This is a guest post by tireless Christchurch based housing and urban from advocate Brendon Harre

What is the Future of Battery Trains in New Zealand?

This essay shows that electric battery trams/trains have a surprisingly long history in New Zealand and could be successfully again.

It would benefit the country to allocate some low emission vehicle research funding for this new rail transport technology.

Currently this sort of research funding in New Zealand is not used for low emission rail vehicles.

In the medium to long term electric battery railcars could benefit lots of regions in New Zealand. Its lower capital costs could help get commuter rail back for Greater Christchurch. Perhaps other regions too? Napier to Hastings? Tauranga to Mt Maunganui to Papamoa to Te Puke? Picton to Blenheim?

A view down Gladstone Road Gisborne, shows a battery driven tram, shortly before the system closed. Taken by Sydney Charles Smith, ca 1929.

A close examination of New Zealand’s public transport history indicates battery powered trains could have a good future in New Zealand.

New Zealand’s first battery powered public transport vehicles were used in Gisborne. Several trams which ran on battery power rather than a reticulated supply of electricity were purchased following the town’s Mayor personally meeting Thomas Edison. The trams were in service from 1913 to 1929. Unfortunately this experiment with battery powered public transport was unsuccessful due to financial constraints. The capital outlay of the imported trams was too expensive for a small town such as Gisborne to sustain. H/T @honpeterdunne

New Zealand’s second electric battery operated public transport service was a railcar that ran from Christchurch to Little River between 1926 and 1934. At the time the service was popular and financially viable. A depot fire ended this experiment in public transport. The Great Depression meant the railcar wasn’t replaced.

NZR RM class (Edison battery-electric)

Christchurch’s electric battery railcar weighed 32 tonnes with driving controls at each end. The engine output of 90 kW meant it travelled comfortably at 60 km/h. Capable of carrying about 70 passengers, the railcar had a range of about 160 km on one battery (charge). The trams used imported Edison nickel-iron batteries.

Approximate route of Christchurch to Little River railway. A cycleway now uses some of the old track bed.

The battery railcar covered the 58 km, 12 stop journey between Christchurch and Little River in 1 hour and 7 minutes at an average speed of 48 km/h. The railcar was popular with passengers and drivers due to its quietness and smooth acceleration. The elevated track and height of the railcar meant passengers enjoyed a good view over the flat Canterbury plains.

Side-on Canterbury’s battery railcars looked like a passenger carriage, but each end resembled the front of a tram from that era. The body was built by Boon & Stevens, the noted tram-car builders of Christchurch.

In the 1920’s and 1930’s Christchurch had an extensive tram network, so it isn’t surprising that local businesses built a railcar that had tram features.

Canterbury was ideal for experimentation with electric battery powered trains because of its flat terrain. In my opinion not continuing this experiment was a missed opportunity for New Zealand.

Elsewhere in the world experimentation continued. Between 1955 and 1995 Deutsche Bahn Railways successfully operated more powerful (over 300 kW) trains using lead-acid batteries. The German electric battery trains had a top speed of 100km/h and were very popular with passengers and drivers. Trains had nicknames, such as, Battery LightningBattery Acid BombersSocket InterCitys and Pocket Torch Express.

Currently New Zealand is experimenting with electric battery powered buses using powerful lithium ion battery technology.

In 2017 NZ Bus began a three month trial of Chinese BYD electric buses in Auckland and Wellington.

BYD K9A bus running in Guangzhou

BYD K9 buses are powered by LiFePO4 batteries. The maximum power output is 90 kW. The bus weighs about 18 tonne, has a top speed of 96 km/h and a range of about 250 km.

Wellington has very recently introduced electric double decker buses run by bus company Tranzit. The buses were built by Kiwi Bus Builders in Tauranga, with the batteries provided by global company Microvast and the chassis coming from China-based company TEG.

Christchurch will roll out three electric buses for the airport to city route from March 2019. The Christchurch electric buses will only need to be charged once per day.

The Low-Emission Vehicles Contestable Fund has been supporting the increase in electric vehicles in New Zealand. This fund has helped various bus companies, such as, Tranzit undertake research on applying electric battery technology to their bus fleets.

The fund provides up to $7 million per year to co-fund up to 50% of project costs with private and public sector partners in areas where commercial returns aren’t yet strong enough to justify full private investment.

Canterbury’s planned transition to emission-free vehicles for its public transport fleet as outlined in the draft Canterbury Regional Public Transport Plan. Reported in a Stuff.co.nz article titled — Sweeping changes to Christchurch bus services a step closer

This funding is encouraging a fast uptake of electric battery technology for the public transport industry.

Unfortunately given current funding arrangements, Canterbury or other interested areas will not see a renewal of battery railcar experimentation with assistance from the Low Emission Vehicles Contestable Fund, as rail vehicles are currently outside the fund’s scope. The fund being limited to supporting road electric vehicles and is especially focused on heavy commercial vehicles.

Ninety years ago, New Zealand used off-the-shelf technology to build a successful electric battery railcar. Now that battery technology has improved I wonder if New Zealand should continue the experiment?

Could electric battery railcars use the same off-the-shelf technology as EV buses?

Soon there will be thousands of high powered electric battery and motor units designed for buses and trucks. There will also be many fast electric battery charging units designed for high demand services, such as, bus fleets and commercial freight operators.

Could electric battery railcars piggyback on these technological advances?

Will electric battery technology be the lowest capital cost option for restarting commuter rail services in less populated places like Canterbury?

Electrifying tracks is very expensive. It would cost over $200 million to electrify all of Greater Christchurch’s suburban and satellite town train tracks for instance.

Would electric battery technology be the best way to start a combined passenger rail and EV bus rapid transit service for Greater Christchurch?

If a whole rapid transit system in a metropolitan area used the same battery technology would that be the lowest economies of scale option?

I am no engineer or train nerd (or EV nerd). I suspect though, that like electric buses some experimentation is required to answer these kinds of questions.

