Last week we learnt that the light rail process had ended after the government parties couldn’t come to an agreement on the outcome. One reason for that that appears to have been a desire from the minister for the project to become a much more expensive, fully grade separated Light Metro system with a key requirement that it could get from the city to the airport in 30 minutes.

I’m not sure where the idea has come from that getting between the city and the airport in 30 minutes is so important and it sounds like another case of what I call “airport derangement syndrome”. Almost exactly a year ago I wrote about how there is an over-emphasis put on airport trips with two key reasons being:

  • Politicians, senior bureaucrats, business leaders, media and other members of the ‘elite’ use Airports far more frequently than the average person – so therefore connections to airports are a much bigger deal for them than for most people.
  • A very wide variety of people travel to the Airport over the course of a year, compared to other key places. This means that a lot of people experience travel conditions to and from airports, even if they do so quite rarely.

Notably, ATAP suggested just 4% of trips during the morning peak using light rail would be people travelling/from the airport terminals. More importantly the project was considered needed to

  • address bus capacity constraints in the city centre
  • improve access to the employment areas, especially those near the airport which would likely be bypassed by a metro system focused on speed to the terminals, and;
  • to unlock growth opportunities in communities along the route.

However, the purpose of this post was to consider if we could achieve that 30 minute travel time from the city any other way using the network we have planned (or under consideration).

Current/Soon to be state

The first step in improving access to the airport is already underway with the construction of the significantly upgraded Puhinui Station and bus priority on State Highway 20B. Auckland Transport advertise that this will enable a reliable 45 minute journey to the airport.

Prior to the station being closed for the upgrade, the timetable for both the Southern and Eastern lines had the Britomart to Puhinui leg at 32-24 minutes. With trains every 10 minutes at peak on each of these lines, that’s a service every 5 minutes which is great. Auckland Transport suggest it will take 10 minutes for on the bus to get from Puhinui to the airport which leaves just a few minutes to transfer between them at Puhinui for the 45 minute trip.

So 45 minutes is our base trip, can we do better.

Speed up the trains

A check of google maps driving directions suggests that a 10 minute journey for the bus from Puhinui to the Airport seems about right given it will have priority.

That means the best option to get services faster is to speed up the trains. The good news is that should be possible. The image below comes from a series of documents I was given from AT when they were first purchasing our electric trains. It shows how fast they are supposed to be and shows a travel time of Britomart to Puhinui of 27 minutes, including a stop at Westfield Station, which is now closed. I have the same analysis exists for the Southern and Western lines too.

Because I’m sure someone will ask otherwise, the other lines are Britomart to Papakura at about 40 minutes and Britomart to Swanson at about 43 minutes – both about 10 minutes faster than they are today.

Recently, for another post I’ve been working on, I’ve also been collecting some timetable/performance data from other similar rail systems. This includes lines in Wellington, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth, as well as some S-Bahn lines in Munich and S-tog lines in Copenhagen. I’ll probably add more lines and cities over time and this isn’t necessarily every line in these cities/systems but just a random sample. In the analysis I’ve compared the average travel time for the line to the average distance between stations. In all cases these are all-stop service patterns and n lines where there are one or two really long sections but the rest of the stations are similarly spaced, I’ve dropped the long ones e.g. on Wellington’s Hutt Valley line I’ve only counted from Upper Hutt to Petone.

As you can see, Auckland’s network underperforms other systems with average speeds about 5-10 km/h slower than lines with comparably spaced stations elsewhere and only Wellington’s Johnsonville the other one significantly out of line with the trend – and perhaps understandably so. I’ve also included the estimations from CAF as per the documents mentioned above and they sit in line with those other systems.

What all this means is that if Auckland Transport can get our trains operating properly, this could reduce the journey to Puhinui by about 5 minutes – so about 40 minutes overall. That’s an improvement but can we go lower?

The inter-regional connection

Later this year the ‘trial’ service between Auckland and Hamilton will start, running between Hamilton and Papakura and taking 80 minutes. Waikato councillors have already suggested an investigation be made to at least extend that to Puhinui.

But the government have already been talking up bigger plans.

New Zealand’s first rapid rail service may be launched between Hamilton and Auckland, allowing commuters to travel between cities in just an hour.

The Government has confirmed they are investigating options for an express service that would see passengers catch a train in Hamilton and reach Auckland’s Britomart in 60 minutes.

….

Minister of Transport Phil Twyford said cabinet had approved an initial business case for the rapid rail service, due mid-year. A detailed business case would be required after that.

…..

One option being looked at was for a rapid train with only two stops – Hamilton and Auckland – and another option was a fast train that stopped at stations north of Hamilton and in Auckland’s southern suburbs.

The Ministry of Transport was looking at a technology known as tilt trains, used frequently overseas, travelling at speeds of around 160 kilometres per hour.

It would require building an entirely new, straighter line, and the trains would be electric.

“You would be talking quite a few billion dollars.”

But it won’t be like the bullet trains in Japan, Twyford said.

“I wouldn’t want to give that impression, though it will be sleek, modern and efficient – no question.”

I can’t see a non-stop service stacking up and if there’s any station along the way you’d want an intercity train to stop at it would be Puhinui as that would give people to/from Hamilton a connection to the airport and employment around Manukau. Such services would need to make use of the 3rd main Kiwirail are about to build and may possibly also need the 4th main they would ideally be building now too – but aren’t. We also need the CRL completed to free up space in Britomart.

