The new Government has committed to at least the first stage Regional Rapid Rail which is great. In my previous post I discussed how it may be better to accelerate the programme incorporating parts of Stage 2 in 1. In this post, I am going to discuss important traps we must not fall into.
Frequency and Span are Freedom – End the Hunt for the Great White Commuter.
One of the important traps we must not fall into when doing Regional Rapid Rail is to think about commuters only. If we provide one train to Auckland in the morning and one train back to e.g. Hamilton the scheme will find it much harder to work for many reasons:
- It’s hard to base travel on a single service or even two as its pretty risky if you miss it. Decent frequency makes the service much more viable to people;
- This isn’t just about Auckland it’s about Regional Development as well. People need to be able to travel to Hamilton etc. Therefore we need “counterpeak” services;
- The demand isn’t just commuters, in fact, research from previous reports on a Hamilton – Auckland rail service show commuting only makes up a small part of potential demand for the service
Just as with the principles of the New Network providing a decent frequency as well as the span of service is integral. This cannot just be a single train in the morning and evening if it is to be a great service lets learn from the success of recent PT improvements in Auckland.
Don’t Rush – There is Time to Get this Right
This is another trap we should try not to fall into. The idea is popular and everyone wants to hit the ground running but taking a little time to make sure we get the service right will make a huge difference in the service giving us time to
- Sort out the Third Main in Auckland so the service doesn’t get stuck in or add to the congested section between Westfield-Wiri;
- Have a really good think about the rolling stock. Can we get something great second hand overseas, or is there something much better than the Silver Ferns as proposed originally?;
- Have KiwiRail do any upgrades they need to do between Papakura and Hamilton, including potentially the Whangamarino Deviation;
- Making sure that the future upgraded Puhinui Station integrates well with the service.
This doesn’t mean delaying starting the service for five years or so, but giving it a little extra time to really improve reliability nd get those travel times below two hours, which I think is crucial to making it a success.
Commit Long Term – This is About Regional Development
While having a train between Hamilton and Auckland is cool and will be really useful we cannot forget the real goal behind Regional Rapid Rail is to enable Regional Development across the Golden Triangle.
If the Government only commits to a small trial for a short period with a “we will see” approach then Councils, Developers, and People cannot make long-term plans to develop around Regional Rapid Rail. It would be risky to buy a home in Huntly if the service could be cancelled in 2 years time. This doesn’t mean the Government needs to commit to Stage 3 just that it won’t cut the service in the foreseeable future. It also means Regional Rapid Rail shouldn’t be judged on simple financials as it’s an investment that allows a step change in long term regional thinking.
Not falling into these traps will go a long way to making sure Regional Rapid Rail is a long term successful investment for New Zealand.