Other countries have recently started experimenting with electric battery trains.

The flexible SunMan solar panels lining the carriage roofs produce energy that is stored a 77 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery system, which can also charge up between trips via a 30 kW solar array at the main station. The battery bank has around the same capacity as a Tesla Model S, according to RenewEconomy, and can make 12 to 15 runs off one charge as it only takes the solar train around four kWh for each leg of the trip

Byron Bay has a solar powered battery electric train run by a non-profit organisation. Initially they planned to simply refurbish a 1949 600 Class Rail Motor Train using the original diesel engines. Advances in technology meant electric batteries and solar power was the better option.

1949–600 Class Rail Motor Train

The solar powered train in Byron Bay only travels a short distance of 3km and is not fast. The train is underpowered at 77kW compared to 90kW for Canterbury’s historic railcar and over 300kW for Germany’s successful battery powered trains. The original diesel engine 600 Class trains had a top speed of 100km/hr and a power output of 246 kW.

The whole Byron Bay train system cost just a few million dollars which also included renovating the track and building two train stations. The unsubsidised scheme appears financially viable with a decent amount of passenger use. Extending the track and boosting train power is possible, especially if government funding and cooperation can be accessed.

Japan has introduced a number of electric battery trains since it first tested the concept in 2009. The country has found that battery-powered trains are a cost-effective, eco-friendly alternative to diesel trains for many rural lines that do not have electrified tracks.

Test Electrostar Train converted to run on batteries and overhead wires

In Britain, in 2015, a month long trial of a Electrostar train using electric lithium batteries was conducted. The train was able to travel up to 97 km on energy stored in the batteries. It recharged the batteries via overhead-wires when on electrified sections of the line, at stations and via brake regeneration.

On the back of this successful trial and with the improvement in battery technology Mark Carne the Chief Executive of Network Rail in 2017 stated:

“The idea that you need to electrify an entire route is no longer necessarily the case… technology is advancing at such a pace that better reliability could be achieved without the construction of unsightly overhead cables.”

Mark Carne added that development in batteries is such that it might soon be cost effective to swap diesel engines for battery or hybrid devices, therefore saving the vast cost of installing power lines above every section of track.

Auckland Transport recently considered buying electric battery trains as they didn’t want to continue to run diesel trains to Pukekohe south of Auckland. The estimated cost to extend electrification the 36 km to Pukekohe was more than $100 million. In the end the Government and Auckland Transport decided that full track electrification rather than adding some battery electric trains to Auckland’s train fleet was the best option for a city the size of Auckland.

For the less populated parts of New Zealand perhaps the time has come to restart experimentation on battery powered railcars -it could be brilliant!

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108 comments

    1. Graeme the important technology is BYD from China in an Alex Dennis designed box; its a joint venture. And pretty sure they’re made in China, but not certain about that. Certainly the electric heart of the things are.

  1. There are increasing opportunities for bi-mode electric systems ideal for intercity services out of Auckland and Wellington as a way to extend the love of our renewable electricity further into the transport sector:

    Here’s a hydrogen option about to enter revenue service in Germany from Alstom:

    http://www.railjournal.com/index.php/rolling-stock/alstoms-ilint-hydrogen-train-certified-for-operation-in-germany.html

    And Stadler’s handsome Flirt would be great to see in a battery/overhead bi-mode variant between AKL and HAM:

    https://www.railwaygazette.com/news/traction-rolling-stock/single-view/view/greater-anglia-electro-diesels-under-construction.html

  2. A couple of minor corrections:
    – the German railbuses were operated by Deutsche Bundesbahn (Duetsche Bahn is a post-unification amalgamation of the eastern Deutsche Reichsbahn and the western Deutsche Bundesbahn);
    – the photo captioned “Test Electrostar Train converted to run on batteries and overhead wires” is actually of a standard non-battery class 379. A photo and details of 379013, the unit temporarily converted to battery operation and suitably branded, are at https://www.railway-technology.com/projects/independently-powered-electric-multiple-unit-ipemu-essex/.

    And an addition:
    – Wellington trolleybus 361 has been converted to battery operation, and generally operates on Airport-Wellington Station short workings of the 91 Airport Flyer: a photo is at http://www.revoltwellington.co.nz/facts. (Trolleybus 362, the Wrightspeed hybrid conversion, seems to have disappeared without trace.)

      1. Mike – how can 362 have just disappeared? There must be someone who knows what happened to it – GWRC, or Wrightspeed, or NZBus. It can’t just be sitting in a shed gathering dust. Surely someone has it up on blocks, tooling away beneath it, to get it to work?

        1. Indeed, someone must know, but no-one appears to be saying. The last public comment that I’m aware of was from regional councillor & deputy chair of the GWRC Sustainable Transport Committee Daran Ponter on Nine to Noon on Radio NZ National the other week, who described Wrightspeed as a “dud”.

          Given that NZ Bus has apparently successfully converted another trolley, I suspect that Wrightspeed is something that all parties would rather forget. A good lesson in the old adage, that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

          1. GK – A agree with you. 362 is possibly stored at NZ Bus Newlands or Kilbirnie depots waiting to be converted to battery operation once 361 trails have been completed.

  3. I had a direct question via email asking;

    “Charging infrastructure is a cost, and in Auckland a problem as we don’t own the depots. Does Christchurch?”

    I don’t have the answer does anyone know?

    1. Christchurch: Assume that Red Bus depots are CCC owned, but not the others.

      Is depot ownership a problem? GW doesn’t own any of the Wellington depots that have/will be fitted with overnight charging equipment. NZ Bus have got EECA grant money to part fund charging equipment at Kilbirnie and Karori & I think Tranzit/Trazurban did too for Rongotai (& on street opportunity fast chargers at Island Bay & Wellington Rail).

