This is a guest post from reader William Hall

The Labour Government under Transport Minister Michael Wood has announced a business case on electrification of the North Island Main Trunk up to Levin, to enable an extension of Wellington commuter rail from Waikanae to Levin. This is a great move from the government, as it is their first announcement concerning the Wellington Metropolitan rail network after last year’s election. In 2020 there was a lot of cross party debate around the extension of the Kapiti Line. National and the Labour Party both campaigned on promises to look into plans to extend the Kapiti Line to Otaki, and the Greens campaigned for the eventual electrification all the way up to Palmerston North and ultimately a more regular service along the whole main line.

So how come the government decided to set its sights on Levin?

Levin has been seeing a lot of attention in the press over the past 6 months, as the new affordable commuter town to the North of the Capital. New housing and retirement developments are popping up all around the outskirts of Levin. Further south on the Kapiti coast, it has long been seen as a desirable destination for daily commutes riding the train into Wellington. The government has been looking for a solution to avoid constructing any more motorways, in order to meet their highly ambitious emission targets. So of course rail is their solution to the problem. The government has been less interested in investing in the Otaki to Levin motorway, seeing it as a massive National party project that would be counterproductive to the current Labour party’s transportation goals.

In 2014, the Review of the Wellington Regional Public Transport Plan looked at adding additional stations along the Kapiti line and future plans have also included extensions to Otaki. However whenever these projects have been put forward they have been stopped by one thing: the costs outweigh the benefits. New trains, new stations, perceived lower passenger uptake.

So what’s changed? Mostly the housing crisis and climate change – rail has been seen as one way for New Zealand to combat both of these issues. In June, the average house price in the Wellington Region topped $1 million, with no signs that house prices are going to plateau anytime soon. Similar issues surrounding climate change in New Zealand have seen rail as a solution. Currently New Zealand is the 5th highest per-capita emitter in the OECD, whilst producing 80% of the country’s electricity renewably – a statistic we top the OECD in. So it’s a no-brainer to expand the electric rail network with those two subjects in mind: greener travel and more land for development.

So what is the reasoning behind extending the electrification to Levin? The government has already promised Capital Connection commuters a newly refurbished fleet of British Rail Mark II carriages, which are currently being worked on in the Hutt Workshops, not forgetting the 2025 fleet of new futuristic trains. This will see an increased timetable to go along with the new rolling stock.

So why are they now looking into extending the Kapiti line to Levin?

Levin is the 3rd largest town in the Manawatu region, and as of June 2020, had over 18,800 residents. Nearby Otaki has approximately 5000, and Otaki Beach 2000. In terms of population, both settlements are probably big enough to sustain a regular train service. That’s without taking in the large amounts of green field development opportunity in the Northern Kapiti Coast, for example Te Horo and Manakau. This “boarder” region between Wellington and the Manawatu is going to continue to see high levels of growth over the next few years. Over the past 5 years the Capital Connection has seen 3.1% passenger growth year on year. People want to live in this amazing part of the Lower North Island, but it is up to the Government and KiwiRail to enable this growth.

The current end of the line in Waikanae is 55.43km from Wellington’s Bunny St, while Levin is 90.3km and Palmerston North 136km. Electrification, bridging the gap between the electrified network in Wellington and the Central North Island, could bring great benefits to the region – mainly, better and cleaner transport. In Auckland, the 15km length of track between Papakura and Pukekohe is currently being electrified at the cost of $371 million NZD. Is it reasonable to believe that simply electrifying the line to Levin, without significant double tracking, would cost a similar amount to the Papakura and Pukekohe works? Depending on what comes of Kiwi Rail’s regional rolling stock project, and further improvements to the Northern Explorer that are said to be in the development stage, the government needs to run these two projects simultaneously.

For instance, just extending the Kapiti line will only add to the current problems we see at peak time: overcrowding, not only in the trains but on the track as well. Or, will we see a much needed investment to the infrastructure between Levin and Paraparaumu, which for the most part currently relies on a single track with limited passing loops. It would be great to see the Government announce in the next 12 months: new passing loops, double tracking and 3rd or even 4th platforms added at some major stations along the line. The current Hyundai EMU rolling stock simply doesn’t have the capacity to deal with the predicted demand on the Kapiti and Hutt lines going onward, so might we also get to see some new rolling stock for the two most frequented lines on the Network(Kapiti and Hutt Lines)? With or without an extension north, new EMU rolling stock must be a priority.

Constraints already exist at the North South Junction, that for years has been talked about for daylighting, double tracking and the single platform and track at Waikanae. Then closer to Wellington is the section of 3 tracks at Kaiwharawhara Junction which limits all Wellington services. If Metlink is going to enable a 10-minute frequency on all services, these issues will surely have to be resolved. All of this needs funding however, This government has looked to curtail spending on motorways. The Otaki to Levin Motorway is estimated to cost $1.5 Billion NZD [Ed note: the Otaki to Levin project is now fully funded, with an extra $817m granted as part of the Government’s $12 billion New Zealand Upgrade Programme in early 2020]. If that kind of spending was allocated to the North Island Main Trunk Line between Wellington and Palmerston North, we could see a world class narrow-gauge network, something that we definitely can’t claim at the moment.

If the government still wants to back the Idea of 15 Bi-Model or Hybrid Multiple Units in 2025 for the Capital Connection and Wairarapa Connection, then surely that should be taken into consideration, especially with the government trying to encourage commuters onto weekday Te Huia services between Hamilton and Auckland. It would be good to see KiwiRail directed to look into one rolling stock for all 3 of these services. There are problems with this though: Auckland and the central North Island use the modern German electrification network (25kV AC) while Wellington uses the older electrification system (1,500V DC). It’s important to remember long lead-in times for procurement and manufacture mean that a decision needs to happen soon rather than later if KiwiRail is going to make its 2025 target.

