Back in July, the council was pushed by Auckland Transport to make an urgent decision to approve additional funding to buy much needed new trains. Primarily this was to provide additional capacity on the network by enabling all trains (except Onehunga ones) to be able to run as six-car sets. However, at the same time AT wanted to address the issue of the Pukekohe diesel shuttle. With full electrification not expected till at least 2025 they looked at the option of battery powered trains. A few more of which would be needed to also serve Pukekohe.
Below are the options the presented to the council with Option A assuming diesel shuttles would continue to provide service to Pukekohe.
To address the problems and opportunities, AT shortlisted two main options utilising the Better Business Case methodology, one of which has two variants. The options are:
- Option A: purchase 15 three-car EMUs at $133 million
- Option B: purchase 17 three-car IPEMUs
- with CAF (supplier of the current EMUs) batteries at $207 million, or
- with Korean (LG) batteries at $174 million.
Option B, the CAF supplied battery option, was recommended and approved by the council but with a caveat that the NZTA commit to funding at least 50% (and AT find an additional $50m from their capital budget).
Just a month or so later and with the election in full swing, both major and most minor parties said they supported electrification sooner. This was not an unexpected position given the noises that they had been making earlier. The NZTA have leaped on that and stopped the battery option. Here’s what an update to the Council’s Finance Committee (10mb) says:
Change to the purchase of additional trains for Metro Rail
- In July, this committee approved in principle the procurement of 17 three-car Independently Powered Electric Multiple Units (IPEMUs) at $207 million to meet forecast patronage growth from 2019, subject to equal share of the cost by the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA). The resolutions are in Attachment A.
- A key consideration for the IPEMUs over the standard Electric Multiple Units (EMUs) as the base case option was the ability to operate IPEMUs in the un-electrified network between Pukekohe and Papakura, based on the assumed date of electrification to Pukekohe of 2027/2028.
- Subsequent to the council’s decision and just prior to the intended confirmation to proceed by the NZTA board, the government announced its intended funding of electrification from Papakura to Pukekohe. The NZTA board therefore considered that it could not approve the 17 IPEMUs purchase if early electrification would provide a similar service level with the lower cost EMUs.
- Consequently, it only approved the base case of 15 EMUs (Attachment B), for the network requirements with recognition the matter may be readdressed when there was more clarity on electrification timing and its impact on the business case. This is anticipated to occur before 15 December 2017
- The EMU option required less capital at $133 million. NZTA agreed to fund 51 per cent of the total cost, a share of $67.8 million, and the remaining $ 65.2 million is required from Auckland Council.
- AT is seeking the approval from this committee to progress with the base case option of purchasing 15 EMUs in the interim to ensure an order can be placed with CAF (supplier of the current EMUs) in order to ensure the delivery of the rolling stock in 2019. CAF has agreed to a variation by 15 December with no impact on delivery time.
Here’s the NZTA letter to AT informing them of the decision. Of note they say they’ll reconsider the battery option “if this is warranted following further investigation of the Pukekhoke electrification and subsequent Government decisions”.
Below are couple of thoughts on all of this.
- It felt at the time that AT were rushing this decision when it had already seemed likely electrification would become an election issue.
- It’s not clear what the timeframes are for the “further investigation” mentioned by the NZTA. There’s a risk that all of the noises during the election were just normal political noise and that the wires still won’t be strung up any faster. By the time that could become apparent it might be too late to change the order to battery trains thus delaying much needed improvements in service.
- The NZTA decision was made in August, before the election, I can’t help but wonder if they were looking for any reason not to go with the battery option – or more likely to not have to spend as much.
- Ultimately I think that not going for the battery trains will end up better. Normal EMUs can be delivered and made operational faster and some of the extra touted ‘features’, such as being able to run on the western line during CRL works, were overblown by AT.
- We’re ultimately going to need a lot more trains in the future once the CRL opens. Perhaps the money saved on buying normal trains will make that easier in the future too.