        1. As I said: “on street opportunity fast charger at Island Bay”

          There is a second one waiting to be installed at Wellington Rail bus interchange

  4. Just to note here that steel wheels on steel rails are much more efficient than rubber wheels on the road.
    And second note that the advantage of tracks is a congestion free network is possible, whereas anything using the road is always going to be subject to congestion: electric buses unless they are on busways are always going to be held up by other traffic.
    Lastly battery electric trains were the most efficient ion terms of Mj/passenger – km found by research in the book “Time to Eat the Dog?” by Robert and Brenda Vale 2009 at 0.04Mj/passenger-km for the so called Limburg Cigar battery railcar if it was using renewable energy to provide the electricity and it was full of passengers (figures include embodied energy)
    Comparable figures are:
    Intercity 125 Diesel train 0.50 MJ/pkm
    Intercity 225 electric train 0.52 MJ/pkm (difference from above perhaps in overhead line embodied energy)

    1. Difference between IC125 diesel and IC225 electric is more likely to be speed than “embodied energy” expended as a one-off in creating the overhead lines. The IC225 at 225Km/h can be expected to consume 25% more energy than the IC125 at 200Km/h.

      By contrast, speeds on the German ‘Aar Valley Railway’ where the “Limburg Cigars” operated would have been much lower, resulting in much, much lower energy requirement.

      The reality is that high-speed tends to be high-cost in energy terms.

      1. Service speed of both was the same: 125 mph (201 km/h).

        Required upgrades for 225 km/h (140 mph) regular service (as opposed to test/trial) were never completed …

          1. Yes – I can confirm what gk says. I think that what stops IC225s achieving that speed are signal spacings and braking distances, not speed per se. (IC125s have the same braking distances at 125mph as conventional trains at 100mph, so no issue there.)

  5. Not a single mention of green pros and cons. Which is greener, making batteries and discarding them every ?x? years at end of life? Or burning diesel and turning it into exhaust fumes?

    1. Above comment is meant to address buses. What about the green pros and cons of battery discardment versus long-life 25kV EMU when applied to trains?

    2. I think fairly sustainable super capacitors will come along soon enough which will negate any need for batteries in applications where you dont need long term power storage. They will revolutionize the renewable energy market.

  6. Great stuff Brendon. Low/zero emissions is becoming a more and more important reason for PT and it’s important trains can offer this, which they currently they can’t in most of NZ (including Christchurch). If batteries could change this then it seems they could be really important in whether trains are seen as a step forward or a step back.

  7. There’s an inaccuracy in the article:

    “The solar powered train in Byron Bay only travels a short distance of 3km and is not fast. The train is underpowered at 77kW compared to 90kW for Canterbury’s historic railcar and over 300kW for Germany’s successful battery powered trains. The original diesel engine 600 Class trains had a top speed of 100km/hr and a power output of 246 kW.”

    The power rating of the Byron Bay Solar Train electric drive system is actually >280kW. The capacity of the battery bank is 77kWh and the train can easily travel at 70km/h. Being a short distance, the driver’s operate at a lower speed to make it a more enjoyable journey

    1. 77kwH battery bank, that’s 77kw for one hour so if electric motors are 280kw then that’s likely less than 10 minutes usage at full power.
      Good job it’s a short 3km line, probably perfectly flat and the train runs slowly
      Those roof mounted flexible pv panels may just be necessary to get a couple of extra amps available for dying batteries. Maybe the train only runs on bright sunny days 🙂

      1. The power rating of 280KW will be the maximum the system can deliver – i.e. full power. You would only need this briefly when accelerating hard or when climbing a steep grade with a heavy load. The average power to keep this low-speed train tootling along would be far less.

    1. And does the problem arise often enough to pose a real risk, or is it that the real stuff must be used during training procedures?

    2. You mean “water”? right.
      As Lithium based batteries are self-oxidisers no special foam will be of much use to “put out a fire” in the way you can for say a petrol or oil based one.

      And modern Lithium batteries from reputable countries and manufacturers are designed so they don’t spontaneously combust. And they battery pack design limits the spread.

      Unlike a tank of diesel – when its punctured the stuff runs everywhere, so self control at all.

  8. So we have units which are powered by 1500 volts DC which comes from either a battery or overhead or a diesel motor and generator or any combination of the above that you would like. For 25,000 volts you have a transformer and a rectifier to generate the 1500 volts DC.The 1500 volt DC bus bar runs throughout the train and connects to the AC inverters which power the electric motors just like we have on our Auckland and Wellington trains. Regenerative breaking power goes back to the 1500 DC volt bus and the batteries. All of the major train manufactures would be happy to supply standard models with what ever is desired. BATTERIES ARE IMPROVING BY THE DAY its just a matter of working the details of any new or existing services to determine whether batteries are appropriate. They would have worked between Papakura and Pukekohe and you would think they would be ideal on a flat Christchurch network. I suppose it would depend on the running pattern.

  9. The other thing would be you could start off with a diesel electric battery hybrid and ditch the diesel generator when batteries improve or when a different running pattern was required. Another alternative would be to start with a diesel electric battery hybrid ditch the diesel motor and run it under the 1500 DC volt overhead or ditch the diesel motor and add a transformer to run it under the 25,000 KV overhead.

  10. I’ve recently read a number of articles concerning battery/fuel cells vs electrification (overhead or third rail) in the UK industry journal Modern Railways. All written by respected insiders, all came to the conclusion that electrification is more desirable. And that batteries etc were best suited to short branchlines or shuttle services where electrification couldn’t be justified.

    A problem with the UK and some other countries is the separation of train operators from the infrastructure owner. Infrastructure owners like UK’s NetworkRail aren’t always keen on the added responsibility of being the traction power provider as well. They’d rather leave that ball in the operator’s court. Governments see battery trains as a way of avoiding the high initial cost of electrification.

  11. This has to be a way to extend the Western Line beyond Swanson. Battery power through the tunnel to Waitakere Village and maybe back to overhead lines afterwards? Kumeu is crying out for rail.