However, finding a single rolling stock provider for KiwiRail’s “long distance, intercity fleet” would hopefully keep procurement costs down to a minimum. Both CAF and Hyundai have a stake in the current commuter network, and with Alstom and Bombardier picking up several high-value rolling stock contracts over the ditch in Australia, Kiwi Rail certainly isn’t without choice. So for Wellington Commuters they might be seeing a lot more diversity in there rolling stock over the next decade.

Won’t extending the lines just add more pressure to the Capitals already inadequate rail network? With the Wellington regional council looking to develop a “turn up and go” network with 10 minute frequency – and what about the Capital Connection? People said after Waikanae was added to the electric network in 2011 the Capital Connection wouldn’t last long, that it was the “final nail in the coffin” for the service. Possibly? But it could also mean that a new, improved and reworked Capital Connection service could better connect the Manawatu to Wellington with fewer intermediate stops.

If that involves simply the new refinished British Rail Mark II carriages or new multiple units, we can only wait to find out. However, the government’s current plans for Wellington seem rather disjointed, and there doesn’t seem to be a vision for the network. It is as if the government, desperate to get on with something, has tasked the transport minister to start throwing lots of ideas at the wall and see what sticks.

If Levin gets electrified rail, why not look to upgrade the entirety of the NIMT between Wellington and Palmerston North, and go ahead and purchase some new electric regional trains? Create a super corridor connecting the lower North Island’s most important towns and cities. If so, then new regional trains would definitely be needed. May I suggest Queensland’s amazing New Generation Rolling stock by Bombardier, the Cape gauge model of the Bombardier Aventra, most commonly associated with London’s overground, improved for regional services?

The problem with simply extending the Line to Levin is that current services will be busier for longer, with more people being required to stand at peak times. Unless new bigger rolling stock is purchased Wellington commuters will continue to be treated like sardines. If this government is serious about taking control of this housing crisis, the NIMT is a critical piece of infrastructure that they are not using well enough.

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      1. Well, if we’re going to be picky, then technically Levin is the second largest town in the Manawatū region; it’s bigger than Feilding, and Whanganui is not in the region…

        1. Whanganui is under the same Regional Council so it’s reasonable to say it’s the third biggest in the region.

      1. Miffy +1

        I also have a key pad that leaves characters out if or add extra ones I don’t check the spelling . But this person has the right idea and hopefully it will spread around other parts of the country , like Christchurch and Dunedin .

  1. A longer-term plan to extend electrification to Palmerston North would be the best argument against spending significant money on extending low-voltage DC electrification. Better in that case to start as you mean to continue and begin 25kV electrification, avoiding purchase of rolling stock incompatible with that.

    I also have questions around priorities. If Levin is big enough to support regular rail services, surely so are Cambridge and Rangiora?

    1. Rangiora and Rolleston rail connections to Christchurch are no brainers. Waikato is growing faster than the lower NI so satellite towns of Hamilton should definitely get some rail love. Using the priorities of this paper Ashburton should also get a rail connection…

      1. Don’t forget a line from Tauranga too get to Hamilton or Auckland. Would be awesome to take rail for a change instead of driving or if heading to Auckland fly there.

    2. Levin has a line into it already.

      For Cambridge the track was pulled up years ago after Hautapu. There is still a rail right of way and an underpass on Waikato Expressway/Victoria Road interchange, the line (single track only) would have to cross the south facing on and off ramps. I believe the plot where the station used to be was sold off so it would have to be further from the centre of town even if you re-laid all the tracks.

      Not to mention that since that branch is short range freight only the maintenance on it has been minimal, I was told by one train driver that I trust that a few years ago the speed limit was 20kph. So you are looking at rebuilding ~15km of tracks.

      1. One difference is Hamilton is a moderate sized city with lots of free parking in the central city, whereas Wellington is a bigger city and has less free parking. As noted above, the Cambridge branch line is also a slow industrial branch line with one main customer at Hautapu, which is on the outskirts of Cambridge. Some work on strengthening bridges was carried out when Labour was last in power, but the line is not designed for fast passenger trains. In fact, I could cycle faster than the six container freight trains run there.
        With lots of moderately sized towns in the Horowhenua and Manawatu with centrally situated railway stations the future for regional rail would seem strong. It would also be nice to see trains run from the Wairarapa to Palmerston North and through the Manawatu Gorge.

    3. Donald,

      You have hit in exactly why the Great Wellington Regional Council has opted for hybrid electric trains rather than supporting further catenary electrification.

      At every election politicians come to the Otaki railway station and extol their plans to electrify the network to Otaki, Levin and beyond.

      But the reality is that the upper North Island makes a more compelling investment case for electrification, and the Wairarapa line would be a long way down the list. So rather than waiting another 30-50 years GWRC has opted for an option that electrifies the trains without the need ro electrify the line.

      The Business case, fully funded by Govt, was submitted to Govt in November 2021 to be considered as part of Budget 2022.

      The bid is for 22 4-car hybrid trains, some loops, stabling, maintenance workshops and station upgrades. The proposal would result in greater frequency of Metlink services on the Wairarapa and Manawatu lines, as well as being able cater for passenger growth on the existing electric network.

      1. Hi Daran

        I think that you’re a bit pessimistic about the electrification extensions potential for the wellington region. The political economy is much more important than business cases (evidenced by the 0.2 BCR highway being built by a labour govt). It may well be that extending the Auckland electrification would be a better business case, but I think that further extensions for the Kapiti line would be more likely to be built.

        Labour don’t want to be seen as prioritising highways over rail (even though they are) and just throwing money at the problem for image has always been a good political play. There is already momentum here, a growing service already runs these tracks, and the public are primed and accept that adding electrification extensions is good for the region. “aren’t they due to extend the trains here soon?”

