it’s a reasonable yes, then that’s exactly the kind of do-able plan that should be costed up and compared with acceptable equivalent plans involving ADLs (with appropriate intercity adjustments, however unlikely) and DFT-SA-SD trains (with similar intercity refurbishment). It’s as important to disprove/underprove the alternatives as it is to prove the selected case.

        2. Yes two Ferns in working condition and one mothballed awaiting probable scrap. One is currently on lease in Dunedin, the other for charters?

          Patch the three of them up for an intended service life of four years or so. They have saloon seating and toilets etc so good to go from the passenger perspective, just need to make sure the engines and mechanical systems could handle another million kilometres. That might mean a repower, but that would be relatively cheap (compared to buying new trains or running locomotives that is).

          Cost effective, probably. As DMUs they should be efficient to schedule and run and fairly easy on the gas. Sure they are older than I am, but they were purpose built to run on the NIMT.

        3. We need at least 6 trains for the hourly all day service that we desperately need.

        4. Nick R, IIRC from the last investigation (was it 2011), running the ferns wouldn’t break even, and would incur costs to run. The impression I got from that investigation, was that each train needed about 5 passenger cars (approximately 250 head per train) to make it worthwhile. Thats to cover everyday running costs, staff wages, fuel, regular maintenance. That wouldn’t cover platform construction/upgrade/refurbishing, nor upgrades/purchasing of rollings stock. In saying that, are the ferns worth it?
          As I have mentioned to some of my work colleagues at KiwiRail involved with this current push/initiative – attempt engaging KiwiRail in the purchase of passenger carriages in a trial service(six carriages?) If the trial service fails, those carriages could most likely be allocated to an opposing long distance service Auckland – Wellington. Just and idea that i feel is worth looking into.

        5. “running the ferns wouldn’t break even”

          So what? Almost no transport in NZ breaks even.

          Though I agree that it should indeed be bigger trains.

        6. Yes correct, although I’d actually say seven. Five in service (assuming the two way cycle time including timekeeping is over four hours), one on rotation for servicing/maintenance, and one as a hot spare. Call it eight and you can tack on three return extensions to Tauranga a day. Call it twelve and we have a whole upper north island network!

          However with the three ferns you could do half-hourly up to Auckland across a 90 minute peak, then about two-hourly each way through the middle of the day (including maybe one return run out to Tauranga), and half-hourly back to Hamilton in the PM peak, and perhaps an extra return run later in the evening.

          That’s not too shabby a place to start.

          However, having only three trains and having them all in service does leave no spares, so you’d have a high rate of cancellations. Any time a train had to be pulled out of service you’d lose 1/3rd of your runs until it could be fixed.

        7. The trouble with that is that it ignores commuters from Auckland or North Waikato to Hamilton and 2 hours in the middle of the day simply isn’t enough. This needs to be done as a regional service, not a commuter service.

        8. It’s a proposal for a starter service, and frankly it would be a big win to get even that going. Yes the first train from Auckland wouldn’t get to Hamilton until about 10am, and yes there would be a gap of about two hours after the peak until the next train. But shit you have to start somewhere?

          Are you really suggesting we do nothing unless someone decides to buy and operate a fleet of seven intercity trains and commits to running hourly all day every day?

          Remember the best way to get the service you should have is to succeed with the service you do have! Think big for tomorrow but start with what you have today.

        9. Nick R – I think putting money into 3 Silver Ferns would be a failure as not enough runs possible & couple of failed services due to breakdown would put many off, never to try again. Maybe with more units of some sort, but I really think you need nice new somethings & really set it off with a bang. Besides if Dunedin using one & the other for charters, then they will be left in the cold.

        10. Sure, but you’re talking about a $100m fleet investment just to get started. Better to start with a $10m investment as proof of concept while you get the order of the real trains underway.

  17. I imagine it won’t be much quicker to take the train from Hamilton than it would be to drive to Pukekohe and take it from there (when it electrified that is). Driving to Pukekohe would give a lot more flexibility in terms of frequency in case you wanted to come home early, etc. So I don’t see this service getting a huge amount of takeup.

    1. So that’s great for the 50 people who car park at Pukekohe. What about the other 10,000 people going to Auckland everyday?