    1. The crying is falling on deaf ears. Same excuses get repeated every time.
      ie. waste of $ since LR is on the way, HR travel time too long and expresses won’t work, there is perfectly adequate bus from Waitakere village to Swanson, drive to Swanson P&R from Kumeu.
      Despite obvious lack of LR for probably 10+ years and the distinct possibility that a future Nat govt will cancel it, there appears no support from GA to push for an HR service of any type to Kumeu. Even a simple diesel shuttle.

        1. AT is afraid they might have a Pike River problem as the Train units don’t have any Fire suppression systems on board for when they go through the Waitakeri Tunnel and the Units don’t have and exit at the front or rear of the trains if there is a fire onboard

      1. Agree Bogle, it seems like a total no-brainer to extend the Metro service beyond Swanson by one means or another. It could be done now if we were prepared to hitch a diesel loco on at Swanson (as we used to with Wellington EMUs in times past though I’m not sure how possible this would be with the AM-units).

        The sticking point seems to be emergency-egress in the narrow Waitakere Tunnel which could be sorted by specifying the next batch of EMUs with end-doors as the Matangis have. Even so it galls that rail safety requirements have become so stringent as to need this when the risk is tiny and trains without end-doors have operated through that tunnel for decades without incident. Meanwhile we are quite happy to put passengers onto buses which also crash, burn, roll-over and kill people from time-to-time and we give no thought to the greater risk of this compared to the low likelihood of an incident in the Waikatere tunnel.

        1. In recent times, what rolling stock operating regular service through the tunnel have not had some form of emergency evacuation route via the ends?

          AFAIK classes ADK, ADL & SD had emergency exit via the cab windscreen, while the other end of an SA set was via the end door & loco.

          Because the AM’s were never going to operate through single track tunnels they didn’t bother making any provision …

      2. The biggest argument against extending Western Line services beyond Swanson appears to be that it will take to long to reach the city. However once the CRL is opened, these times will be 15-20 minutes faster. Meaning that it should be possible to reach Travel Kumeru-Britomart in the time that it currently takes from Swanson to Britomart.

        Prior to the opening of the CRL, I would like to see the Waitakere Tunnel daylighted and electrification extended to Waitakere, ideally this would also include double tracking, however this is not essential. Once the CRL is open, electrification could be extended to Kumeu and Waimauku.

        1. The biggest argument against it is a business case that showed a low BCR, meaning it would have been a drain on the finite pool of ratepayer funding for PT.

          1. yes, the $ drain, that’s one of those old chestnut excuses that is meaningless. Any project uses $.
            That bcr excuse is also also nonsense since the identical criteria used to calculate bcr would apply to LR Westgate to Kumeu.

          2. Bogle – correct. LR from Westgate to Kumeu would have a very low BCR at the moment as the population in Kumeu is to low to provide high benefits, this is why there are no plans for LR to Kumeu in the next 10 years.

            The BCR will improve significantly over time as the population grows and as the big expense will be capital it will be much easier to justify based on future growth projections.

      3. “The crying is falling on deaf ears. Same excuses get repeated every time.”

        Maybe those ears have been deafened by the incessant moaning?

        Maybe its just a shit idea and the same reasons why it’s a shit idea still apply every time a foamer brings it up?

          1. I’ve never seen an analysis of putting LR in where it should go – replacing motorway lanes. Part of that analysis would be how to cope during construction, and part of that would have to involve HR to Kumeu. Of course there’s been analysis of putting HR to Kumeu, but there hasn’t been any that I’ve seen of the merits of this as part of the better LR solution.

            And that’s because NZTA don’t believe in road reduction and traffic evaporation as a realistic strategy. And that’s because it doesn’t serve the road construction industry.

            Once I’ve seen a proper analysis of these points, if it doesn’t support HR to Kumeu, I’ll stop popping my head up to encourage the HR enthusiasts.

          2. Wasn’t having a go at you Heidi. If that analysis was done & supported it as part of a wider solution I wouldn’t object.

            IMO the main HR supporters have damaged the cause of trains beyond Swanson by failing to properly argue why it is a good idea and why the alternatives don’t stack up (backed with evidence). Instead its just modal fanaticism: “HR good, LR bad. HR good, LR bad” ad nauseum. (Makes me think of Animal Farm for some reason.)

            Sorry grumpy.

          3. 🙂 Thanks. I’m Mrs Sorry Grumpy today… probably coming out in my comments more than usual. Been having a bit of bad luck, but hopefully it’ll turn around now. At least I did channel the grump into something quite good, or will be once I’ve taken the stroppy language out…

          4. Gk, nobody is parroting ‘HR good, LR bad’ , I have not seen that in any of this or previous discussions. What I am saying is that although LR would be great if we could have it reasonably soon, it realistically looks 10 year or further away. I’m also concerned there is no guarantee this labour coalition govt will survive the next or next election AND the Nats have already stated they will cancel LR (and likely reinstate the EW link).
            So being pragmatic and having a desire to see some rapid transport to Kumeu there is the existing HR line. Can’t it be utilised as it would be better than nothing or busses jammed on the western motorway.
            Although there are well documented issues such as the Waitakere tunnel No1 that make use of AM emus impractical unless the tunnel is widened or daylighted and the cost of electrification, there could be a practical solution using existing dmus as these are replaced on the Papakura to Pukekohe shuttles.
            Even so, planning to eventually electrify the line to Kumeu or beyond may just be future proofing NW rapid transport
            I hope NW LR eventually happens and I don’t think it has to be a case of LR or HR, both would be excellent and provide true network connectivity for the outer west environs (and not everyone will be wanting just the shortest and quickest transport to the CBD)

          5. Bogle:
            Ironic, as you’re one of them.

            A couple of months back you posted:
            “Or do the same anti-HR naysayers resurrect the same drivel excuses, too long/roundabout, not direct enough, too slow, hr too busy now, not enough pathways, can’t do anything until CRL opens, no trains, no electric etc…”
            https://www.greaterauckland.org.nz/2018/07/13/northwest-light-rail-in-the-news/

            Which is very much HR at any cost no matter what alternatives, no matter what evidence, etc, etc.

