Wellington’s Rail Network has been seeing some good growth over the last few years with usage rising from just over 12.1 million in October 2015 to just under 14.5 million in October this year.
To help see that trend increase, last year the government announced a $193 million package of works to upgrade and replaces parts of the Wellington network and yesterday they celebrated the start of construction of a key project within that upgrade.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford today announced construction is underway on Wellington commuter rail upgrades which will mean more frequent services and fewer breakdowns.
The upgrades include converting the Trentham to Upper Hutt single track section to a double track, with a new signalling system, upgraded stations and level crossings, and a pedestrian underpass.
The 2.7km track between Trentham and Upper Hutt is a major bottle neck at an important point where commuter services and freight trains interact. These upgrades will help freight services to keep on time despite increased passenger services.
Phil Twyford said the Government is getting rail back on track after years of neglect.
“Our $196 million Wellington rail package also includes important upgrades for the Wairarapa line, without them, the line would have deteriorated with more and more disruptions to services.
This project is long overdue but now it’s underway is expected to take about 18 months to complete the double tracking.
The wider package of works is expected to take till 2026 to complete and contains a number of upgrades, as shown below.
It is good to see these upgrades occurring but back in Auckland it does raise questions about our much needed track upgrades, specifically the 3rd main and electrification to Pukekohe, both of which the two main parties promised at the last election – they both also promised the Wellington upgrades above. The last we’d heard the business case is still stuck somewhere inside the NZTA.
The track upgrades aren’t the only thing the regional council are seeking in order to upgrade the rail network, they also want new trains for their long distance services.
Wellington’s rail network will be stretched to breaking point within a few years unless an urgent $415 million upgrade receives government backing.
Greater Wellington Regional Council has put together a case for acquiring a new fleet of 15 electric hybrid trains to operate on the Manawatū and Wairarapa lines, increasing the overall number of passengers the network can accommodate.
The council says without the investment, which will provide bigger and more frequent trains on long-distance routes, commuters across the region will be “packed in like sardines” by 2025.
“The increase in train users both within and beyond the metro network shows an urgent need to fund a modern fleet,” regional council chairman Daran Ponter said.
“With long procurement and manufacture lead-in times, and ever-increasing demand, we must secure funding by 2020 if we hope to deliver by 2024 and avoid commuters being packed in like sardines on a daily basis.”
The updated fleet would allow the council to rearrange its other services, providing more room and more frequent services across the network.
However, it has asked the Government for a significant handout to fund the upgrades, and wants an answer by June next year.
The council wants central government to contribute 90 per cent towards buying the new trains, and fully fund the infrastructure improvements needed to accommodate them.
It has also asked the agency to fund 51 per cent of ongoing maintenance and operating costs.
What’s most interesting about this proposal is that Wellington are looking for dual mode trains. These trains would make a lot of sense on those longer distance routes where it is hard to justify extending electrification but where we want to make use of the electrification infrastructure that exists where we can.
Hopefully the investigation will also include battery trains to avoid the need for diesel whatsoever and more train manufacturers seem to be starting to provide these. When Auckland Transport was looking at the technology a few years ago for Pukekohe services the range was limited but already that is expanding and companies are promising trains that can do 140km/h and cover 100km before needing to be recharged – which can take just 7-10 minutes. That would be ideal not just for these Wellington services but also for future Auckland to Hamilton services.
While Upper and Lower North Island trains would need to be designed to handle different electrical power supplies there would surely be some advantages from having an otherwise identical fleet – there are even some trains out there which can handle both voltages.
So how about it Phil, a co-ordinated regional rail services strategy.