But the point of raising all this is that if we were to treat those Hamilton services as part of the overall Auckland network, and not just something separate that happens to pass through Auckland, then travellers needing a fast connection could use this for the Puhinui to to Britomart leg. With the Eastern Line from Puhinui to Britomart being just under 23km, if the service could average about 75km/h for this part then it would do the journey in about 18 minutes. Combine that with the 10-minute bus and you’re at the airport within 30 minutes.

While not exactly the same, a similar example to this is the Gold Coast line in Queensland. I used it last year and as it runs south of Brisbane it only stops at a handful of stations on the suburban network and seemed to average about 60km/h, then once past the edge of the urban area, and on a straighter alignment, it reaches speeds of 140km/h. So trains are used as both a limited stop and inter-urban service.

The biggest risk with this option is Auckland based commuters from clogging up the train preventing Hamilton bound passengers from boarding, however, this could be solved by way of pricing and/or using the extra passengers and potentially extra revenue could help towards justifying running those Hamilton services more frequently – with the more frequently they run, the more useful they are.


In some ways this is a bit of a roadmap – assuming people still need to even get to the airport in a post-covid world

So, if we’re able deliver a 30 minute travel time through other methods, does that mean we can rethink what the priority for light rail should be, and push it back towards some of the original goals and plans?

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136 comments

  1. I know the “speed up the dwell/run times” drum has been banged for a few years now but, looking at the disparity between the times in that chart and the current timetable, is anyone actually doing anything about it??

    1. That graph really is an indictment of Auckland Transport’s ability to run an efficient rail system. Incredible that the electric trains run slower than the crappy old diesel trains we used to have.

        1. Zippo, the faster times are based on those “Vogel era alignments” you mention, so that can’t be a reason for the slowness. The slowness is the over-the-top safety systems such as approaching signals at 9kph. Why 9kph? Because they actually want 10 but set it at 9 to ensure 10 isn’t exceeded. In other words they built in a safety margin into the safety margin!

          This is how the “risk averse” culture people keep themselves employed. They have to keep degrading everything because if they ever stop they have no job.

      1. You are forgetting that tens of thousands of additional passengers are now boarding and alighting the new EMUs. Plus the AT Metro trains have to fit around the KiwiRail freight trains, who get priority as they own the tracks.

    2. It is mostly about leadership and motivation.

      There is not enough incentive and urgency because official doesn’t get bonus if they run the train faster, but risk getting fired if anything else goes wrongs.

      It is a very risk aversive low innovation culture.

    3. Think we just heard in the last post that the new trains are have a slightly different control system with the track signals so it should allow some speed improvements. Here’s hoping.

  2. If you’re going to have regional rail services they should be usable on the same ticket with no price discrimination. This is very common in the German-speaking world and allows people to use the best service for their needs (which usually also ends up being the most cost efficient for the operators).

    If getting in the way of freight is an issue, then the freight equivalent of the Waterview connection should be built. Paths that are useful for the Auckland CBD should not be clogged up by freight.

    1. I’ve never understood why Auckland trains spend so much time sitting at stations with the doors closed. Sydney for example, the train stops and the doors start opening straight away, similarly when the doors shut the train starts moving.

      1. Same in Wellington. As a regular user of Auckland trains it catches me off guard when I’m on a train in Wellington at it starts moving as soon as the door shuts.

      2. Time delays are built into everything in Auckland. Action – gap – action – gap – action – gap…..

        Safety safety safety!

  3. Maybe Auckland Transport should have a network optimisation programme? 🙂 One that doesn’t waste our money increasing vehicle traffic volumes, that is.

  4. If Labour go ahead with Light Metro for this purpose due to this airport derangement syndrome, it will end up costing us billions of dollars extra above the cost of providing the transport Aucklanders need.

    That’s another mighty big subsidy to aviation: the masses supporting the elite. Hardly Labour philosophy. Shame.

    Light Metro has its place. This is not its place.

    1. Our population is way too small for multi billion dollar projects (maybe that will change if we stay Covid free!)
      We already have 3 decent rail lines, that is pretty good for a city with 1.6 million. We just need to fill in the gaps with high quality bus routes. Could probably give decent PT to almost all of Auckland as well as walking and cycling for the cost of Twyford’s metro.
      I thought the original AT light rail plan was OK when it was $1 billion, but the requirements and budget just seem to have multiplied since. Building costs seem to have increased a lot since then too, so even basic light rail to Mt Roskill is probably getting towards $2 billion or even more.
      Its time to pick all the low hanging fruit (there is a lot to pick) and leave the mega projects for when they are needed. Designation would be sensible of course.

      1. At some point buses will become a problem in the CBD. This of course doesn’t have to be solved by Dominion Rd becoming LR, it could be converting the Northern busway to LR or building LR to the Northwest.

        1. At the moment most of the road space is used by cars. There is still plenty of room for buses with reprioritisation. They wouldn’t be so hated by retailers if they weren’t so noisy and smelly, I think there is a fix for that.
          Also most bus routes seem to terminate in the city which causes a lot of issues of buses turning around and waiting etc. Again easy to fix.
          The city full of buses idea is just an excuse for some big budget spending. For example they could easily get Dom Rd and Sandringham Rd buses off Symonds Street by making them follow the exact Queen Street route the LR would for a tiny fraction of the price.

        2. “At some point buses will become a problem in the CBD.”

          Auckland has already reached this point, with over 150 buses per hour trying to find kerb space in the CBD during the peak

    2. I think you can make a case for light metro on the isthmus through the CBD, under the harbour and upgrading the Northern Busway. But up Queen St and Dominion Rd is not the right corridor for such a scheme (as has been discussed at length before).