            In other comments that same post you were also attacking LR, being dismissive about capabilities of modern LR vs old trams vs HR wrt steep grades, etc. Then attacking anyone who pointed out the problems with running lots of expresses out west.

            Very much fanatical behaviour.

          6. Gk, I make no secret of my desire to see the existing HR line to Kumeu utilised to provide an alternate to slow busses on congested western motorway.
            You give false meaning to my views by stating:
            ‘Which is very much HR at any cost no matter what alternatives, no matter what evidence, etc etc’
            Any cost? When did I say this?
            So what are these alternatives and what is the evidence you are referring to and what is the ‘etc etc’
            I suspect you are just completely against HR and have nothing of relevance to contribute to any discussion on providing rapid transit for NW Auckland.

          7. Gk, I have went back through the nw LR and all my posts. I have addressed the issues raised, disagreed with others views which is certainly not attacking them and only in one of my posts Where I responded to a personal rude remark aimed at me did I reply in like manner.
            Otherwise I can’t see where I have attacked anyone, please provide evidence to support your assertions.

          8. DV and GK echo my thoughts closely. The incessant anti-LRT moaning from the wannabe lobbyist group is most certainly harming progress to better PT by wasting energy, funds and good will. The authorities have played their hand with a fairly damning analysis of the NW rail opportunity, but the deaf ears seem to be on the tantrum-throwing side of the discussion. While I believe that there are ways and merits to running a NW diesel shuttle, it’s a case of, as my train driver cousin likes to say, not soon, not easily and not cheaply. In all three the Huapai shuttle lobby (not to mention the airport spur group) are testing the limits of honesty with their insistence that it can and should be done, whilst failing to provide any evidence to counter AT’s analysis.

    2. I know that this is drifting off topic. But (as an outsider to Auckland) I thought that terminating all services at Swanson with electrification was a bad idea.

      I understand why electrification was terminated at Swanson but I was surprised that no express service to Helensville (stopping at all stations beyond Swanson) of any sort was at least trialed using the old SA/SD stock and pul/pull operation.

      That’s just my opinion though.

      1. Daniel I heard a story from 1 of the driver doing the Papakura – Pukekohe run that the SA-SD’S had to go slowly through the Waitakeri tunnel because they use to bang against the walls if they went to fast , so the only ones that would work could be the ADL units

      2. The extractor fans at Britomart have been turned off and for good reason too, why invest $500 million in a new fleet of EMUs to still have diesel fumes lingering around the cities busiest station.

        1. Jezza just make their last stop at Henderson and then turn around and go back to Helensville , same as they do on the Southern line

        2. Because by simply turning those fans back on (and eradicating those fumes); you can ALSO provide rail services to places where electrifying the network isn’t justified.
          And that makes ” why invest $500 million in a new fleet of EMUs” completely irrelevant. It’s hardly unusual for passenger rail providers to have BOTH electric and diesel-powered services. You need look no further than Wellington.

          After-all; isn’t providing rail services to the maximum number of potential passengers the end-goal?

          1. Kiwirail didn’t won’t to spend $600″k” to upgrade the system and that is the reason why the Northern leaves from the Strand [old railway station]

          2. What’s cheaper?

            Spending this (alleged) $600k to recommission the old ventilation fans.

            Or spending millions more for a boutique order of BEMU’s. Which will very probably also be more expensive to maintain (being newer and less established) and less reliable.

          3. Wellington is an open air station, completely different to Britomart. The extractor fans didn’t eradicate the fumes, they simply kept them at a safe level, didn’t mean it was a pleasant environment. The system had running and maintenance costs, which are hardly justified for a few services a day.

            There has already been an SA/SD trial to Helensville in 2007/08 and it was a miserable failure, the area is just too sparsely populated to justify rail services as present. That will of course change as Kumeu grows, but they are unlikely to ever be justified all the way to Helensville.

          4. ‘After-all; isn’t providing rail services to the maximum number of potential passengers the end-goal?’

            No, that would be an absurd end goal as it doesn’t take into account the costs of running services. The goal is to provide public transport that gives the best value for what it costs to run. In some places this means a train, for others a bus and for others just building a PNR so the relatively small number of people can drive to their nearest station.

          5. They only ran that service for around 12mths then the bean counters got involved . AT spent millions upgrading the 3 platforms so why not use them then eletrification came along and the plug was pulled . the worst part they only ran a couple of services a day and they didn’t use a driver from Helensville instead they brought a train from Otahuhu empty to start the run each day so go figure . If they kept it going the passenger count now could be a lot greater and I think they never ran them on the weekends which then could have made it great day out as there are hot pools at the end of the line , and I knew nieghbours who use to cycle from Mission Bay to Helensville to use them in the 80’s .

          6. “Wellington is an open air station, completely different to Britomart. The extractor fans didn’t eradicate the fumes, they simply kept them at a safe level, didn’t mean it was a pleasant environment.”
            Whenever I used Britomart (in the days before electrification); I never noticed any diesel fumes.

            “The system had running and maintenance costs”
            And you think BEMU’s with their new and unproven technology wont?

            “which are hardly justified for a few services a day.”
            So don’t keep the fans running all day! Only run them in peak times when the diesel units use the station.

            “There has already been an SA/SD trial to Helensville in 2007/08 and it was a miserable failure, the area is just too sparsely populated to justify rail services as present. That will of course change as Kumeu grows, but they are unlikely to ever be justified all the way to Helensville.”
            Yeah; but was that service an express?