        1. Yes, most of them from the areas around Pukekohe, hence why this is only useful to about 50 people from the Waikato.

    2. I live south of Mercer, and north of Te Kauwhata, rurally. I drive to Hamilton and back twice a week and to Auckland 4-5 days per week, so sometimes it is a complete circuit of Hamilton/Auckland. I can assure you it would be much easier, and frequently quicker given the roadworks (through to 2020) not to drive to Pukekohe, and there isn’t any parking at Pukekohe anyway. The traffic going north stops at the Drury bridge from 5:45am onwards, and crawls from there. On a good day, it clears by 9am. ANY opportunity to get on a train, however slow it might be by international standards is better than driving. If I needed to change trains in South Auckland, that’s fine with me.

      1. Maybe carry it on to a big park and ride south of drury then? I just get the feeling that there aren’t many Hamilton city to Auckland city commuters to warrant a train service. If it was much quicker then maybe, but at over two hours each way I doubt it.

        1. Don’t forget there would be five or six stops in between. It’s not like the western line only depends on people who live in swanson and commute to downtown.

        2. Correct – but I imagine that for someone coming from ‘not Hamilton’ to ‘not Auckland’, it would normally be a lot cheaper and easier to drive – unless they happen to live and work near a train station which seems unlikely.

        3. Te Kauwhata for example would have many residents right next to the station. I suspect a lot of people who couldn’t afford to house themselves in Auckland would be living out in these places and they are more money poor than time poor.

        4. Build it and they will come. You could probably fund it on the increase in property values around the Waikato railway stations

        5. This is my neighbourhood, and I’m involved in several community groups, schools and sports clubs. In 10 minutes I came up with 90 – 95 people who work from Central Auckland back south to Takanini. There are 2,000 people in the village and surrounds, many of whom have one adult working in Hamilton and one in Auckland, which is why they live mid-way. I know, say, 20% of them, so the real number is much higher than what I’m quoting. Take out those who work in East Tamaki, who need to drive, and you are down to 88. I’ve had conversations with probably 30-40 over the last 5 years who would take a train to Newmarket, Britomart, Otahuhu, Penrose. Then add in the 500 households in Pokeno, already built, and the 400 to come. I see the same cars every morning. Fonterra moves around 120 cars north, and 100 cars south every day, with offices at Una St, Takanini (train station), 666 GSR Penrose (train station) and the CBD (train station). These aren’t farmers going to town, they are professionals who used to work in the UK, and took a train or the tube to work, but $700k bought them a brand new 4Bed,2 1/2 Bath house on a 1000sqm section, which they couldn’t afford in Auckland. There is a consented 2,400 house subdivision going into Te Kauwhata starting in 2018, with a 15 year build timeframe. Most of those people will be commuters, just as most of those in Pokeno are commuters. Stevenson Quarry Housing Development at Ramarama has been approved. More commuters.

        6. Thanks for that interesting anecdotal insight commuter. I can see why u have that user name. I think it would surprise some city people how much travel km wise rural & rural town citizens make for work etc

      2. Have you considered getting off at Drury and then going to Papakura Train Station via Sutton Rd (80km) and Opaheke Rd (one set of traffic lights)? You could even park in Drury and catch a bus (although I can’t imagine the frequency is any good).

    3. @jimbojones Yeah just like major cities around the world with a populated hinterland don’t get much of a take up on their rail services, eh?

  18. Fascinating comments here. Some of you are very knowledgeable on the technical details of train types and scheduling.
    I’d like to add a comment here that I believe is pivotal in any discussion surrounding public transport. Embedded within the NZ psyche and heavily amongst National Party supporters is the ideal of a free to use roading network. Enormous sums are being spent here in the Waikato bypassing the cities and towns, in what is effectively a colossal subsidy to trucking for moving freight. This suits the driving public, and little protest is raised.
    However, to the National Party, any expenditure on Rail is considered a subsidy and tantamount to reviving unionised labour. Hence the caution.
    All the commuter rail options proposed above would quickly come to fruition if a congestion toll were applied to inbound commuters to Auckland each day.
    The problem for National is that NZ drivers hate the idea of tolled roads. It could lose them valuable votes at the next election.
    Without a toll, any rail solution would only trim a bit of congestion. People would still choose to drive if the congestion it “wasn’t too bad”. Any investment in the rail network would then be under-utilised (after all rail has enormous people moving capability compared to cars) and then some would say “there, we spent the money, and no one uses it.”
    The solution is to lobby Government for congestion tolls.
    BTW, I occasionally commute to Auckland from Hamilton. It 3hrs to New Market, so the rail times being discussed with existing technology are on par, or an improvement. And I’d much rather be on my laptop or tablet in a train than playing bumper cars from Karaka.