      Light Metro on the isthmus would be best running underground with new stations at Wynyard, Aotea (the station currently under construction is apparently designed to be expanded), the university precinct, the hospital, Newmarket, Epsom, Royal Oak and Onehunga. It could then run elevated over SH20 to connect Mangere Bridge, Mangere and, if people really insisted, the airport.

      But putting light metro down the Manukau Rd corridor does not make light rail down Dominion Rd any less useful or necessary. Also neither scheme really helps the Northwest. The priority should be what delivers best value for money and that won’t be light metro until at least after light rail has been delivered.

      1. Can you really make a case for a $10 billion light metro though? Would they even build that in Europe these days in a city the size of Auckland? It wouldn’t even be that far away from the existing heavy rail line…

        1. Sure I can make a case for it. NZ has spent more than that on the Roads of National Significance program. Many of the largest projects (Hamilton Bypass, Transmission Gully, Puhoi to Warkworth etc.) still aren’t finished, so we don’t know yet how much the budget of some of them will blow out by.

          Many European countries build new PT lines for cities of a few hundred thousand people as a matter of course. For a city growing as fast as Auckland it’d be a no-brainer for them. An underground light metro wouldn’t be considered controversial since the chances are that they’d have several such systems already.

        2. Don’t forget you have to upgrade the North Shore busway at some point too, which will almost certainly have to be Light Rail. So it makes sense to have these all running the same equipment and linking them up where possible.

        3. Too easy. They would make the case by first assuming a benefit cost ration of 0.6 will be good enough. (A B/C of less than 1 worked last time so why not?) That implies they need $6 billion in benefits. then they would calculate travel time benefits of somewhere around $120 million so that would leave them requiring $5.88 billion of Wider Economic Benefits. They would then pay a large international consultancy a metric shit-ton of money for a report that would say the project had $5.9 billion in Wider Economic Benefits.

        4. Wonderful Copenhagen has light metro which the city has been building and expanding since the first lines opened in 2002. The 3rd & 4th lines opened last year. Copenhagen’s metro is a mix of elevated and underground track. Copenhagen also has the 7 line 85 station S-Tog. Copenhagen’s population is 1.3m, the metro population is 2m.

  5. Surely you aren’t thinking of running frequent trains between Hamilton and Auckland? They would be empty wouldn’t they?
    Even if they ran every 30 minutes I think that would be too infrequent for the airport.
    Maybe a frequent limited stop from Papakura to City as well?

    1. If they were fast and modern, they could get a reasonable market share. If it means more trains plodding along the edge of the Whangamarino swamp at 50k while the nearby Expressway is 110k, then definitely not although Pokeno and Te Kauwhata are crying out for a decent rail service.

      1. I doubt they would even get close to filling trains with a 30 minute frequency, particularly off peak. That would be a reasonable frequency in Europe between two cities that size and where a large percentage of people don’t own a car.
        And even if they did a 30 minute frequency, ~2/3 of the time it will still be quicker to take the slow train. So two thirds of the time the trip will take 40 minutes.

        1. Who’s pushing the 30 minute line? It’s an aspiration not a requirement, certainly not initially.

    2. Passengers from 18,000 vpd would fill about 50 trains a day, so why as infrequent as 30mins and that’s assuming no generated trips?

      1. That would rely on the expressway running empty which wont be the case. Some people would switch to using a faster train if it were available but some would also continue to drive.

    3. Jimbo isn’t this just presentism; exactly what most people said about the Northern Busway: No way will there be passengers for buses every few minutes (or even at all if you’re John Roughan). And it’s what the MoT said about the Eastern Line; would never hit capacity.

      With a good fast-ish service Hamilton is just a rather distant big suburb. 30 min/1 hour frequency looks like a good base service to me.

      The numbers using a currently crap or nonexistent service is no indication of the potential market. There is no objective demand; demand is created through supply.

      By the time there is a fast-enough frequent-enough AKL-Ham train the AKL RTN is going to make most of the key centres best accessed without a car; so for many it’ll be; why bring one and sit in traffic all day?

  6. Perhaps we could write the ‘Pentagon Papers’ of Light Rail Projects in Auckland. A sort of Macnamara-esk collection of lessons collected from the mistakes Auckland has made promoting failed light rail schemes. I can start:
    1/ Don’t blind-side the politicians but instead get them on board with the scheme before you announce it.
    2/ Don’t go thinking that adding a connection to the airport will strengthen your original scheme, it will probably undermine your idea.
    3/ Don’t plan a light rail scheme at the same time as the city and nation are struggling to pay for an outrageously expensive underground railway.
    4/ Don’t try and justify the expenditure of billions based on a spurious claim about spaces to stop buses in the CBD.
    5/ Understand that the old men who love trains will always try and hijack the project. The mode will always be more important to them than the purpose.
    6/ Plan a route where it is needed rather than where you can build it easiest.

    1. 7/ Understand that business owners will be more concerned about the presence of on-street carparking outside their premises than the number of people traveling past their premises.
      8/ Don’t hurt car owner’s fragile feelings by suggesting that driving single occupant vehicles around cities might have negative externalities.
      9/ Understand that the best housing type for inner city suburbs in the 21st century is freestanding wooden villas designed in the 19th century.

      1. 10/ Don’t plan a scheme that is worse than the existing bus service for half the users.
        11/ Understand that if you promote a half-baked, half-arse scheme it will poison the potential for better projects for a whole generation.