            “No, that would be an absurd end goal as it doesn’t take into account the costs of running services. The goal is to provide public transport that gives the best value for what it costs to run. In some places this means a train, for others a bus and for others just building a PNR so the relatively small number of people can drive to their nearest station.”
            I’m not talking about running unprofitable services. By “the maximum number of potential services” I meant services that are viable to begin with. There are potential catchments in the Auckland region (and even beyond) that are missing out because they don’t justify the investment in electrification yet they could justify providing a Deisel-fuelled service. These services could be provided with existing rolling stock.
            But no! Purely on the weak dogmatic basis that these services could be provided by Diesel traction; you won’t have it. Even though the alternative is NO rail services (and more emissions from automobiles).
            And I have to say; it seems pretty rich you talking about fiscal prudence given that you’re against the usage of existing rolling stock and a cheap fuel source….

          7. “The goal is to provide public transport that gives the best value for what it costs to run.” How about: “The goal is to provide transport that gives the best value for what it costs to run, taking all value, and all costs into account.”

            Once driving is priced to be the luxury it deserves, the potential passengers for a train from Helensville would definitely make it viable. Let’s not pretend that this is about putting our money in a Helensville train vs putting it in other public transport. This is about pricing transport modes fairly vs continued subsidies to a mode that is ruining our kids’ future.

          8. Daniel – Yes, it was an express. What it showed that even a peak service was nowhere near viable. The reasons are relatively simple, the population is small and dispersed and very few are commuting to the CBD or points on the Western line.

            Heidi – it doesn’t really matter that much what is included in the value side of the ledger as there are so few people living out that are travelling to destinations near the rail network it is unlikely to change travel patterns. Am I right that you are supporting bringing diesels back into Britomart?

          9. Jezza, when the Helensville train service ceased the figures showed it almost but didn’t quite reach the numbers required to keep it going. It was definitely bare-bones, one train inwards early morning and one out in evening.
            Given time and perhaps additional services this train could well have become successful – especially given the growth around Kumeu/ Huapai.
            I attended a few meetings concerning the cessation of passenger services beyond Swanson and there was a strong feeling that the advanced closure of the Helenville trial was a political necessity as there was always the future plan to terminate electric services at Swanson.
            So even if the Helenville ‘experiment’ was successful it was always going to be closed.

          10. Jezza, no – but I’d be surprised if a diesel to Henderson (as David suggested) wouldn’t be viable if driving was discouraged to the extent it should be, in the interests of climate change and vkt reduction. Your arguments are completely correct under the current system, in which we don’t aim for the right targets, we don’t plan for generational equity, and we don’t pay for the damage we do.

            And perhaps I’m wrong – perhaps under a more environmentally and socially aware system, a train still doesn’t make sense because any population out there would split into those that move in closer, and those that don’t value any easy connection between Auckland and Helensville. Do you think that would be the more likely outcome if we priced driving according to the damage it does and the costs it imposes?

          11. There could be away around this like they have in England and it’s called a Parlimentary line where it ran as a loss to the Railway companies but they still have to run them or the other way is to talk to Shane Jones and get some thing out of his $Billion fund to cover the costs until it’s up and running properly and keep those bean counters out of the mix

          12. I think a key word being used here is the other trial service WASN’T successful. All those years ago.

            How about trial it again, now there’s been some more local development? The numbers at Helensville may not be too impressive at first but if the numbers at Waitakere and Huapai can keep the service viable; maybe the patronage from Helensville itself will increase over the years at becomes more established?

            Or at least; trial it again once the CRL is finished (and three platforms at Britomart are freed-up)?

          13. Daniel – when the last trial was run there were 30 min services on the Western line, albeit double tracking hadn’t been completed. Now there are 10 min services it wouldn’t be feasible to run it as an express anymore, and services will increase once the CRL opens.

            I’m not sure running another trial would really achieve much. The problem is this is a sparsely populated area competing for track space in parts of the city that have a vastly higher population. A more realistic option would be a shuttle between Huapai and Henderson, however the business case I saw for this showed it not stacking up either.

            David L – just to clarify when I mention stacking up I mean economically not financially, there is no suggestion it needs to stack up financially – Auckland’s entire rail network requires a subsidy. The problem has always been making rail west of Swanson viable even when economic benefits are accounted for.

            I don’t think the one service a day thing was really the problem. This is the same pattern used on the very successful commuter train between Wellington and Palmerston North, if there is demand people will use it. While I have no doubt more people would use peak trains if there were more off peak services, I doubt this would ever balance the cost of running more services.

          14. There were and still are numerous reasons that the diesels were removed from the network. Emissions and extractor fans are amongst them, but even discounting those factors does not make a case for turning the clock back. Those trains were extremely expensive to maintain and fuel and subsequent to their end of service an lot of them have been disposed – not even wanted for freight work. Refuelling facilities at Henderson and Papakura are gone – no more ongoing costs or hazards. The diesels were not capable of operating under the 10 minute frequency, 97% punctuality, 98% reliability framework that the current network operates. Crew training requirement and reliance on Kiwirail for servicing – gone. And then there’s the tunnel situation. It’s not just Pike, but a series of other tunnel related incidents in recent year which include a death and a number of very narrow escapes. Sure, passenger trains ran through these tunnels for years with no problems, but it is now clear that there was always an unprotected opportunity for serious disaster. We need to close those gaps before passengers will run through those marginally adequate tunnels. It also needs to be proven to be the right thing to spend the limited funding resource on.

          15. “turning the clock back”

            How his expanding services “turning the clock back”?! Oh, because they happen to be Diesel-fuelled (rolls eyes).

            Diesel traction is cheap to both run and maintain. And “hazards” of refuelling facilities? Do you think that Electric traction is somehow any safer?

            And how does “10 minute frequency, 97% punctuality, 98% reliability” even apply to what would be long range express commuter services?

