On Sunday, the City Rail Link reached its latest milestone with the Tunnel Boring Machine breaking through to the Karangahape Station and right on target – awesome work to all involved.

When completed the CRL will transform our rail network but it will take more time and investment to fully realise the benefits of the City Rail Link. The plans to do that were outlined in the latest ATAP report and would happen over three high-level stages

  • Step 1 – this is to enable the CRL to operate on day one and would see the network capacity to the city increased from 15,000 people per hour to 22,500 per hour – this may not seem like much but is effectively the same as adding an 8 lane motorway.
  • Step 2 – further network upgrades would see capacity lifted to around 36,000 people per hour – about another 14 motorway lanes
  • Step 3 – is mainly about upgrading the network to handle 9-car trains and would see capacity lift to 54,000 people per hour – a further 18 motorway lanes.

While the upgrades as part of Step 1 are underway or due before the CRL opens in 2024, the timing of those future steps will depend on what happens with ridership.

Right now our COVID lockdown has largely wiped out ridership on the network, and the rail shutdowns of the last year haven’t helped either but eventually lockdown will end and it will recover. How we improve ridership to both recover from lockdown and get to steps 2 and 3 above is something I’ve been thinking about recently.

Clearly the CRL on its own will help drive up rail usage significantly. The Western line will see significant time savings from not having to go the long way around the city centre, including changing direction at Newmarket. Meanwhile the new stations at Aotea and Karangahape Rd will make the network more useful to more people on all lines.

There are other improvements underway that will help drive usage too. For example, the Eastern Busway will pour people into Panmure while the new Puhinui Station makes it easier for people accessing the airport. Further south, electrification to Pukekohe will make the train much more attractive; and the planned new stations around Drury will open up the rail network to more people. There will also be a lot more people living within proximity to the network in the existing urban area, particularly out west where there is a heap of development underway right now – the Henderson-Massey local board area has seen more building consents than any other local board area in Auckland.

What concerns me is that Auckland Transport will rely on these high cost improvements and housing changes to drive ridership, and that they’re ignoring/missing some smaller opportunities to make the network more useful and make better use of what we already have. Here are a couple of examples of what I’m talking about.


Fixing Dwell Times / Travel speeds

In their Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP), and I’m sure in other documents, Auckland Transport makes the following observation.

Much of Auckland’s public transport network is simply not fast enough to compete with private car travel, even during the peak periods.

As mentioned, particularly from the west, the CRL will result in significant travel times savings. But even those travel time savings are likely based on current train performance and that’s an area where a lot of improvement can be made – this from a post last year comparing Auckland’s average train speeds to what was required in the train tender and to lines in a number of different cities.

One of the key reasons for our poor performance and also one of the most frustrating things about using our trains is simply our stupidly long dwell times. It’s not uncommon for a train to dwell at a station for 50 seconds or more whereas on many other systems, dwell times can be 30 seconds or less. For those further out, the combined delay can add up to five minutes to total travel time.

There are plenty of excuses I’ve seen thrown around as to why we can’t improve dwell times, such as that the doors and the accessibility ramp in the middle car of the train are slow. Yet even on the doors that don’t require a ramp to extend, it takes 7-8 seconds from the time the train stops moving for the doors to be open enough for people to get on/off. By comparison, in some systems overseas the doors will start opening in the last seconds before the train fully stops.

AT and others involved in Auckland’s rail network need to put more priority into getting the technical causes of delays improved. But even without that, there are changes they could make to speed up trains. For example, earlier this year I was on a train where the train manager was pushing to make up for earlier delays and managed to get dwell times down to 30 seconds simply by tweaking the process they used.

The typical process for stops is:

  1. the train stops and the driver releases the doors.
  2. the train manager locks out their local door to stop it from closing, waits for people to embark/disembark and then closes all other doors.
  3. the train manger checks all doors are clear, gets on the train and releases the lock thereby closing their door.
  4. the train manager signals the driver to depart.