        1. 12/ Don’t bother, build more ‘shovel ready’ roads instead, what could go wrong…

        2. 13/ Choose a financing scheme that’s affordable, not one that multiplies the costs up and then makes our children pay in future.
          14/ Use best-practice public engagement techniques starting with real discussion of urban planning goals.
          15/ Remember that reducing traffic is a benefit, especially when increasing access and flow rates of people.
          16/ Remember that the computer – and even the sharpest wits – will get some things wrong so if in doubt, ask the young mums. 🙂

        3. The scheme was fine, visionary in fact in terms of what Auckland usually proposes, the problem was the financing arrangement at a time of record low interest rates when governments can borrow virtually interest free money. That’s why it fell over, at least for now.

        4. 17/ Cashed up Canadians will try and get you in debt as deeply as they can with them owning the asset and you owning the risk.

        5. Miffy view this and part way through you can see how these Canadian pension funds can screw the whole world ;-

  7. One thing that often gets overlooked about the airport route is frequency. There is no point in having a 30 minute trip if there is a 30 minute wait time. Twyford’s metro was probably the only option that would be both quick and frequent. But the only reason it would be frequent was because of all the demand from other stations along the way. The more stations you get rid of for speed, the less the demand and the frequency. The airport itself would be unlikely to fill a train per hour wouldn’t it?

    1. The faster the service the more attractive it is to car drivers who won’t tolerate a slug like tram stopping every 200 m. The biggest problem with Auckland pt is too slow.

      1. Zippo, did you know that Aucklands most popular train line is also its slowest? More people use the slowest line with closely spaced stations than the fastest one with widely spaced stations.

        1. Do they have any other choice? Just because it’s the best of a bad bunch doesn’t make it good.

        2. I guess London could chose to close half the tube stations and have a higher speed connection to the outskirts and airport. I doubt that would increase patronage though…

        3. Yes of course they have choice, they can drive, catch buses, walk, cycle, live somewhere else. Very strange argument, you say that drivers choose to take PT more often when it’s faster, but next comment is they have no choice and take it anyway. That’s not logical.

        4. “They can drive” which the overwhelming majority do. They have next to nothing in terms of attractive PT alternatives.

      2. Where did you get 200m from? The existing bus stops on Dominion Rd are further apart than this, and the initial LR proposal was to have fewer stops.

        1. An over exaggeration I imagine. But I think there were going to be 22 stations, that is a lot. Of course the dwell time is much less for LR than HR.
          There is no doubt in my mind that the original surface level light rail would have been extremely popular, quite possibly the busiest train line in the country, even if it did not connect to the airport. PT usage is not only about moving people long distances quickly, it is often about catchment, density, frequency, etc. This is where the LR solution excelled compared to our existing HR routes which tend to be poorly located (except the western line). Unfortunately it became a high speed airport project instead, and our airport usage can’t justify one of those.

        2. The only concern I had with the LR proposal is the length of time it would take to get from Mangere to the CBD, 5 – 10 mins longer than the parallel southern line from memory.

          I agree though it would have been very popular.

        3. Exactly Jimbo, an average of 1,000m between stops is hardly a ‘slug like tram’, it’s very similar to heavy rail actually.

          That’s the problem with all of this mess, it’s full of know it all’s like Zippo and Phil Twyford that declare truisms like “its a slug like tram” and “it must be mega fast to the airport or nobody will use it” when in fact all the evidence points to the opposite. But some people are far too clever for evidence.

  8. As a (formerly) frequent flier to Auckland (domestic), I’d really appreciate a better transport system from the Airport to the City. I’m typical of the vast majority of kiwis who fly that route. You Aucklanders returning home may get met by someone in a car to pick you up, but us Domestic tourists never have that luxury. If we are on corporate accounts then we may get met by a Corporate Cab, or otherwise catch a taxi, but for most of the time, I / we catch the SkyBus into town. That’s usually 30-40 minutes as long as it doesn’t get caught in the motorway traffic.

    That’s all easily doable if you are a frequent traveller and an English-speaking tourist. Its a really confusing and badly catered-for experience if you’re not familiar with the airport or the language. The waiting area for the SkyBus at the airport has to be one of the most shitty places around – makes you feel like you are garbage – also makes you feel like you are probably doing the wrong thing. The buses dropping people off wave you off contemptuously as in “No no, don’t get on here” and then there are two routes of buses but no real explanation which of the two you should get or why. All in all a very negative experience. I imagine it is even worse for international visitors, as they will likely speak less English and their bus-stop is even more obscure to find.

    I’ve found it easier to get the 380 to Papatoetoe and catch the train from there, but this is a route that is also less intuitive and helluva confusing for out-of-towners, as the 380 bus does a weird loop thing through the side streets of Papatoetoe, wasting time and energy battling the local cross traffic.

    You may call it “airport derangement syndrome” but sneering commentary aside, Auckland needs a far better solution for transporting people into the city. The link to Puhinui is a great move and will be hugely appreciated when it is open. Similarly, if there had ever been a Light Rail to the airport, that would also have been great. Probably only need one high quality link – and so Puhinui will be it. It needs to be integrated into the Auckland Airport experience so that it is seamless and perfectly natural to take. Examples of good transitions to public transport at airports exist all around the world – Stansted and Schiphol are my favourites, but Hong Kong and Heathrow Express are also clear and unambiguous. Whatever: its not derangement, but the sign of a proper grown-up city that provides quality, clear, consistent transport options from the airport to the city.

    1. Its quite telling that the big signs in most airports point to the PT, but in Auckland they point you to the car park and taxis.

    2. Agree that clear and consistent options are needed but this doesn’t need an expensive rail option. Puhinui will help with the train connection to the east. Skybus is a good service just needs a better stop and maybe clearer signage, it’s the best bet for targeting the express Airport to CBD market.

