As a train user, the last three days have certainly been challenging following the derailment of a train in the Britomart Tunnel. The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) have opened an investigation into the incident, but based on other cases, it is likely to take more than a year to find out the cause.
The incident is obviously one of those that no one would have expected to happen, and especially not the length and scale of disruption that has occurred. I think Auckland Transport have coped with the impact better than they have with issues in the past but there are still a few areas I think are worth highlighting.
Comms Comms Comms
Whenever there is a disruption on the network, one of the first things that seems to go out the window is communications. A good example of this is that Auckland Transport have been telling people that services are running every 20 minutes but not saying which 20 minutes the services are running to. As such, you could turn up to a station and find yourself waiting for 5 minutes or 15. To make matters worse, right at the time you need them the most, the real-time boards are blank and ATs app just shows all originally services, not only those running. It seems AT need to build more flexibility into their systems to allow rapid changes.
What about the Network
When unexpected disruptions occur there is understandably little time available to implement contingency measures. ATs standard response is usually just to say that buses will accept HOP cards and then leave passengers to find their own solution. Sometimes they might even send people to their awful journey planner. All of these responses aren’t great.
I believe Auckland Transport need to be doing more to talk about the power of their network so that when disruptions occur, more passengers are likely to understand their options. That could not only help people get around faster but also take pressure off disrupted services.
This is where simple network maps can come in really handy, assuming they’re easily available from ATs website, apps and stations. I can understand if AT are waiting for the New Network to finally be rolled out first but it is something that’s needed.
As an example, trains are running at reduced frequencies and western line trains are terminating at Newmarket, from where passengers can squeeze on equally infrequent Southern line services for the final leg to Britomart. But that isn’t the only option AT could have talked about. One alternative is to get off at Mt Eden and transfer to a bus. That section of Mt Eden Rd sees all of the Mt Eden Rd and most of the Dominion Rd buses driving past so there’s never one far away.
I, along with a lot of others, did exactly this yesterday and a bus turned up within 30 seconds of me exiting the station. I probably ended up in town faster than had I stayed on the train. Many more could have benefited from this if they had a better understanding of the PT network (and the same in reverse too). Although there is a bit of a risk with this as Mt Eden Rd buses are often very full. Today two passed me (including a double decker) without any space onboard. This perhaps highlights one of the challenges with our PT network, with so many years of being squeezed it has very little capacity available to deal with disruption.
As an aside, in the debate about whether to retain train managers, one thing I think would help their cause would be if they actually had detailed knowledge of the PT network they could share with passengers. For example knowing the location of the nearest bus stops and services to catch in the event the network is shut down or heavily disrupted.
Auckland Transport are going to need some good contingency plans post-CRL
As we increasingly rely on rail to move more people around, AT and its partners are going to need much better contingency plans for when situations occur. Derailing is rare but signal, points or train failures, along with health and safety issues, are much more common and need to be worked around.
Finally, disruptions are a good example of why it’s useful to have multiple options and not just an overreliance on one mode, be it car, bus, rail or light rail.