Our electric trains have been fantastic and successful addition to the city.
More successful than officials predicted, helping to drive ridership on trains to double in four years to 20 million trips annually. They’ve been so successful that many services now have capacity constraints.
Last year the council approved funding to buy 15 more trains to help cope with the growth we’ve seen and enable more. When combined with the 57 trains we already have they will enable all services, with the exception of the Onehunga Line, to run as 6-car trains.
While our electric trains have been a vast improvement on what we had before, they’re far from perfect. For example, our trains have horrendous dwell times. Some of that is how they’re operated but some is to do with the trains themselves. It takes about 7 seconds from the time the train stops for the doors to open, even longer in the middle trailer car where there is a wait for the step to extend. There are similar issues at the other end of the process too after all doors are closed before the train can start moving off.
Months ago, when I’d asked Auckland Transport if these new trains would see any improvements they told me they were still going through a design review process. So I asked again and below is the response I got.
We have reviewed many possible changes but at the end of the process there will be very few changes.
A key driver has been to maintain fleet standardisation – across 72 EMUs if possible. So, any changes really need to be retrofitable (if there is such a word)
- Improving station dwells is top of the list – we aim for approx. 1 minute saving per trip.
- Reducing brake squeal when coming to stop is also a priority.
- For the CRL – to improve fire rating as reasonably practicable, we are removing the soft / carpet flooring from the M-cars in favour of hard / lino – like the T-car.
- The traction converter and main circuit breaker control will be upgraded for post CRL operations.
- Train to ground communications and passenger WiFi will be latest technology.
- USB charging is not on the list – not cheap to install or maintain, and journey lengths on average are not long.
I’m surprised they’re only aiming for 1 minute of saving per trip. My observations, which includes timing stops, are that there appears to be 20-30 seconds of fat in the dwell times that could be cut. Even saving 10 seconds per station would speed journeys by 1.5 to 2.5 minutes depending on the line (not including Onehunga).
I had specifically asked about USB charging as I know some are interested in them and so I’m also surprised that it is not on the list. That’s because AT have made it a requirement for new buses to improve the customer experience. It especially seems odd given bus journeys are generally a lot shorter than rail journeys and yet I now commonly see people using the chargers on buses. This appears to be another case where one team are working in a silo and not looking at what other parts of the organisation are doing.
Finally, I wonder what the actual value of standardisation is over incremental improvement. We know that we we’ll need another batch of trains in 5-10 years following the opening of the CRL. Will those trains havqe to follow the design of the current ones too? AT also we’re planning on major changes by adding batteries so the standardisation argument feels a little hollow.