      I’d prefer a train from the airport when I fly into Wellington and Christchurch but I appreciate it is not the best use of funds in either city.

    3. The sign of a proper grown-up city is one that provides quality, clear, consistent transport options for its residents in an equitable way.

      Visitors need good wayfinding, too. They don’t need us to subsidise their climate-damaging flying through mucking up our urban planning.

    4. “I’ve found it easier to get the 380 to Papatoetoe and catch the train from there, but this is a route that is also less intuitive and helluva confusing for out-of-towners, as the 380 bus does a weird loop thing through the side streets of Papatoetoe, wasting time and energy battling the local cross traffic.”

      Try to keep up. That is because the current 380 bus also caters to local workers and students, and connects them to the Manukau Bus Station, Papatoetoe Station and Onehunga. The 380 route will change when the new Airport Link bus service starts in 2021. See: https://at.govt.nz/about-us/news-events/airportlink-jump-starts-with-electric-buses/

  9. While you might take up some spaces between Auckland and the airport on a rapid rail train, you would also then pick up more passengers at Puhinui that are looking to go to Hamilton (and eventually Tauranga). Both would justify increased frequency of services.

    To get Auckland to Hamilton in under 60 minutes while still stopping at Puhinui and at least 1 other (Huntly?) would require a tunnel through the Bombay’s. That route needs to be protected.

    1. An average of 130 or so when the current rail line is 50k for a long stretch. There’s no concrete plan to fix the swamp let alone a tunnel.

      1. and with the swamp I heard at 1 point the spoil from the CRL was going to put there but the latest it’s going to be dumped in the old quarries around Auckland .

  10. I wonder if they should give the shuttle buses a different number depending on whether they are going to Manukau or the airport. I often see confusion at Papatoetoe station and I have noticed drivers asking passengers whether they want to go to the airport or Manukau especially if the have to stop at the wrong stop due to bus congestion at the right one. Will there be other buses stopping at Puhinui maybe only Intercity so maybe it won’t be too bad. The other thought I have is could they have a sawtooth design at the Airport for the buses. This is very clear compared to a number of different buses going to and from different destinations all trying to use the same bus stop. So think Manukau Bus Station compared to Mangere Town center or even worse Otahuhu Town Center at least at Mangere the managed to get all the buses on one side of the road. So what is the least confusing layout and bus numbering identification system for tourists and out of town travelers. Its important if we want people to enjoy their travel experience because its easy to use.

  11. If the only goal is high speed to airport I think the best route is the original Onehunga HR route. Because it would also service the new density in Mangere and Onehunga it could have enough users to be both frequent and quick. Phase 2 could be to build HR from Onehunga to Avondale via the existing designation that could service the new density in Mt Roskill much better than LR will.

    1. Agree, it starts to look like a very logical option in comparison and the costs don’t look so bad. Wouldn’t be easy doing more than 6tph though, which might make it a bit harder to justify.

      1. Single track for the bridge across the harbour and under the 2nd runway into the airport station, double track the rest. Grade separate.

        I had really hoped that at the time of the motorway bridge duplication, the line would get a single track connection across to Mangere Bridge for one extra station only, and provide connections to local Mangere buses. The motorway was shifted east to allow space for tracks to run on the west side. Probably locate the station between Rimu and Miro Rd’s. I wonder what it would have cost if it was built at the time.

        1. I don’t think you would want single track anywhere on the rail network once CRL is operational. Trains are going to be needing to hit there slots or the knock on effects will be significant, single track amplifies delays.

        2. Single track can have a place when the cost of double track is prohibitive. Especially for short spans like bridges.

        3. Jimbo – agree for something like the bridge at Ngaruawahia but not on a network with metro frequencies.

      2. Yes, double track Onehunga line, grade separate & dead end some roads etc etc and it’s the original future running pattern from the Western line to the airport. As long as you can get all the stations that LRT can through Mangere I’d be happy. Also gives you better access to Mt Smart Stadium as a bonus. Opportunity to upgrade/change the station position to suit that while at it.

        1. “As long as you can get all the stations that LRT can through Mangere I’d be happy”

          I thought it could only provide for about half? Someone will be able to remember exactly. And that’s where (amongst others) I thought the BCR killed HR. It cost twice as much to cater for about half the catchment.

          But my question remains on the frequencies. HR was limited to 30min frequencies, no?

        2. But looks like only 3 new stations possible – Mangere, Mangere Bridge and the terminal itself.

          $2bn before you even look at the cost of double-tracking.

        3. KLK it’s 4 stations, but I don’t see why a 5th station a Favona Rd or a 6th at Ascot couldn’t be included. The LR proposal was 7.

          If the Avondale Southdown line was built that would also give airport access to West Auckland without having to travel all the way into the city and back out.

        4. Torsten – When the CRL is finally opened people out west will have a service via Newmarket to Otahuhu , on the purple line .

        5. The issue with heavy rail is the maximum gradient and minimum curvature is not even half that of light rail, and the platforms are longer too.

          Given that stations need to almost perfectly straight and level, this makes it hard (i.e. prohibitively expensive) to build some stations with heavy rail that you could with light, and in some cases you can’t physically do it where there are constraints of roads to get over or under, bridges to meet etc.

          To get the same station locations with longer platforms, shallower climbs and broad curves you end up needing to elevate the whole thing, with some stations ending up 20m in the air.

        6. Riccardo how the points you have mentioned an issue with Onehunga to AKL, it’s flat, one of the flattest parts of Auckland and the proposed route was fairly straight?

        7. “Given that stations need to almost perfectly straight and level, . . .”

          Red herrings Riccardo.