          16. Turning the clock back – Well, for one thing we’re talking about machinery ranging from 35 to 65 years old. For another, we’re not going to roll back the timetable to 20 or 30 minute frequencies just to make space on the networks for SA or ADL trains to lumber along between EMUs. That’s where the performance stats become relevant. Those targets are simply not possible to accomplish with mixed fleet running. The historical record clearly shows how network performance dipped when frequency increased and rebounded to record levels after the last diesels were ditched. Current average network performance is now far above that level and no one wants to go back. The city can’t afford to sacrifice core performance to accommodate bodge solutions at the fringes. It’s better for everyone to do things properly.

            As for the hazards of diesel refuelling – be assured that an electrified rail depot with diesel refuelling facilities is a more hazardous operation than either alone. It doesn’t take 17 years in the fire service to work that one out.

          17. “A more realistic option would be a shuttle between Huapai and Henderson” – I agree with Jezza on that, we don’t want an unreliable fleet trying to fit in an with an electric 10min frequency clean running urban service. This would be about the only viable option if you ask me. If there is a breakdown or something won’t be a major for the Western line.

            With population changes since that trial & growing traffic congestion it could well work.

            Other option is the battery thing, if they had done Pukekohe with the BMU’s then once electrified, they could of run them out west, perhaps as a shuttle still so you wouldn’t need a large fleet.

  12. While steel-on-steel is efficient, it has four minuses which need to be thought through:
    1 – the cars are heavy compared to a conventional bus. This slows acceleration, and on any sort of a gradient, it’s lifting x tonnes y metres in z seconds. x is typically 3-4 times the conventional-bus weight. Hills plus deadweight equal a lotta kWh needed just to climb up and over.
    2 – the tracks have gotta be there in the first place. Figure $25-80m/km for this: there are very few intact tram or abandoned rail tracks to just de-weed, re-ballast, re-gauge and re-level. Divide that track cost by likely pax-kms usage….
    3 – it is fixed. That was OK in the past, when workplaces were few and large, and suburbs were compact and commutes relatively fixed. Now, with sprawl, massively decentralized everything, casualised workforces and commute patterns all over the show, fixed routes work only where there is equivalent concentrations of work and well-defined commutes. So trams and trains are best suited to trunks, and other, much more flexible last-10-km services need to be there to make it all work in any reasonable sense.
    4 – following on from 4, it all has to be there at the same time to attract and keep patronage. Integrated ticketing, service frequencies, interchange points for mode changes, load estimation to match size of service to patronage across area and time, adherence to frequency and on-time standards.

    It’s not impossible – none of it. But it’s much harder and much more expensive than slapping a few PowerWalls and a power train into a tram body and sallying forth….

  13. NZ could transition to a fossil free public transport system in 5 mins. It would not require any capital investment on new fleet or using ‘dirty’ BEV’s.
    All they need do is follow the lead of municipalities in California and Scandinavia where public transport heads and private HGV fleet managers are already running carbon free solutions.

  14. I am glad the subject of battery trains has been raised.

    If we can move from short term thinking and planning and starting looking at long planning, there is no reason for EBMU 3 or 4 set trains operating between Auckland and Hamilton and onto Tauranga and Rotorua and from Wellington to Featherston and Masterton in the Wairarapa and possibility Wellington to Palmerston North

    Battery power and distribution technology for light and heavy rail operations is improving,so there is reason for the central government takes the track and signaling infrastructure away from Kiwirail and create an more proactive version of NZTA that is responsible for national road and rail networks, allowing train operators and/or specialised investment equity firms like CDPQ to invest and operate regional and national freight and passenger train services. If CDPQ and the NZ Super Fund are keen to invest, build and operate Auckland’s light rail network, why not NZ’s regional passenger rail network.

    If super-capacitors are being used for light rail, it wont be long that super-capacitors will be used on heavy rail – https://youtu.be/GX4o-2qFH40 and https://youtu.be/k6x4B5xXpsI

  15. Why don’t they turn the SD/SA carriages into Battery powered bmu’s , install traction boggies to the SD carriages and fit the battery packs into the SA unit and then send them and a fleet of electric buses to Christchurch . and then make it a test ground for the rest of the country and the world . The conversion of the train could/can be done here as it has happened before with the railcar and tram last century and we may set up a new export business to the world
    [There are 24 SD and a large number SA carriages not in use so you could make 12 BMU’s all up i.e 2SD’s and 1 SA per unit]

    1. A reasonable idea to convert SD to battery operate train sets for Christchurch using latest battery and power distributions systems.

      The conversion can be done at the Hutt Workshops and tested on the wellington regional passenger rail network.

    2. There’s a bit more to rolling stock design than just doing dodgy conversions of old passenger carriages!

      Beyond the fact you’re trying to do the square peg into round hole of “installing traction bogies” & “fit battery packs” on passenger cars; there’s the considerations of the placement of electrical conduits, safety layouts and the weight distribution/centre of mass of the carriages.

      Wouldn’t it just be easier (and more logical) to just keep running these carriages in the same push/pull diesel locomotive driven operation that was good enough for Auckland for over a decade?
      Or to just order brand new rolling stock?

      And frankly; you’re dreaming if you think that anyone would want to buy these “conversions” from NZ. There’s been enough of a headache getting the “buyer” to actually buy the old EM/ET EMU’s from Wellington. NZ uses cape gauge which limits the customers for our old rolling stock to either places more likely to buy brand new stock or places who’re not likely to buy any rolling stock.

        1. Yes but it is possible to just attach the old EMU bogies to what was designed to be purely passenger carriages without needing any drastic alterations to those old carriages?

          And I hardly think that rolling stock from the Edwardian era is relevant to this proposal. And as I understand t: Those RM railcars went exactly a success story anyway.

          1. This is a the paragraph from the wikipedia post and if wasn’t for the depression they may of had more
            “The railcar was popular with both passengers and crews; it was fast for its time for a rural train on New Zealand’s national rail network, and ran cleanly and efficiently. However, it lasted a mere eight years, as it was destroyed in a depot fire in Christchurch in 1934. Conditions created by the Great Depression meant it simply was not possible to build a replacement, and the Edison battery-electric railcar’s legacy was left as that of a promising and unique experiment that may have achieved its full potential in more prosperous times.”