  19. I don’t see anything happening whilst National is in government unless there is alot of pressure is placed on them to do something, as they are fixated on roads. At least Simon Bridges has called for a review of Kiwirail which could be a good or bad thing.

    What is needed is to have a close look at Kiwirail as a infrastructure and rail freight/passenger operator and that the national track/signalling infrastructure and train control operations are separate and based on a ‘cost recovery’ basis not for profit based entity where the infrastructure and train control is open to any operators who wants access to the national rail network for rail freight, passenger or freight/passenger services. The existing kiwirail become as a freight/passenger operator. Since AT and GWRC already own their passenger rolling stock, so their already two other rail passenger operators other then Kiwirail.

    With track/signalling and train control as an independent entity, a government would to make serious investment in the current national rail network to bring up to standard for the 21st century standards, by –

    a. constructing the third rail line in the Auckland urban region

    b. complete double tracking from Papakura to Hamilton line

    c. complete the electrification from Papakura to Hamilton and Tauranga and update power infrastructure and power supply from Hamilton to Palmerston North to same level as the Auckland network

    d. complete electrification from Palmerston North to Waikanae at 24K voltage and up upgrade the power supply from DC to AC for the Wellington electrified network, as the current Matangi’s have AC traction equipment and currently have DC to AC conversion allowing regular EMU passenger services between Wellington and Palmerston North as will as electrified freight and longe distance passenger services between Auckland and Wellington

    e. rebuild the the Gisborne to Napier rail line for either as Kiwirail or public/private operation

    By having standardised electrification from Auckland to Hamilton and Tauranga and with the completion of the City Rail Link, the third rail line and double tracking between Auckland and Hamilton there is no reason that some electric services between Auckland city and Pukekohe can not continue on to Hamilton and Tauranga when the 2 batch of EMU’s are delivered with some of them modified with toilet facilities for inter-regional use.

  20. I agree with what seems to be the consensus… the trains need to go faster, need an extra line and don’t need to go all the way to Britomart. In fact, I think a Pukekohe, Drury, Papakura, Puhinui, Otahuhu service would work. With the CRL, transferring at any of the latter three stops becomes viable and you stick in the former two to improve frequency for those stations. The Waikato stops can be hashed out by people more familiar with the area but I think eight stations feels about right (it’s about half the station length of the current Southern Line too).

    Actually a diesel operated stretch of Pukekohe, Papakura, Otahuhu could function as a build it they will come/normalisation process provided someone is willing to trade some expenditure for votes (anyone know such a politician?). You’d justify it as “well, they need this extra track anyway” and “reduces congestion” and “cheaper than a road you won’t use for a holiday you don’t make” and “we’re meant to be a first world country, right?”. Basically, just plonk down some tar-seal, some tag on posts and the track and voila the Waikato Connection line. If “no-one” used it then it gets a bit hairier, but it would definitely get patronage in the Auckland section so you can resort to the old lies, damned lies and (summary) statistics ploy.

  21. If electrification doesn’t happen, and diesels are banned from Britomart post-CRL, would there not be free platforms for terminating at Mt Eden or Newmarket? Mt Eden will certainly have the current platforms unused if the West Auckland–Newmarket service isn’t implemented. Both stations are reasonably central and are a quick transfer to inner-city stations.

  22. More as a question for the rail technologists.

    The rail electrification isn’t complete over parts of the North Island track network. It seems this creates complications for any commuter network that intends to reach Britomart.

    As I understand things, a diesel loco is simply a reciprocating conventional piston engine (24 cylinders) that turns a generator. The generator, in turn, drive electric motors in the wheels or ‘bogies?’, hence the term ‘diesel electric.’

    Is it not possible to fit the diesel locos with an additional converter to pick up the electric power from the overhead electric network when it is available?