This particular train manager effectively combined steps 2 and 3 above. They started the process of closing all doors, then a second or so later released the local door lock, hanging their head out the door to check the other doors had closed and no one was caught. They pulled their head in before the local door closed on them and then signalled the driver. That simple tweak was all it took to speed up the train.

That’s the sort of tweak that could easily be made to speed up services – and depending on the timetable, may even be enough that it means one less train is needed to run the same level of service.

Operation similar to this is also common on many overseas systems, usually with the train manager stationed in the rear driving cab.


Improving access to stations

Train stations are only useful if people can access them, but our stations aren’t always easy to access. We’ve seen the importance of access first-hand in Auckland, for example shifting the old Boston Rd Station 200m down the track to become Grafton saw it become a much more useful and busier station. Meanwhile in 2018/19 with rail use booming, the only train station to see a decrease in boardings was Papatoetoe, which notably had its northern station access removed as part of the gating project.

Of the Rapid Transit network, AT’s RLTP says:

However, it is currently limited to the rail network and Northern Busway, which provides walk-up access for just over 300,000 Aucklanders.

Yet when talking about improving access, the focus is almost exclusively on big park-and-ride developments – more bike facilities are great, but there’s generally no safe routes to access them.

Making it easier for Aucklanders to use multiple transport modes to complete a trip – in cars and bus, car and train, bike and bus, or bike and train – is also important. As a result there are now just over 6,000 car parks at park and ride sites (10 percent added in the last three years), and more bike facilities at public transport interchanges and in off-street car parks (such as in the Toka Puia car park in Takapuna). More of these improvements are planned at targeted locations across Tāmaki Makaurau.

Yet if you look at our stations and their local street networks, there are often large swathes of area in close proximity to stations that are largely inaccessible by foot – and there doesn’t seem to be any AT priority on changing that.

In some cases, access could be significantly improved with new access points. One good example is at Greenlane where a new station access at the southern end of the station along with around 200m of path alongside the tracks could open up easy walking access to hundreds more homes – it would also be a much nicer way to get to the station rather than the from beside the motorway interchange too. The GIF below shows a 800m walking catchment from the station as it exists now, and if a new bridge were added.

The station even used to have a bridge at the southern end.

Some of the stations where something like this could be useful include Ranui (joining up both sides of Marinich Dr), Sylvia Park with access to Carbine Rd, and restoring the northern access to Papatoetoe.

At other stations, the solutions aren’t as clear cut and at those maybe Auckland Transport need to work with the likes of Panuku and Kainga Ora to buy properties and redevelop them with links added through them. This could add both more housing and better access. For example at my local station, Sturges Rd, redeveloping a few houses could open up easy access to the station by residents of Te Kanawa Cres.

Essentially AT should be looking to maximise station catchments.

All of this doesn’t include even simpler things that could make access easier and more welcoming, such as pedestrian crossings at key points. Again using Sturges Rd as an example, access to one of the platforms is on the right in the image below but there is no pedestrian crossing from which to access it and there is often a steady stream of cars. There’s also very little signage to even suggest the station exists.


Of course these kinds of speed and access improvements are needed not just at train stations, but all over our public transport network. It’s surprising AT doesn’t have dedicated teams tasked and funded to find ways to make these kinds of improvements on an ongoing basis.

What other things do you think AT should do to make our trains (or other PT services) more attractive and useful?

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66 comments

  1. Will stage one include closing a lot of road crossings? These road crossing represent such a risk to derailing the entire system, most of them have an easy alternative bridge or underpass nearby. With there being more train movements these issues are magnified.

    Also, many stations will need safer ways to cross the tracks. Fruitvale road for example, badly needs a bridge/ better access. I wonder if there is a modular template, like a non terrible version of what the CRL guys built?

  2. In addition to shortening dwell time, Limited Stop services could be a great option like the Onehunga Line now between Britomart to Ellerslie/Penrose. Hope we will keep limited stop services after CRL is opened.

