This is part three of my series that looks at how we can improve Wellington’s rail network.
- In Part 1 I summarised the network and recent upgrades to it.
- In Part 2 I looked at some of the upgrades likely to be progressed in the near future and the need to improve the Wairarapa line.
In today’s post, we will look at a few more ways we can improve the Wellington rail network.
Improving Cycle/Walking Connections
This is a no-brainer, improving safe quality links to/from the stations increases the catchment of the network for very little money in the grand scheme of things. Safe and abundant bike parking at stations like in the Netherlands is a must, as is working with the private sector or rolling out an in-house bike share programme.
Moving from a Suburban Railway System to a Metro System
The Wellington Regional Rail Plan 2010-2035 shows a large amount of tension if the Wellington rail network is a suburban or a metro network, in the end settling for a compromise preferred pathway where the inner network is considered metro while the outer suburban.
This compromise results in a weird timetabled system that, for the sake of maybe a few minutes savings for the outer network, is:
- Not intuitive to passengers and creates unnecessary confusion;
- Doesn’t maximise train loadings all at the expense of reliability and the inner network;
- Reduces the frequency of the network both the inner and outer;
- Reduces the reliability of the network as more complicated movements means more room for error;
All very confusing, luckily so far this is something we have managed to avoid in Auckland though the mention of investigating of more limited stops services has me concerned. The other difference Auckland plans to have in the future four tracks from Westfield – Papakura making expresses a much easier proposition.
From a network perspective, it would make more sense to procure new or decent second hand DMU’s fit for regional travel for the Capital Connection and Wairarapa Lines then truncate them on the outer part of the metro network. You could then run frequent shuttle services all day while freeing up space for a clockface frequent all stops metro network.
The time savings lost from losing an express service can be made up with an increase in frequency and reliability.
The Melling Line
The Melling line is very odd and I am not sure what it really is serving as there is not much walking catchment. If you only have a certain amount of free train capacity slots on the inner network it seems a little wasteful in my opinion. The solution here would be to build a turnback at Petone and instead of running an infrequent service to the city run a super frequent shuttle back and forward between Melling and Petone.
Extending the Hutt Line
It may also be worth investigating whether to extend the Hutt line extending electrification/double tracking by one or two stations adding stations at Maoribank and/or Clouston Park.
If the stations are feasible but the double tracking and electrification are not then they could become part of the Wairarapa line.
Removing Level Crossings
Looking at having a level crossing removal programme like Auckland could also be useful.
The Capital Connection
The Capital Connection is a once-daily return service running from Palmerston North – Wellington. Being only once a day makes it hard to rely on as if you miss it you are in trouble, also it means it can get very crowded.
A recent business case showed
The line would have a benefit-cost ratio of 9.4, meaning every dollar invested would create $9.40 in benefits.
It may also be worth investigating if the service should start at Feilding not far from Palmerston North where the station is right in the heart of the town rather than Palmerston North, adding a few more passing loops for increased frequency as well as completing the Otaki deviation fixing the windy alignment of that section. The latter two upgrades also benefit KiwiRail’s freight operations.
Like the Wairarapa line, the Capital Connection with increased frequency would create the opportunity to better connect with more frequent regional bus services from towns such as Foxton, which are not on the rail line but close to neighbouring towns as well the Capital Connection.
As mentioned before procuring some new or decent second hand DMU’s fit for regional travel alongside some network upgrades would be ideal for this route. The service could bounce back between Feilding and the outer metro network making the service much more reliable, amenable and useful.
If the Capital Connection became frequent enough the increased service could be an alternative to extending the electrification and metro network to Otaki which was estimated between $50m – $60m not including additional rolling stock.
Looking at Improved Signalling
At current Wellington operates on an older system to Auckland where we operate a system which is European Train Control System Level 1 compliant. There are a few advantages to having ETCS:
- Increased headways allowing a potential 24 trains per hour per direction;
- Full bi-directional signalling giving resilience and capacity at key points;
- Automatic train protection protecting trains from overspeed and signals passed at danger risk the latter which happened in 2016.
KiwiRail estimates installing ETCS Level 1 would be around $175 – 200 million. The real issue is why there are huge advantages to having automatic train protection, Wellington doesn’t have the same capacity constraints headway wise or junction wise that can’t be fixed really cheaply. For example, adding a fourth track in the Wellington station approach yards reducing conflicts, or clearer signals.
Bi-directional movement would be useful but its more a nice to have than needed. There are also other ways to address some of the safety concerns but this should be thought about for the medium-long term.
So a few ideas to improve the Wellington rail network what do you think?