        1. The promise of electrification is being used to delay low carbon battery technology being used on our railway. For example as soon as AT suggested that it would purchase battery assisted EMU,s to run to Pukekohe past the end of the electrification at Papakura the expensive electrification project suddenly appeared and it was backed by labour and National. Then we have to wait about five years before a singe electric train runs to Pukekohe including 2 years when passengers have to take a bus. Same thing will happen with the capital connections. There are people in power advising the Govt against any alternative technology for powering our trains I suspect because they just do not want regional trains like Te Huia or the capital connections. If the battery powered EMU’s had being a success running to Pukekohe they would have no excuse to delay there use on furthur extension of the passenger network or on other routes. Further elecrification is being used as a hand brake.

  2. Perfectly possible to purchase tri-mode trains – e.g. DC electric + AC eclectic + other (eg battery or, ahem, diesel) so that they could run all the way to Palmy and beyond.

    These could form a nationwide fleet for inter-regional services to keep costs down.

    Would allow NIMT AC electrification to be extended south to Levin and Wellington’s DC electrification extended north, with switch-over there.
    The bigger benefit to Kiwirail (if they bought suitable locos) would be reduced cost / greater speed for their freight business getting in and out of Wellington.
    As the OP eludes to, there are significant infrastructure capacity issues that need addressing in tandem with this, to make it all possible.

    1. Tri-mode passenger units shouldn’t be a problem.

      Tri-mode locos for freight tend to be quite heavy and are likely to exceed the weight limits on all but the most recently built rail bridges in New Zealand. They may exist but I wasn’t able to find a “light” tri-mode loco a couple of years ago.

      Bi-electric (AC and DC) locos would fit under the weight limits if you could get the AC and DC lines to meet somewhere (plus fill the Puke->Hamilton gap).

      1. Yeah, for the locos I has bi-mode in mind (+/- a ‘last mile’ battery for getting around the yards) with a supposition that the entire NIMT from AKL – WGTN would be electric (AC / DC changeover at Levin or Ōtaki).

      2. Stadler is going to build some tri-mode class 93 loco’s for Rail Operations Group in the UK. As these are 4 axle Bo-Bo units for UK where permissible axle loadings are up to 22.5t they would need to be under 90 tons. A six axle unit for NZ mainlines can be up to 108 tons.

        Siemens is building Vectron dual modes with 2Kw at the wheels, again Bo-Bo for similar axle loads on the European mainland. I don’t think the weight of dual mode units is really that much of a constraint anymore even if it still leads to some compromises.

        1. 2 kW at the wheels is woeful. I think you mean 2 MW. Even that is significantly less than the large diesel electrics currently in service in NZ.

  3. The author of the article is obviously an out of date Labour Party hack:

    “The government has been less interested in investing in the Otaki to Levin motorway, seeing it as a massive National party project that would be counterproductive to the current Labour party’s transportation goals.”

    Umm, sorry. Hasn’t the author tried to keep up to date with the NZ Upgrade Programme?

    1. My thoughts indeed,
      While all the attention was distracted by the $800 million boondoggle for a new Waitemata bike bridge- the Deputy PM quietly added $700 million to this project, and shows no signs of stopping it….

      ““It is going to proceed.” – Grant Roberston

      “Ōtaki MP Terisa Ngobi [Labour] said she had strongly advocated for the expressway to proceed during many meetings with ministers and officials. ”

  4. Also, the name of the Minister of Transport is Michael Wood, not “Michel Wood.”

    All I can say, show us the business case.

  5. There’s no way for electrification to Levin or Palmerston North (or the whole main trunk line for that matter) to wash its face economically I’m afraid is the rational answer. Electrification needs to be measured in multiple trains per hour, not day to stack up. The condition of the track is probably sufficiently poor to negate the acceleration benefits of electrification anyway (I can’t imagine top speed is a concern on that line!) and surely both track improvement works and wires would be too much $$ for the modest population centres being served. I mean let’s be realistic – a two hour train ride is a *long* time for commuters – that would be like commuting from Manchester to London.

    The Minister’s proposal seems like it is muddying the water and causing further delay to the regional council’s quite sensible sounding plan of just buying bi-mode trains of some sort (I would be agnostic about diesel or battery to be honest, on decent modular rolling stock you can just bin the diesel engines later on if need be) is the way to actually get some passenger benefits locked in and delivered. Any incoming National government would just scrap the plan to put wires up so they may as well get signing specifications and contracts for rolling stock and actually achieve that. Modal shift instead of traction emissions reductions is the prize here – the same goes for freight.

        1. I lived in Seaview on the IoW during my high school years and I can concur that I knew a number of people in Seaview that commuted via the RydePortsmouth Cat and then train to London daily!

    1. While I agree with the sentiment personally (2h is too much for commuting), the Capital Connection is just a commuter train and nothing else (having only 1 train on weekdays in the morning to Wellington and in the afternoon back to Palmy). And that is a full train. So there are quite a few commuters using the train.

      And most of the developments in Levin are explicitly targeting Wellington buyers, which means this will become commuters. And with the current policies by our car-focused government means almost all of them will drive.

        1. Sure, they probably would like a job nearby. But as I said, the target are Wellington workers who want to buy a property but cannot afford anything in Wellington. They would be still Wellington workers just living in Levin.

          And before someone brings up the idea that some government agency can relocate to Levin to bring the jobs there. Sounds good on paper but would never work. That agency has employees not just living in Levin, but also Wellington or Hutt. There are only few roads and zero PT (unless you count going via Wellington City) between Hutt and Kapiti. So we would need to spent a couple of billions on Hutt to Kapiti highway or Hutt to Kapiti train line (guess which one would be built).

          The US is an example with office parks all over the place. People are still not living near their workplaces but now with people driving from everywhere to everywhere getting a good PT system to work is impossible. So this entrenches car dependency even further.

        2. Suburban expansion of office parks (à la USA) basically guarantees that everyone will have to drive to work. It’s much more sensible to concentrate employment in well-connected centres which are natural public transport nodes.