          Crofton Downs, Awarua Street and Boxhill on Wellington’s “heavy rail” Johnsonville Line are all on a 1:40 gradient with a curvature radius of 200m.

          And the “longer platforms” argument is all about longer trains. This is a choice made to provide greater capacity and has little to do with the system being HR or LR.

    2. Yes distance wise it is going to be a faster route.
      Avondale to Onehunga is going to be game changer.

      In short term we can even have another airport bus route between Onehunga and airport. Since Onehunga train is quite fast it is possible to have a 30min journey. This become possible when we build bus lane from Onehunga to Airport and increase the frequency of Onehunga line.

      1. I always thought onehunga was logical for airport rail. Then steps to deliberately sabotage it were taken, not future proofing the new motorway bridge, removing the overpass etc. Over inflation the need to grade seperate all those crossings.

  12. Deeply disappointed that Twyford has caught “airport derangement syndrome”. Would of thought he could see past that. The only Good thought on this mistake as it’s just to be used as a selling tool.

  13. “The biggest risk with this option is Auckland based commuters from clogging up the train preventing Hamilton bound passengers from boarding”. Why a risk, rather than an opportunity to put on more trains for the Auckland based commuters and get them using trains instead of their current mode?

    1. It’s a risk if you have purcashed specialist units to run to Hamilton and Hamilton passengers can’t get onboard because of airport passengers doing a short journey.

      The same problem exists with Upper Hutt passengers using Wairarapa trains, it is solved by charging a premium.

      You are right that extra express trains could be put on between the city and Puhinui but they would have to find platform space at Britomart or slots in the CRL.

      1. Price it correctly so the amount of people using it to get from central auckland to south auckland is the same as the number boarding at south auckland to go to the waikato, and vice versa.

        Otherwise you’ll be running partly empty trains down to/from puhinui for people travelling between the airport/manukau/south auckland and the waikato.

      2. If it’s a limited stop service only doing airport and HLZ from Britomart, there shouldn’t be an issue, especially if dedicated tickets are required to use the service.

  14. There seems no talk of running hyrogen/BEV trackless trams from the city to towards the airport. It would be the same speed and similar capacity as the traditional trams they wanted without the cost of tracks and traction. Long term they want them between the airport and botany anyway so getting them would require stabling and servicing to be set up anyway.

    1. The benefits of ‘trackless trams’ are a mirage:
      – They weigh the same as a tram so you’ll still need to build a concrete pavement to support their weight. The cost and disruption of this construction will be extremely similar to installing traditional tram tracks.
      – An electric ‘trackless tram’ on rubber wheels will be less energy efficient than an electric tram on steel rails because of the increased rolling resistance.

      Better to go with the proven technology that has a lot more suppliers in the market.

        1. Yes, they empty vehicle weights 48t alone, plus add another 20t+ of passengers when full.

          68t on a six axle vehicle is 11t+ per axle. The NZ limit for multi axle truck and trailer units is 6t per axle, so they are almost double the legal limit per wheel… and probably an order of magnitude more impact on the paving surface as a result.

        2. Easy fix, add some axles!
          I’m picturing multiple buses all joined together (like a bendy bus). I can’t quite see how that can weigh more per axle than one bus does?

        3. Each axle require two wheel wells which take up huge amounts of seating and standing space inside the vehicle. The Chinese units already have twelve wheel wells occupying as much space as the seats do! Providing enough axles to meet the NZ standard would literally leave no room for seats, you’d just have a skinny aisle between a constant row of wheel arches.

          See here for the interior: https://i2.wp.com/www.crrcgc.cc/Portals/73/BatchImagesThumb/2017/1106/636455739137506784.jpg?resize=550%2C367

          You might not that nowhere except the government sponsored test track is actually running these things, there is probably some reason for that.

        4. The relation between the axle weight of vehicles traveling on a road and the decrease in that road’s life expectancy is not linear, it’s exponential. Pavement engineers in NZ use the fourth power as a rule of thumb*. That is, if the axle weight increases by 2x then the wear and tear imposed is 2^4, which is 16x more wear and tear.

          It’s notable that on Lower Albert St, where the terminal stops of the Northern Express bus services are, a thick concrete pavement is being constructed. And that’s for existing double-decker buses that can hold around 90 people.

          (* the actual exponent depends on the pavement type and mode of failure and there is variety depending on what study you read https://www.transport.govt.nz/assets/Import/Documents/TRL20Engineering20Advice.pdf )

        5. It was discovered nearly two centuries ago that steel rails are remarkably efficient in spreading the load ahead and behind rvehicles reducing the required bearing strengths of the road/track space immediately under the vehicles.
          Steel rails, in conjunction with flanged steel wheels, also provide an unbelievably simple and robust guidance system, free of proprietary components that are subject to obselence, with resulting future replacement difficulties.

        6. I’m not sure anyone has answered my question. If you effectively just join multiple standard buses together then there is no weight issue, right? Its just like them driving really close together.
          Then if you also take out the diesel engine and replace it with electric and overhead wires it would be even lighter still.
          I imagine without an engine and driver that a standard bus could hold say 70 people. So three joined together (one with driver) could hold 190 people. 4 could hold 260. Is there any good reason not to do this?

        7. The largest bi-articulated bus on the market holds one third of the passengers of the LRT train AT had in mind. This means you need to run they three times as frequently, which means you can’t give them signal priority through intersections anymore, and you have a huge termination headache to take care of with three times the vehicles at the end of the line.

          You can do it, plenty of places do, but to deliver the passenger capacity needed in Auckland with super long buses requires either hugely wide corridors and bus stations, grade separated intersections and terminals, or both.