    I’m sure I’m not the first to think of this. So does this make the loco too heavy or too long, or are the electrical incompatibles too great to make hybrid locomotives feasible. What is the issue here? Would it possible to make a special waggon that sits behind the diesel locomotive to be the ‘converter’ carriage to take advantage of the overhead electric network when available, i.e., heavy duty conductors go from the ‘converter’ carriage to the diesel electric and connect into the ‘diesel electric’s’ drive system at a compatible voltage and frequency.

    Interested to know.

    1. It is certainly possible to have what are called electro-diesel or bi-mode locos capable of operating both from an external electricity supply and autonomously from diesels – the New York Central had them before the war and the Poms since the 1960s. They’ve developed apace recently for passenger traffic, and most new intercity trains in the UK look as if they’re going to be bi-mode D/EMUs.

      Things aren’t moving quite so fast with locomotives, where typically power available in diesel mode is much less than in electric, with the diesel often being a last-mile donkey engine – but that will change.

      Naturally bi-mode locos are larger and heavier than diesels and straight electrics, because they’re a combination of the two (and therefore cost more, too). This is where it becomes a bit problematic for NZ because we have a small loading gauge and light axle loadings, so it’s that much harder here. Doubtless things will happen – for instance, the UK is already putting diesel engines into 25kV/750V bivoltage EMUs, so that could well become an option here – we have a similar structure gauge (as the ex-BR Mk2 stock demonstrates) and EMUs don’t max out on axle loadings (but we haven’t got surplus EMUs to convert).

      The future could well be interesting!

      1. A bi-mode loco would certainly solve the issue of an intercity train terminating at a Britomart platform. One of those new DL diesel electrics would be nice project to have fitted with pantograph and rectifier/controller electronics to allow 25kv ac operating. I shouldn’t think the additional weight of these would take the loading gauge outside acceptable limits. Some regearing too to get 130 or greater running speed as loco power is not an issue.

        1. Any extra weight would have absolutely no effect on the loading gauge, but since the DLs already have an axle loading of 18t, the norm for most of the NZ rail network, adding any extra weight at all (let alone lots of electrical gubbins – transformers aren’t light!) would rule them out as a loco with reasonable route availability, including from the electrified section of the NIMT.

          And running overweight locos at much higher speeds (DLs are limited to 80km/h) is a sure way of either wrecking the track or sending maintenance costs through the roof.

        2. DL’s are actually designed for 100kmph running. The track was in such bad condition in this country-even on our best routes-they had to reduce the maximum speed to 80kmph. Perhaps now it is in much better condition, KiwiRail could be convinced to review that.

          I can also imagine how much a step down transformer from 25kvac to 600kv would weigh quite right Mike. Keep in mind though, as far as I am aware, the only area that ISN’T 20 tonne axle loading on the Auckland to Tauranga route is within the kaimai tunnel which is currently being upgraded. Watch this space…. So quite possible a locomotive with six axles could be permitted to weigh 120 tonnes on that route. I wouldn’t be surprised if that still wasn’t enough for that type of hybrid locomotive.

        3. Thanks for that, SJC, but KR are pretty emphatic that the current limit for DLs is 80km/h, and it’s not easy to see why it would be worth running them faster – that’s the maximum speed for freight trains, and DLs are freight-only locos.

          Agreed about the 20t Auckland-Tauranga axle loading, but as I understand it that is the only 20t route in the country. Having locos that could work on just one route is precisely one of the reasons given for shuttering the NIMT electrification!

        4. Use of transformers for stepping down voltage is nowvery old technology. Modern electronic converters are much more lightweight, compact and efficient. Although unlikely to ever happen the weight of pantograph system and ac-ac or ac-dc converters would be insignificant when added to a DL.
          Althought it would be an interesting project if some of that govt R&D funding was available and one of the unused DLs made available.
          Regearing the traction motors on a DL for higher speed would make it good for a passenger service running 130k+

        5. A 3MW transformerless 25kV AC to 600 V DC converter for use on a locomotive? I think not.


          ABB have produced a demonstration electric loco using a medium frequency transformer to reduce the mass and volume but some of the attraction of that approach stems from the 15 kV 16.7 Hz system in use in Switzerland, Germany and Austria. They are starting from a low base frequency cf. a 50 Hz system and as a result have heavier transformers for the same power rating.