          This question frequently comes up in Auckland. Yes, it’s a spread-out city but a push to decentralised office parks would simply make things worse. If you want to reduce the time that people spend in traffic jams, concentrate employment in dense areas with good public transport.

        3. Yeah I was just curious. We are well beyond the realm of suburbs here. A 100km+ commute seems a small niche to specifically target as a developer.

    2. If the fare vs housing costs ballance is appropriate, people will travel. I used to commute from Swindon to Old Street in the City of London (approx 80 miles one way) each day buy bus, train and underground. I wasn’t the only commuter from Swindon, and a few travelled from further west….

  6. Build it all the way to Palmy as 25kV and purchase dual voltage EMU. Eventually upgrade the entire Welly network to 25kV at some point in the future. You would only need a handful of dual voltage trains for now then when the Matangi’s are due for replacement in a couple of decades do the switch then.
    That just leaves the smallish gap between Pukekohe (once that is completed) and Frankton to complete the entire NIMT. Electric freight and EMU passenger trains including future regional services.

      1. Not sure converting Wellington to 25kv AC is overly feasible, and would be very difficult to do while maintaining the existing electric services.

        From what I’ve heard it would require:
        – Re-wiring the whole network
        – Re-signalling the whole network
        – Adjusting the clearances on all of the traction poles

        You’d have to suck up ‘no subbie services for a few years’ while the work is done. I’d say that it would be very hard for anyone to justify, especially when there are plenty of dual-mode locomotives/units available on the market that work with both DC and AC.

        What’s the goal here – a unified network or the provision of good public transport? The latter doesn’t really care which tech is used to power the trains.

        1. Re-wiring shouldn’t be required. The DC cable are thicker than the AC ones so can handle the voltage/current required.

          You do need to:
          1. Build new sub-stations to inject the AC power.
          2. Increase the clearances between the lines and bridges, etc (it is the voltage that determines the gaps).

          You also wouldn’t be able to do the change over until the entire fleet is bi-mode/bi-electric as you would have to switch all lines in one go.

          If you started on number 2 now, you might be ready by the time that the matangis need replacing, but it would just be easier to keep the existing DC network as is and buy bi-electric trains when they need to cross the network boundary.

          I believe a switch from DC to AC using overhead lines has been done once, it is technically possible but there are generally easier ways to handle this.

        2. All good points Morgan. The disruption to services would last as you note for several years, suck up an enormous amount of money (changing one type of electrification for another is basically unheard of even with third rail which is inferior to OLE in every respect bar initial installation cost) and probably have pretty much no benefit given other existing network constraints. The same goes for the effect of disruption on electrifying the main trunk line. I think KiwiRails original plan to bin off existing electrification got it half right but the bit they got wrong was buying cheap and nasty locomotives.

          It should be remembered that there is more to just ‘traction decarbonisation good’ when it comes to appraisal of rail investment. Passenger/freight journey time improvements are the main driver of benefits (the diesel being replaced is marginal in services that are measured per day and not per hour) and let’s be realistic when it comes to Auckland or Palmerston North to Wellington those benefits will sum closer to $zero than $many millions.

        3. Multi-voltage trains and routes are becoming increasingly common overseas, so shouldn’t be a deal-breaker here – changing one type of electrification for another is not unheard of! But converting from 1.5kV DC to 25kV AC probably wouldn’t require too much alteration to the overhead line equipment, if British Rail’s experience in doing just that in east London (GE & LTS lines) and Manchester (Glossop line) is any guide: they found that the DC catenary and clearances generally worked fine with AC, and much of the DC equipment was in use for many years after conversion; and train service was largely maintained throughout.

          However, the OHLE is just one part of the complex electric railway operating system.

  7. To me the idea that you pop in thousands of new commuters into Levin is the main issue here. Upgrading the Wellington network to support 10min frequency is illusory, in fact they have an issue keeping the service level at the current bad level (over my time here in Wellington the train system has regressed a lot, when I moved to Wlg in 2008 there was an occasional weekend with no trains, no having trains on the weekend is the rare exception).

    Mode-shift is required, but I think for commuting the best mode-shift is to wfh, i.e. no commuting at all for office workers. And reduce car usage otherwise as well, i.e. follow the 15min city concept.

    So the government should:
    * incentivize wfh
    * require that every new road being built in NZ includes separated bike paths (and of course good pedestrian paths), roads which are the target for PT (bus), should include a bus lane as well ; rural roads might be exempt, but rural needs to be defined carefully
    * every new home needs to be within 15min walking distance of shops (and 5-10min of biking). If a subdivision is too far out of an existing centre they have to plan for a new one (which should allow to build up to 4 floors in such a centre with the ground floor dedicated to shops/restaurants/…). Again same exception for rural homes (though new rural homes should be considered carefully due to their high carbon footprint)

    The business case announcement is just so that the government can show they are “doing” something. Nothing will come out of it (other than a useless business case and some money transferred from taxpayers to consultants).

  8. Kiwi rail should build a new line parallel to the Transmission gulley motorway coming out at Takapu. This would remove the threat of the steep hill side it currently traverses before Pukerua bay. Joining the line from the new end at Parkakriki to the end of the Johnsonville line and doing necessary upgrades means you get a new line plus a faster line from the Kapiti coast straight into Wellington. It also means the new line could be made to 25kVAC which would’ve mean the NIMT is uniform gauge and voltage the whole way. The holy grail for electrification of railways. Could keep Hutt lines at 1500VDC and keep the lines separate from the interchange to the station.

    1. Transmission gully has grades up to 8%. Far more than any other section of rail in the country. Plus the cuttings are already massive, there’s no room up there for a railway, and adding any more width to the alignment is not really feasible.

      If I understand where you mean correctly.