        8. “Steel rails, in conjunction with flanged steel wheels, also provide an unbelievably simple and robust guidance system”

          Sort of – the flanges don’t guide the wheels, they are only there as a safety back up. You could remove all the flanges from a train and it will get from A to B just fine, unless it encounters a track fault that a flange could have mitigated.

        9. “Steel rails, in conjunction with flanged steel wheels, also provide an unbelievably simple and robust guidance system”

          Sort of – the flanges don’t guide the wheels, they are only there as a safety back up. You could remove all the flanges from a train and it will get from A to B just fine, unless it encounters a track fault that a flange could have mitigated.“

          The flanges on tram wheels play a more important role than those of train wheels, with “flange running” a way of coping with the tight curves and lack of can’t ( super elevation) on in street tram or light rail tracks – see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_train_and_tram_tracks

  15. Thanks LB. From your article the downsides are the following, none of which seem like an issue assuming they have a dedicated corridor:
    – difficulties maneuvering in traffic
    – an increased turning radius[citation needed]
    – the need to have extended length station platforms
    – reduced frequency of service (one larger bus every 10 minutes rather than two regular sized buses coming once every 5 minutes)
    – less flexibility for scheduling, routing, and maintenance.

    So why not do this?

    1. There are some routes that may suit bi-articulated buses very well. However for some routes demand will eventually exceed the capacity of even those vehicles. It really depends on patronage growth.

      Public transport advocacy should focus on what is best for a given corridor/route/area, not what the advocate’s preferred type of vehicle is.

      1. I don’t think they need to focus on what is best for any corridor, they need to focus on getting the biggest total bang for their money in the shortest timeframe. I Imagine they could do the entire old Auckland tram network with these in a few years for less than a small section of light rail on one corridor. Surely they would win on any kind of non biased business case, they would achieve most of the benefits at a fraction of the cost.

    2. Jimbo, Dominion Rd already runs one large bus every 3 minutes, going to one extra-large bus every 10 minutes would be a step back, let alone if you want to extend the line to serve Hillsborough, Onehunga, Mangere and Favona.

      A big double articulated bus would be a good fit for Dominion Rd alone, if you had another solution for the rest, but you’d still need them every five minutes or so at peak.

  16. “One reason for that that appears to have been a desire from the minister for the project to become a much more expensive, fully grade separated Light Metro system”

    I don’t think it was a desire, but rather a realisation that if you have to fence off the light rail tracks in order to enable the LRVs to travel faster than 30kph anyway, then you may as well make use of that separation and enable even more speed than 50kph.

    “Notably, ATAP suggested just 4% of trips during the morning peak using light rail would be people travelling/from the airport terminals”

    The more important percentage figure is how many people do they project will use PT to get to and from the airport, whether via Mangere or Puhinui or Otahuhu?

    There’s a big difference between projections and goals. What all airport proposals to date have lacked is a patronage goal. Something of real vision, such as aiming for 30% of all airport journeys, which would be 18 million passengers per year if the airport gets to 40 million airline passengers and 20 million workers as estimated.

    So, how to get 18 million PT users to and from the airport? The only way would be trains from south and north running directly to/from the airport, via a branch from Puhinui. This is what studies have shown to be the best option, it’s what Len Brown planned, and it’s what the public to this day deem to be Auckland’s highest transport priority.

    Time to get on with it.

    1. Why are you still pushing this insanity, Dominion Road is currently a 4 lane arterial with drivers going at least 60 km/h, why would LRT need to be fenced off?!

      “I don’t think it was a desire, but rather a realisation that if you have to fence off the light rail tracks in order to enable the LRVs to travel faster than 30kph anyway, then you may as well make use of that separation and enable even more speed than 50kph.”

      1. “why would LRT need to be fenced off?!”

        Kraut, because rail legislation requires elimination of risk.

        The rail operation along the road would have been governed by entirely different legislation than the road traffic on the same road, and in a far stricter manner. Designing infrastructure (the raised table) that doubles as a pedestrian refuge and railway had zero chance of surviving a safety case unless the speed of the LRVs was restricted.

        1. You haven’t read the legislation very closely if you think the requirement is to eliminate the risk.

    2. Street running light rail does not need to be fenced off to run at 50km/h. It works perfectly well without fencing in Melbourne, Sydney and the Gold Coast.

      Don’t keep repeating that nonsense about NZ rail safety legislation: Any legislation that is no longer fit for purpose can be changed. Only a simple majority in parliament is required. There have been times this parliamentary term where the government introduced legislation and passed it into law the very same day.

      1. NZ regulations: “A rail participant must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that none of the rail activities for which it is responsible causes, or is likely to cause, the death of, or serious injury to, individuals.”
        https://www.nzta.govt.nz/roads-and-rail/rail/operating-a-railway/legislation/#:~:text=Railways%20and%20tramways%20are%20required,based%20approach%20to%20regulatory%20oversight.&text=safety%20cases%20%E2%80%93%20a%20licence%20holder,case%2C%20describing%20their%20safety%20approach

        Aus regulations: “One of the key responsibilities is the general duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of the operator’s railway operations.” https://www.onrsr.com.au/about-onrsr/Rail-Safety-National-Law/safety-responsibilities

        So both countries work within very similar legislative frameworks based on the same principle. If they aren’t fencing light rail lines then we won’t need to either.

        1. LogarithmicBear , Then why is it Middlemore doesn’t have fencing between the tracks and when you go out West say Gleneden and Sunnyvale do , or is that there is a hospital at Middlemore and nothing at the other 2 ? .