    1. Unfortunately, limited-stop operation reduces system capacity, so it’s not that great an option. Capacity is maximized when all trains on the same track have the same stopping pattern, which is why it’s the norm on high-capacity rail networks.

        1. And speed is affected by lower frequency and longer waits. Increasing the number of limited stop patterns will decrease the number of trains stopping at certain stations.

          An all-stops line that runs every 5 minutes could be quicker for a commuter than an express line that runs only every 20 minutes, factoring in the longer wait time.

          I think the best ways to maximize speed are to improve track quality & maintenance, reduce dwell times to 30 seconds at each station, and run a timetable based on consistent headways more than meeting padded timetables. According to CAF, the AM class trains should be able to run 20-25% faster than the present timetables. https://www.greaterauckland.org.nz/2017/02/13/how-fast-should-out-trains-be/

    2. There are plans to run limited stop services from Pukekohe, although oddly the last plan I saw had them stopping at all stations on the new third main section.

      1. I suspect we’ll see limited services tying in with Puhinui, for both the airport link and Te Huia (if it survives), leveraging the third main line.

        That’s about the only scenario where it will make some kind of sense, I think.

        1. In an ideal world/future, the only two limited stop services I see making sense would be:

          1. Regional Rapid Rail; very limited stops within the Auckland area (Britomart, Puhinui, Pokeno)
          2. A slower Auckland-Hamilton service; limited stops within the Auckland area (Britomart, Panmure, Otahuhu, Puhinui, Manurewa, Papakura, Pukekohe) then all-stops between Pukekohe and Hamilton.

          Given that the Regional Rapid Rail plan specified trains running up to every 7.5 minutes between Auckland and Hamilton, I doubt that there’d be a need for limited-stop suburban services if something even close to RRR gets built.

    3. I think the only true “limited stop” service pattern that would make sense post-CRL would be peak hour express services south to Pukekohe or Pokeno, via the Westfield Deviation. With the Third Main project, that would allow the other all-stop lines to run at 7 minute peak frequencies.

  3. I don’t take the train often but I noticed that they still get out of the train and close all the other doors then get back in, seems very time consuming. Is this normal around the world for a metro network? I can’t recall ever seeing it on the tube in London? I can’t imagine they even had time to do that at some stations.
    Or is it just over cautious NZ, like our Covid response?

    1. You don’t see that in London (nor in many other parts of the world) because doors are under the sole control of the driver, using screens/mirrors to make sure that closing the doors is safe. No getting on and off the train involved, so much faster.

      1. As mentioned in the post, for places that do have train managers (or something equivalent to them) on board, they typically sit in the rear cab and open the door or a window to see down the train. They’re not walking through the train like ours do.
        Also, I don’t see much value in the TMs walking through the train given if anything does happen they’re told no to get involved. They could instead be in the rear cab and monitoring the internal CCTV from there.

        1. It may be inefficient to have Train Managers walking through the train, but it is very nice and comforting and it is one reason why I prefer a train to a bus. Yes, the TM could be sitting in a rear cab monitoring a CCTV screen from there, but how does the average punter know? If you’re getting hassled by a thug on the train, you’ve no idea if the train crew can see this, or are reading a book, or watching something else in another carriage. Having a TM moving about the train is a crucial safety factor and one that people enjoy. Plus, in Wellington, the TM / Conductor will often know your stop, so it feels like a community. I love it. Don’t stop.

        2. TMs can certainly add value, but there’s no need for them to be involved in operating the doors. Having them just sitting in the rear cab (something that I’ve seen only in Oz) seems to me to be a bit pointless.

        3. They certainly have them in Wales and England’s West Country. They perform exactly the same way as Auckland even though rail is (normally/pre Covid) exponentially higher then Auckland, even in low population areas.