    2. Dumbest idea ever Guy. Have you actually seen the amount of work they have done to the sides of the hills along Transmission Gully? They’ve spent years on it, it has cost billions, and now it is almost finished, you are seriously proposing that someone digs a route next to it to drive a train line through? Just simply Never Going to Happen.

      1. Rail via the Transmission Gully corridor would require a long tunnel under the Wainui saddle. But if it is to be tunnelled it need not be confined to that particular corridor but could go where most expedient.

  9. It seems incredible that there’s still a ~3km section of single track between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki. There must have been plans to remove this bottleneck – any ideas?

    This is a very scenic stretch of coastline. How about bypassing the single track section with a new twin-track tunnel under the Paekakariki escarpment and converting the (now former) track to form part of a coastal cycleway?

    This would also support the case for further double-tracking north of Waikanae, where the terrain is a lot better able to accommodate railway construction (i.e. not on the side of a cliff).

    1. Why would you want to remove it? It is the most fantastic piece of engineering and the views are incredible. Dug by hand, opened in 1886, and sure, it is a little congested at times, but it is not the sort of thing you would want to do away with. And you don’t need a new coastal cycleway, because, there’s already a coastal road you can cycle on and an escarpment walkway. Probably one of the main reasons that people enjoy using the train to get to work up the coast is because they have the world’s most beautiful views out the window. Wouldn’t change it for the world.

      1. Compromise is to add additional single track in a new tunnel further inland, for southbound traffic, in order to double the route, and retain existing line for northbound. Cheaper too.

      2. Guy M: that stretch of track it’s lovely, but it’s a significant operational bottleneck, a source of delay and unreliability. It’s better than it was, but it still needs fixing.

        Ask a commuter whether they’d prefer to have the view, or a more reliable service…

  10. Wellington to Levin is a long way to go in a metro-style Matangi with no toilet. The Queensland Bombardier trains are designed to do both suburban and longer distance journeys and come complete with toilets.

  11. Very good points in the article, one small quibble is that Bombardier has been bought out by Alstom as of this year.

    I’ll point out that the most recent GWRC regional transport committee agenda has a metlink update outlining the proposed peak services for Wairarapa and Manawatu, if anyone wants to have a look at the plan.

    I wouldn’t worry so much about the choice of electrification as some, in both Japan and Europe multi-system rolling stock is far from unusual and are nothing exotic. if the Wellington commuter system is going to extend to Levin but after that is going to be more infrequent long distance services, that would be a sensible to change over. With the 25Kv extended down eventually from Palmerston North there would be no need for replacing the 1700v DC Matangi’s, with the lower half of the NIMT now fully electrified.

    I’m supportive of others suggestions that Hamilton and Christchurch get commuter rail systems also, but I’d be interested if Manawatu/Whanganui itself could possible support a system. The existing bus services where they extend beyond any one town or city seem to parallel the rail lines and the region has a population in the range of quarter of a million and as far as I can tell all of the larger towns about 67% of that population are on rail lines.

  12. Surely a similar frequency to the Wellington Masterton service would be ample sufficiency. But if its going as far as Levin then it might as well run to Palmerston North. So electrifying to Levin doesn’t seem to be warranted. Which leaves us to speculate as to what kind of rolling stock is needed and how it should be powered.
    I have favoured multiple unit sets over carriage trains however battery electric locomotives are becoming a thing. Also it seems to me that a battery power wagons coupled in behind an electric locomotive could be used to provide extra energy. This could allow for the continued use of the existing Masterton and the new Capital connection carriages.
    One more thing Kiwirail is yet to announce what will replace the DX and DC locomotives for the South Island. It is possible that some battery electric shunters will be announced as part of the same deal. After all they are including batteries on their new ferries which are being built so they are at least thinking about a lower carbon future. Maybe all locomotives will have some battery power in the future and maybe the ability to charge their batteries from the overhead as well.

  13. It seems really obvious to me that if we are going to extend Wellington’s rail services to Levin, then we should extend them to Palmerston North to provide all day 2 way services for both cities (with a vastly improved bus service from the railway to the city centre and university in Palmerston North). This would enable greater connections along the corridor and significantly improve job market integration.

    If wfh is the future, then rail will be an important part of safely enabling the touchpoints that are required to make that work for a lot of roles.

    1. “…with a vastly improved bus service from the railway to the city centre and university in Palmerston North.”

      Which should be simple. Its practically a straight line between all three, via Rangitikei and Fitzherbert Avenue. It must only be 10mins end to end, 5 mins either side of the Square.

  14. I would think full electrification to Palmerston North is probably a better idea. 25 kV 50 Hz is a bit cheaper than the DC (not as many sub-stations). It would allow for a decent Manawatu train service, in which the one between Levin and Wellington is included. It would also be a great to electrify the 60 km between Upper Hutt and Masterton – would also give the Remutaka Tunnel greater capacity. Again, it might be better to go for AC. Multiple system trains are indeed not a problem.

    The article does include a few inaccuracies. Yes, Bombardier Transportation has been taken over by Alstom. There are only 30km of 25 kV 50 Hz electrification in Germany. 25kV 50 Hz is the world’s dominant electrification system, because it is similar to the general grid and is the preferred modern system. However, electrification was relatively advanced in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Norway and Sweden before the 1950s – so there they are using 15kV 16.666Hz, normally produced in special railway power stations. Other European systems started out with DC and then in recent years used 25kV 50Hz for new lines and main lines (for example France and Italy).

  15. The bottleneck in Wellington is not the approach tracks to Wellington Station but the terminus station itself. While there may be ways of boosting its in-out throughput, the real answer for Wellington is to extend the entire metro service southwards through the CBD and out to the Airport – along the same corridor that has for many decades been seen as needing an expensive and controversial motorway. Much of this extension would need to be underground, unless light rail in-the-street is opted-for, which would not be compatible with the system Wellington already has.
    The best way to ‘terminate’ an intensive suburban service is with some form of turnaround-loop, rather than a set of dead-end platforms. This could be built on or beneath the Miramar Golf Course (currently earmarked for expansion of the airport).
    The proposed airport expansion does not appear to be factoring-in any public transport other than a bus stop and a taxi stand. The proposed motorway may never happen. It is time to start planning Wellington’s City Rail Link.