        2. @david L
          At a guess, Glen Eden & Sunnyvale completely rebuilt as part of doubling works, Middlemore platforms raised/extended but never a complete rebuild (in recent times).

      2. LogarithmicBear, Melbourne, Sydney and the Gold Coast are not covered by our legislation. Like them, we have rails running along roads, and in every single instance the speed has been restricted for the purpose of mitigating the pedestrian hazard.

        AT’s plan to have infrastructure for two 66m long LRVs with a closing speed of 100kph doubling as a mid-road pedestrian refuge was never going to happen. It would have been impossible to remove the risk as the legislation requires.

        They have accepted this long ago, and abandoned the plan. You might as well too!

        1. Christ, did you think they were going to run them at 100kmh down Dominion Road!? No wonder you’ve been a bit confused about the whole thing.

        2. Wow, I’m beginning to understand a lot Geoff’s objections to LRT – he thinks they’re going to either be stationary or running at absolute full tit down a central corridor. It’s kind of appealing a GTA sort of way.

          Again, the Gold Coast runs them through their high pedestrian tourism areas like Cavill Circle. If they can figure it out, so can we.

  17. Matt, no one is going to do light rail down Dominion Road unless it connects to the airport.

    Oh Matt.
    You can have the light rail option down Dominion, or heavy rail from Puhinui. One or the other.

    Check out the light rail beneficiary clients:
    Auckland’s hotels, Auckland Airport and its shareholders esp Auckland Council, AT and its shareholder Auckland Council, NZTA and its shareholder NZGovernment, HNZ and its shareholder NZGovernment, and NZSuper (in some future form) and its owner NZGovernment. None of them want the heavy rail option. None have any patience with Kiwirail.

    Stop worrying about alternatives and focus, like most of us have to, on the clients with the money.

  18. Well when it was just an AT project it’s prime funders were Auckland Ratepayers. Therefore they could expect to be prime benificeries.
    The prime benifits were to increase transport capacity from the central isthmus area to the CBD and relieve bus congestion within the CBD and it’s southern approaches.
    With an added airport extension, it then could provide rapid transport from the central isthmus to the airport precinct and enhanced public transport connections onward westbound rail services.
    Secondary funding was sought from the Government to reflect benifits to travellers from the rest of the nation and the benifits of relieving transport stress on the existing state funded motorways at a lower costs, especially environmental costs, then motorway enlargement.
    Then the Government took it over. We are still awaiting a coherent description of the problem they are setting out to solve.
    It is only then an evaluation of any proposal can be made. We still await, no wonder Winston withdrew any support he may have had.

    1. “Well when it was just an AT project it’s prime funders were Auckland Ratepayers”

      Was it? i thought it was being funded by Central Government from Day 1?

      1. Auckland Transport has never had control over government funding.
        The best it could hope for was persuasion into a degree of government contribution. In this case the new government then decided to make it’s contribution 100% totally removing AT from the equation but worse from any contribution to formulating the problem to be solved.

  19. Couple of things stick out for me:
    Puhinui to airport connection, 10 minutes for 7km is only an average of 42kph. Surely for a dedicated and prioritised bus route that doesn’t stop along that path, it could be going 80-100kph along its own lane, only slowing for the station and airport precincts at either end.
    And, if AT and CAF both think the trains should only be stopping for 30 seconds per station, why is it routinely around double that?!

  20. Increasing pressure to reduce carbon footprints had already made just extrapololating air traffic growth figures suspect, and now covid, needs a fundemental reappraisal of air transport and it’s ancillary investment in NZ. Air New Zealand has been brutal in it’s assessments, the government and council needs to equally brutal in an assessment to reappraise Auckland Airport’s probable much reduced role in Auckland’s transport priorities in this decade.

      1. Yes we will, give it a couple of years and flying will be back to pre covid levels. We’re an island nation, we have to fly if we want to leave NZ, flying is also the easiest way of getting around the country.

        1. Your assessment in favour of air travel resuming previous growth trajectories is a lot more favourable then both Air NZ and QANTAS assessments. Which do I trust more? Well it ain’t yours.

        2. Air travel is already resuming in Europe, apart from the UK, most of the aviation experts and publications are looking at 2023 for full resumption of air services to pre covid levels. Air NZ and Qantas have right sized for the today’s market, you can bet your butt on it they have plans in place to steadily ramp up services when required. It’s important to note Air NZ haven’t cancelled any of the aircraft they have on order, they have permanently grounded older aircraft, all aircraft which they have ordered replacement for.

        3. Auckland Airport have postponed their terminal expansion and second runway plans indefinitely. While I doubt Covid will obliterate air travel for ever, it is quite clear there is a lot of uncertainty about volumes of air travel in the medium term.

      2. Jezza AIAL have been postponing the second runway for years and they have postponed the upgraded and integrated terminal for the last 30 years. AIAL never do anything unless they really have to, unless it’s adding more parking.

  21. It was never about air travelers, or at least the very few (4%) who would ever travel end to end.

    Regardless, I imagine there will still be demand for workers both at the terminals and the business parks. Adding to that air travelers (in whatever number) accessing the line at any point before or after Onehunga. So the SW/Isthmus line (which is what it is) should have two airport stations.

  22. I agree the AT street level light rail was never much about air travellers, but Tyford’s Metro Rail proposals seem distinctly air traveller focussed hence my plea for him to clearly state his proposals objectives so us voters can assess;
    1/ are these objectives appropriate?
    2/ is the proposed solution appropriate?
    3/ and most importantly, do they meet the transport, and future urban development needs of the central isthmus area and bus congestion in the CBD and southern CBD entry?

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