  16. Why not just (re)start Christchurch suburban/commuter with DMU’s? Why needlessly increase the price with a boutique order of BEMU’s?
    After-all; Auckland’s going to have their ADL’s surplus soon.

    I would think that the greatest concern for bringing rail back to Christchurch is getting a better terminus than the Moorhouse Avenue site that failed last time….

    1. Using the ADLs in Christchurch is one of the better possibilities for them, but it’s not straight forward. Firstly – they’re not finished with in Auckland yet. While the next lot of EMUs will start arriving in a bit over a year, electrification out to Pukekohe will be some years away yet. This is the same problem with the Huapai claims – the trains are still busy at Pukekohe for some time yet. Secondly – there aren’t really enough ADLs to make a proper go at commuter rail in Christchurch. There are only ten and two of those have no engines/transmissions. At any given time one, two or three will be out of service for maintenance. In contrast, the rest of the Auckland fleet number 57 with 15+ more on the way and plans for 120 and eventually as many as 180 units. Wellington runs 83 units. Christchurch might reasonably expect to make use of similar numbers in due course. Every dollar spent on a half-arsed trial now is a dollar not doing the job properly. I can see some merit in using them in the Swanson to Huapai role in Auckland where facilities and crews already exist, but even that is marginal at best.

      1. How much rolling stock would a rail service in Christchurch need to begin with? There would only be two 15-20 km lines (to Rangiora and Rolleston) without too many stations. Surely 10 units could cover that?

        Auckland made do with only 12 ALD’s and 12 ADKs for at least a decade. And even if the ADL’s can’t be spared; isn’t there still a lot of the SA/SD push/pull stock available?

        1. Out of that collection of rolling stock all the ADK’s[10] have been sold to Mozambique , the ADL’s which there only 10 are still part of the Auckland Network and with the SA/SD’s 31 have been sold to Antipodean Explorer (NZ) Limited as a mobile Hotel so if you want them for Christchurch there are 73 only to make up the combination’s for the Christchurch routes

          1. LOL “73 only”. As though that wouldn’t be ample rolling stock to begin a Chistchurch service with…

          2. Daniel – agree. Realistically it is an hourly service on one or two lines, with half hourly service in the peak direction for a small part of the day. Probably only Rolleston to start with as there isn’t the track capacity for Rangiora.

          3. You make a good point Jezza. I forgot that it’s only single track on the Main North Line.

            (Re)Installing double-track would be another extra cost added to reintroducing rail in Christchurch.
            I’m not saying that should never happen. But I am saying that advocates for reintroducing rail to Christchurch should deploy consider planning & getting funding for that to happen before even thinking about fancy BEMU rolling stock.

          4. You wouldn’t need many units, but if we look at the ADL’s current gig, a single 15km shuttle job with no intermediate stations at 20/30 minute frequencies, the 8 functional units are only just enough. A large part of that is the limited remaining life in the units, the desire to preserve them for the remaining time until electrification and the increased maintenance requirements to deliver that with such old and unique machinery.

            Consider the possible Christchurch situation with two such lines, more stations and low frequency meaning a need to be running doubled units to accommodate demand in lieu of frequency. Even if you only needed 12 or 14 units, there aren’t 12 or 14 ADLs to have and by the time the 8 survivors are available they may well be truly on their last legs. To move them all south, set up stabling and maintenance facilities, train crews and run them until they’re either dead or in need of a 7-figure rebuild – it starts to look like it would be better just to look for something else from the beginning.

            SA sets are probably a better pick on most fronts in that Christchurch is already well equipped to service such a fleet with the tourist trains there, and they can make up consists sized to suit demand. They’d need locos, but with a renewal of the SI loco fleet being looked at currently, there may be options for the best of the DX fleet or whatever replaces them.

            As with other things we’ve discussed and as proven by Auckland and Wellington EMU fleets, I would still prefer a long-term plan that sees a new modern DMU or LRT solution for Christchurch. Do it once, do it right.

          5. I think my point stands that advocates for rail in Christchurch seem to have their focus astray from what’s important in getting anything up-and-running.

            They seem to be focussed only on the rolling stock and something fancy out-of-the box. I remember 5-10 years ago there was this very dogmatic group there pushing for a tram-train system as used in the German city of Karlsruhe and they just weren’t prepared to settle for anything else. And believe me they could get pretty nasty when you told them things they didn’t want to hear.
            I honestly believe that these clowns missed Christchurch its golden opportunity after the 2010 earthquake.

            I think that commuter and suburban rail can work again in Christchurch. But it needs to be built from the bottom-up like it was in Auckland and Perth, Western Australia. They need to first focus on what’s fundamentally important like loading gauges/profiles, carriage car numbers, platform lengths, a better terminus than the Addington site or the old Moorhouse avenue site, integration with the bus system, getting the main north line double tracked at least part of the way to Rangiora, station sites, parking for those stations, service patterns etc.

            Getting new dedicated rolling stock is something that should be in the “future once properly established” pile.

          6. Daniel 12 -18 months ago there was a plan to restart the passenger service in ChCh through a public subscription but it fell out of flavour from by Enviroment Canterbury which had been stacked with Key’s road loving mates that hated anything to do with Rail but loved building new roads and motorways everywhere , and the person that had that idea had organised a great deal with AT for the usage of the old rolling stock .these are 2 of the links about it :-
            1} https://www.star.kiwi/2017/04/ecan-rubbished-rail-plan/
            2} https://www.pledgeme.co.nz/projects/5045-dash-rail-canterbury-commuter-trains

  17. Rather then trying to pick winners in isolation how about just encouraging the government to allow AT to trade off increased patronage by way of fare reductions and increased services against reduced farebox recovery?

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