    1. With nine platforms and four tracks in and out there’s loads of capacity at Wellington station. There are a similar number of services an hour currently than what uses Britomart with two tracks and five platforms.

    2. Wellington station can easily handle 40 trains an hour with 8 active platforms and a spare.

      Turnaround loops are terrible ways to terminate because you block the line while doing timekeeping and walkthrough. A train coming in from kapiti would need to stop for ten minutes or so at the terminus.

      Wellington can easily and cheaply extend its rail as far as Newtown using an elevated viaduct over the quays and terraces… if it accepts elevated.

      But there is no capacity gain in going further, unlike the CRL, so it’s impossible to justify the huge cost of a CRL style tunnel.

      1. There’s still the issue that Wellington station is kind of in a poor location. So a whole lot of people having to transfer on, or you continue those same vehicles further into the city.

        Potentially you could have a double track “turnaround” with a few stations deeper into the city, and make two of the existing lines inter run, like auckland plans on doing with the eastern and western line (or whatever other pair)

        Getting an elevated structure through would be extremely unlikely. And underground would be very very expensive too.

        If they’re going to do some heinous motorway tunnel, then even such crl style tunnels would be cheaper and higher capacity, so maybe it could get pushed through.

        1. This is the problem. The CRL is heinously expensive, but heinously beneficial too. Not only does it give new stations with better coverage of the CBD, by linking at both ends to the existing network it also doubles train capacity on the network and makes trips much more direct on the busiest line. Triple whammy of benefits.

          The equivalent in Wellington would just be a ‘stub’ extension, so it gets you the extra stations for coverage which is good, but it doesn’t change capacity and doesn’t make trains any faster. So its only a single whammy.

          A wellington CRL would cost at least as much as the Auckland CRL, but with lower ridership and lower benefits it would be impossible to justify the cost.

          As for that motorway tunnel plan, well two wrongs don’t make a right.

        2. Yeah for 1/3 of the cost you could just build a proper LRT network for the city of Wellington to the airport and further east, the only downside v a big rail tunnel is having to walk 200m to change modes which is not a big loss

      2. Riccardo, the main problem at Wellington station is the criss-crossing of inbound and outbound services across each other’s paths as they thread their way to and from the platforms. Add to this the adjacent stabling yard which also feeds movements across the station throat. Then factor in the 600-odd metres limited to 20Km/h for legacy-signalling reasons, and perhaps you will then understand that Wellington Station is close to maxing out. You can’t utilise all 9 platforms effectively. Adding some grade-separation between inbound and outbound might help, but how much investment should go into propping up an arrangement which fails to adequately service a quarter of the region?

        You have failed to grasp the turnaround-loop concept with your “block the line while doing timekeeping and walkthrough” comment. For a start, a turnaround loop – which would include a station – need not be a single track but could have more than one platform track, thereby permitting leap-frogging of trains if necessary. But the operational concept would be not to time-keep and walk-through at this point. Keep the trains circulating and do the laying-over at the suburban ends of the routes. The extension would function like a pipe. Trains enter and keep moving (max 2 minute headways) till they exit – just like Auckland’s CRL which will similarly obviate the layovers and walkthroughs that currently happen at Britomart – transferring them instead to the outer termini where they should be. The difference with ‘Wellington’s CRL’ is that it would effectively be a single-track “circuit” with entry and exit points at the same place.

        “Heinously expensive”? – perhaps, but you need to deduct the cost of the heinously expensive proposed motorway which this ought to be able to replace.

        Kraut, your understanding is also lacking with your comment, “having to walk 200m to change modes which is not a big loss”. Interchanging between vehicles and modes is fine and acceptable on minority-flows such as branches and feeder services, but you do not deliberately impose it on a major arterial flow such as Wellington’s entire regional rail spine. De Leuw Cather consultants who studied both Auckland and Wellington in the 1960s recognised this and recommended a rail extension be progressed with as much urgency as the urban motorway was given. Shortly after that we moved into a protracted era of zero interest in rail-expansion and both Auckland’s and Wellington’s rail plans were binned. Happily after nearly 60 years Auckland has finally seen sense, in spite of the many voices which spoke as negatively of its CRL concept as some of the above commenters are speaking of Wellington’s.

        “Lower ridership and lower benefits” than Auckland’s? I think not.
        Wellington’s ridership for decades exceeded Auckland’s, until Auckland decided to properly develop its moribund system, whereupon ridership shot up. Although Wellington’s started from a much higher base, its rail system unfortunately stagnated for about 20 years with old trains and lack of innovation, and only in the last decade or so has this changed. Up until Covid-19 struck, patronage was booming and not far behind Auckland’s. The reason for this is that an individual rail-route – be it in Auckland or Wellington, serves not the whole city but a CORRIDOR. And a corridor in Auckland is not so very different from a corridor in Wellington. Auckland of course has more corridors than Wellington, but this is irrelevant as many are not served by its rail system. Chop these from the equation and Auckland’s rail-served corridors look quite like Wellington’s, with patronage not dissimilar, but a lot more recent investment. If Auckland’s rail-served corridors are worthy of building a CRL, why should Wellington’s similar corridors not be?

        1. The problems you described with capacity at Wellington could be solved relatively easily with improved signalling, untangling the track arrangements at the throat and relocating some of the stabling if needed. Building a tunnel to solve this problem would be using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

          While it’s true a quarter of the city isn’t served by the rail network this would change little if the line were to be extended though to the airport as there are too many disparate corridors in the city.

          What Wellington needs is vastly improved bus corridors so it doesn’t take a bus 45 minutes to get from Seatoun to the Railway station.