          Transformers may be old tech but they are still used at high voltages because they are reliable and offer full galvanic isolation. To my knowledge there are no transformerless 25 kV locomotives in regular operation anywhere in the world (or substations for that matter).

        6. Ok, I must have missed where the large heavy transformer is located that converts 25kv ac to the lower driving voltage for the traction motors in the CAF emus in use in Auckland. 1.5mW
          Where is it? Under the floor of the AMP or perhaps squeezed into that roofspace of the AMP or in the driving cab?

        7. DD: some points.

          1. The EMUs are designed to incorporate transformers, the DLs aren’t.
          2. For the DLs, no extra weight is possible; for the EMUs there’s no extra weight required (and passenger vehicles are lighter than freight anyway).
          3. The weight of all the equipment in a DL is carried on six axles, on an EMU (with half the power) it’s spread over 12 axles.


        8. More from ABB:


          Note the mass and dimensions for EMU transformers as well as the mounting options.

          Based on my experience with 33 kV industrial transformers I estimate that a 50 Hz transformer suitable for a DL would be around 4-5 tonnes. As well as finding the space for it consideration would need to be given to the routing of the 25 kV bus bars or cables to the transformer. Underfloor is out of the question; no room, adjacent to a large tank of diesel and routing of the 25 kV would be infeasible. Rooftop? Structurally unfeasible given the road-switcher configuration of the DL. The only realistic option would be a transformer mounted to the frame rails and that would involve lengthening the frame with the attendant issues of further mass increase and distribution thereof. Other issues to be addressed would be provision of filters and switchgear, new control software etc, etc.

          Less costly to buy a new one, assuming that a machine of the same power output can meet an 18 tonne maximum axle load. Maybe an 8 axle articulated unit.

        9. Altering the layout of a DL diesel powered locomotive to act as a hybrid to include a pantograph and on board step down transformer seems pointless to me. It sounds very costly, and defeats any purpose of doing so. All the on board electronics would most likely have to be removed and replaced as well.

          BUT, there is always ways around these types of situations. I know GE looked into wagon/s attaches behind their locomotives electrically connected to the locomotive which housed batteries/capacitors. That while the locomotive was engaged in dynamic braking, instead of electricity generated being burnt off through resistor grids, it is directed to the batteries/capacitors in the attached wagon/s. When dynamic brake is disengaged and power reapplied, the locomotive would source power for the traction motors from this wagon/s until a point where suitable power was no longer available and the diesel engine would then start generating power once again(all the time the diesel engine has been in idle for safety reasons).

          Now has anyone considered fitting wagon/s of this type with an on board transformer and pantograph to a locomotive? Surley this type of modification would far more simple.

          DL’s are designed for 100kmph running. They are just limited to 80kmph until the big bosses say so(mods have been done since introduction to elminate faults) If I had a choice between running a DC/DX (which are rated for 100kmph in most instances) and a DL, I would definitely opt for a DL. They are far more smoother riding. Although, I would personally prefer an even smoother riding GM DFT/B.

        10. “Now has anyone considered fitting wagon/s of this type with an on board transformer and pantograph to a locomotive? Surley this type of modification would far more simple.”

          Considered and rejected. Every time a direction change (of anything more than a few hundred metres) was required the locomotive would have to be run round the special wagon so that a cab was leading. This would not be a simple disconnection of coupling and brake hoses but would involve 5000A 600V DC traction motor cables. That’s not a plug and socket connection.

        11. Thanks for the all the comments. I’ve had to do a bit of googling on EMU vs DLs etc.

          I came across BEMU. They apparently have a range of 300 to 600km. That seems well within a Hamilton to Auckland passenger service.


          And if pantgraph was included, part of the journey would be on the 24kV system

          All electric sounds pretty cool, and keeping up with Tesla motors

        12. Battery EMUs are an interesting idea. But if you are going to the trouble of ordering new trains I imagine you’d simply use a tried and tested dual mode unit that can run on overhead electricity or onboard diesel power. It would no doubt be cheaper to buy and cheaper, and more reliable, to run. There are maybe a dozen such models available on the market, so you’d certainly get a better deal than some bespoke test system.

          Then you’d have a lot of flexibility, you could run the same fleet to Tauranga, Wellington, well anywhere in NZ actually.

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