          While I agree that the transfer at the railway station is less than ideal the opportunity to affordably run trains through the CBD has been lost. I doubt growth predictions on the existing corridors and likely patronage on an airport line would ever justify the large costs as they have in Auckland.

        2. Jezza – There is no longer any bus services between Seatoun to the Railway Station. There used to be the Airport Flyer Railway Station to Airport limited stop services operated by NZ Bus until 2017 when the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) wouldn’t fund the services under their new dysfunctional new bus network. After alot of public back lash the GWRC decide to fund a new Railway Station to Airport service to be operated by Tranzit to start in 2021 but cancelled the contract at the last minute with Tranzit already had taken delivery some of the new buses. I saw one of these buses at wellington Airport on 15 Aug 21. GWRC will be starting the new Railway Station to Airport services early 2022 with a different bus operator using electric buses.

        3. Chris – I should have said from Seatoun to the north end of Lambton Quay, although it looks like that is about 40 mins.

        4. To not do any timekeeping stops or allow staff changes or breaks in the city is a terrible operating concept. You’d have 120km without stopping, twice the length of any Auckland line with the CRL, and terrible reliability as a result. It’s also probably now illegal to have drivers work that long without a break.

        5. Chris PTF, some clarifications:
          – “There is no longer any bus services between Seatoun to the Railway Station” – the peak-hours 30x bus does that run, scheduled to take up to 58 minutes inbound, a consistent 35 mins outbound.
          – “There used to be the Airport Flyer Railway Station to Airport limited stop services operated by NZ Bus until 2017” – it continued until 2020.
          – “Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) wouldn’t fund the services under their new dysfunctional new bus network” – GWRC didn’t fund the Flyer in the old network, either.
          – “GWRC decide to fund a new Railway Station to Airport service to be operated by Tranzit to start in 2021 but cancelled the contract” – it was the airport, not GWRC, that proposed to enter into such a contract with Tranzit, but it was never signed.
          – “GWRC will be starting the new Railway Station to Airport services early 2022” – it’s due to start no later than July 2022.

    3. Dave B (Wellington) – How is Wellington railway station being a ‘terminus’ station, is a bottle neck as urban, regional and interregional passenger trains would be bi-directional like the Matangi’s? There has been many talk fests over the years about adding a 4th in/out track for the station platforms and a 5th in/out track for freight trains only for the freight facilities along Aotea Quay.

      Even Kiwirail has reluctantly admitted there is a need to add a 4th in/out track and a separate track for freight trains to service the station and freight facilities and the wharves.

      Why would you need a ‘turn around loop’ facilities at Wellington airport be better than the current dead-end platforms at Wellington railway station?

      If the CRL being a relatively simple engineering project is currently going to cost $4.5 billion, the cost of a tunnel under Wellington central city, Mt Victoria, Kilbirnie and the Airport including through a couple of fault lines would be be very expensive as the tunnel would have to be future proof for any potential earthquakes, as the land that Kilbirnie and Rongotai and the airport is located on would likely rise again in a good 7-8 magnitude earthquake. By the way, most of the Wellington CBD and the current western road/rail corridors on the western side of the harbour was raise in the 7.2 magnitude 1848 Marlborough earthquake.

      Anyway the money in building a rail tunnel under Wellington would be better spent on upgrading the national rail network infrastructure which will be more cost effective to the taxpayers instead of building a 10-11kms rail tunnel for a low number of passenger train services.

  16. 15km between Papakura and Pukekohe is currently being electrified at the cost of $371 million NZD, $24.73 million per km.
    The distance between Waikanae and Levin is 34.87km @ $24.73M per km = $862.45 million.
    The cost is nowhere near similar amount to the Papakura and Pukekohe works.

  17. With nine platforms and four tracks in and out there’s loads of capacity at Wellington station. There are a similar number of services an hour currently than what uses Britomart with two tracks and five platforms.

    1. Wellington has stabling facilities on both sides of the line and the freight yard within cooee of the station, a slow approach, old signalling, and loco-hauled trains that require shunting or running-round, all of which eat up capacity.

      And being on the edge of the city centre it should have easy, intuitive bus connections and good pedestrian-priority walking access, but it doesn’t, so there are passenger-capacity issues as well as train-capacity ones.

  18. It does seem that only going as far as Levin would be a bit short. Everyone here is focused on the Wellington market, but I see this as far more diverse.

    Counter-commuting (Kapiti people with jobs in Palmy, or uni) – local journeys, leisure… and yes, traditional peak flows AM to Welly, and PM back out. These types of regional lines have all types of usage, once frequency and convenience are appealing enough to create full modal shift.

    Hopefully it could drive a lot more house-building, especially TODs near to stations. The Para airport site needs to become a whole new neighbourhood.

    Also electrification may eventually offer much quicker journey times – CC is 2 hours, but 90 mins must be an aspiration to get to Palmy. Many people commute 90 mins if the opportunity is worth it. Don’t want to? Don’t – but others might, so let them.

    The trickiest part will be pathing and flighting. Say 1tph to Palmy, but it would need to run even faster than today’s fast – a few mins before it. First stop Palmy then Waikanae, Otaki, Levin and Palmy. Is Shannon needed for all? Those units, same as Wairarapa – would have toilets and 2×2 seating. And could run more under future wires, and eventually either have their diesel engines removed, if all was wired – or even extend beyond Palmy for the odd journey.

  19. Nothing is going to happen whilst Kiwirail is both the rail services operator and national rail infrastructure operator. Kiwirail will make the right comments in the public arena but will tell the government what the government wants to hear. In the NZ Rail Plan, Kiwirail indicated it wants to be predominantly a rail freight operator and the operator of the Inerislander ferries, the 3 long distance scenic passenger train services and provide rail infrastructure and train control support to Auckland and Wellington metro passenger train services, Te Huia and currently the Capital Connection. It wants to maintain the national rail infrastructure for predominantly freight operations.

    The other barriers to any improvements to interregional passenger rail services between Wellington and Palmerston North is the current regionalisation of public transport funding and Waka Tokahi/NZ Transport Agency having a tight hold on such funding.

    Whilst improving the interregional passenger train services between Wellington and Palmerston North is a no brainer, it needs to part of the overall plan to re-introduce regional and interregional passenger train services across all 13 regions that currently have rail connectivity using standardized passenger rolling stock like the Alstom Coradia Polyvalent H2 four carriage, 218 seat bi modal electric and hydrogen/battery train sets for Wellington to Palmerston North, Wellington to Masterton and Auckland to Hamilton and the Alstrom Coradia iLint hydrogen/battery 2 carriage 150-160 seat train sets for other provincial cities, town and smaller semi and rural communities that are link to the national rail network.

    The government will need to think seriously on its commitment to the national rail network by treating the network as a strategic national ‘steel highway’ asset and spend the money to upgrade the network to handle increase freight and passenger rail traffic and also look on how it will fund and manage public transport including regional and interregional passenger rail across the country not just Auckland and Wellington and lessor extent Hamilton and Christchuch, especially as NZ’s population will increase over the next 10-20 years.

    1. So what are KR going to do with 1/2 of what was left out of the SA/SD’s which they and RES bought off AT earlier in the year , are they going to transform them into long distant commuter carriages or for their tourist services ? .

      1. Who is RES? Are you referring to Antipodean Explorer? If you are,the last update information from Antipodean Explorer New Zealand Ltd, the company behind Antipodean Explorer train project, the project is on hold for indefinite period of time due to the current global health pandemic. There is speculation that is no formal contract or money been paid to Kiwirail to do the conversion work.

        1. David L- I don’t know what the Rail Enthusiasts Society (RES) is going to do with the carriages.

          It seems Octagonal Capital has has a conditional sale of 26 x SA/SD carriages in 2018.

        2. The SX’s are being sold by the RES as they are not fit for purpose by them and the only way to take them is by truck and the SA/SD’s they are going to upgrade them for their heritage train services .

          Octagonol I think was just a holding company that was created for the purpose of storing them and paying the monthly Storage bills .

    2. Kris I don’t believe we are going to see fancy bi modal multiple unit trains on interregional services like the capital connection or Te Huia any time soon. These ex SA carriages will be used.
      However there will be a need for new passenger locomotives the DX and DF’s can’t go on for ever. I hope greener locomotives suitable to haul carriage trains will be available in the near future. It just doesn’t seem right to run diesel passenger trains under the wire. It would be good to think all trains would have battery storage and the ability to recover energy from braking and utilise overhead power when it is available. Lets hope that it isn’t an impossible dream.

  20. Transrail / Toll use to swap at Palmerston North and Hamilton after the train drivers prove management wrong when they said it would take 30mins and the drivers did it 5mins . So why aren’t they doing that now .

    1. Well they are not going to change them at Papakura, Hamilton, Palmerston North and wherever the Wellington overhead section ends now or in the future and there is no way we can justify either electrification or bi/tri modal multiple units with the level of passenger patronage we have.

  21. I’m from levin, and know what’s happening here, due to the new development which is meant to be 2500 sections going in opposite the new expressway with its own school and shops. Levin will be exploding with new faces., and all ready is, people smelling potential. the new 1.5 billion dollar expressway is a game changer for people who want hotter climate but still be close to wellington, Levin cbd and infustruction will have another 1 billion dollars spent on it over next 20yrs and the government as just added 12 million for a wetlands around lake horowhenua to help clean it up from farm run off, the town is already busy and will be even more that’s why we need rail!!

  22. Electrification of the rail network for passengers and freight is flagged in regional policy documents such as the Horizons Mahere Waka Whenua ā-rohe Regional Land Transport Plan – 2021-2031as a priority investment area. It’s not just a NZ govt GPS 21 objective, its an inter regional priority to provide an alternative in reducing transport emissions and which is a significant interregional activity . KiwiRail is currently undertaking a feasibility study for a ‘connector passenger rail service’ (page 66)

  23. Waikanae appears to be an obvious terminus for suburban services, anything beyond is probably best served by bi-mode regional trains running say every two hours (with more at peak).

    I don’t know Palmerston North very well but I wonder if it would be better served by a couple of stations at Gillespies Line and Milson Line instead of the existing one. Seems to be more residential around those areas.

    Ideally the tracks would return to the old alignment but that is unlikely without significant investment it looks as though the corridor is still there.

  24. Great move would be building it, not another business case just to fill the pockets of their consultant friends and then dropping the project.

  25. I don’t think extending the Kapiti Line suburban operations beyond Waikanae (or maybe Otaki) would be the right call, as that would require toilet-equipped trains – but certainly increasing the frequency and quality of the Capital Connection I support.

    If the Regional Rapid Rail plan (160km/h tilt trains) were applied to the Wellington commuter catchment, a train up to every half hour between Wellington and Palmerston North (1hr 15m travel time) could be possible?

    I think changing between 1500V DC and 25kV AC electrification could be done at or just north of Waikanae, at least initially, before considering re-electrifying the Wellington network. Japan has heaps of experience with both dual-voltage locomotives and dual-voltage multiple units on the 1067mm gauge.

  26. 1) Convert the Johnsonville Line to light rail to free up capacity at Wellington station. Extend light rail to Airport if possible (see various LGWM proposals etc)
    1) Replace 15kVDC with 25kvAC down the NIMT from Palmerston North to Wellington yards
    2) Divert the existing 15kV DC rolling stock to the Wairararapa Line
    3) Buy new 25kV AC / Diesel hybrid loco’s for NIMT
    4) Buy more of the AM Class 25kV AC EMUs used in Auckland for the Waikanae line

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