        4. Average Human – on multiple EMU trains, e.g. six-car trains in Auckland, they’re just as likely to be in the other EMU. At least in a cab watching the CCTV they’ve got a better chance of seeing something in the whole train. Also I’ve seen them walk away from situations as they’re told not to get in volved.

          Mike – They’re also used a lot on the likes of Tokyo metro lines hanging out of a window in the rear cab. At many stations they include a monitor next to where the rear cab will be that shows CCTV images of entire platform so they can see all doors are clear.

    2. Most metros that I’m aware of have one of the following:

      The driver closing the doors, with either a combination of screens or mirrors, or station based guards holding up flags to tell the driver it’s all clear;

      or the train manager closes the doors from an unused driving cab.

      Even Wellington, which uses a similar approach to Auckland has significantly shorter dwell times, so I think it’s an AT issue rather than an NZ issue.

  4. All doors should automatically start to open prior to coming to a complete stop for peak services.
    In addition to slow dwell times, our trains don’t accelerate or brake as hard as what I perceive to be normal in Asia. I believe it is possible for our trains to do similar but they are being restricted. This would also save another few seconds every stop.
    Level crossings need grade separation to remove speed restrictions. Perhaps they might be prioritized for where this will save the most time.

  5. Currently trains based on fixed conservative heavily padded timetable. The train needs to slows down if the trains is ahead of schedule. Operator is discouraged to commit the optimistic timetable because operator risked being punished for not making it.

    For turn up and go frequency.. The punctuality should be based on gaps between services, instead of a fixed timetable.

    This removes the incentive to slow train down and has conservative slow timetable.

    1. Turn up and go networks like the Tube still have an underlying timetable even if the public doesn’t see it.

      Basically the less padding in the timetable the faster trains go but the quicker knock-on effects multiply if there are any delays. Auckland leans too far towards conservatism at the moment.

      1. Still need to get 40 wagon trains across the tracks at Otahuhu. I suppose that’s the limiting frequency factor.

  6. Also other improvements includes better way finding from and out of stations.

    In some countries there is a good map inside the station to point people the way to nearest local amenities and attractions.

    The amenities and attractions also has way finding signs to point back to the local train station.

  7. I have just moved to Sunnyvale and while we have good access to the train station, there are some really obvious measures they could do to improve accessibility – widen footpaths, add some cycling measures, add a zebra crossing etc. Have tried raising this with the local board, who passed it on to AT who of course are not interested. This is just typical – there seems to be no urgency in our organisations to promote walking / cycling and tackle climate change.

  8. PM said on RNZ National this morning they wouldn’t stop unvaccinated people using public transport. Don’t expect ridership to increase any time soon.

    1. I’m surprised but I guess not surprised by this.

      Its terrible for the elderly. They’re more likely to be reliant on PT with no licence, and even if they’re vaccinated, they are at risk of getting COVID and dying / permanently injured. Govt might as well lock them in their homes themselves. And further entrench this idea that for some reason elderly have to have a licence until they day they die, or do something majorly wrong, like run a pedestrian over or drive the wrong way down the motorway.

      1. Having vaccinated only carriage(s) on the trains would help. Not fair at all to be excluded from PT because some other members of the public might kill you.

        No different to the woman only carriages in Europe and Japan.

        1. Maybe an open wagon at the back for the unvaccinated. There was a time when the French railways would remove the roof from carriages in third class to make sure no one who could afford second class would ride there.

    2. If you’re masked and vaccinated, what do you have to worry about?

      This fear of being near the unvaccinated has no basis in reality, and is just part of the current hysteria. Simply not having had the vaccine doesn’t make you a permanently contagious zombie wandering the streets. Your bigger threat is actually vaccinated people, who are more likely to be asymptomatically spreading the virus out and about. The unvaccinated individual should in fact be fearful of you.

      I am double vaccinated but confounded by the disgust and inhuman attitudes being shown towards fellow NZers.

      1. I think you are factually wrong there. Vaccinated people can still catch the virus but not all do. If a vaccinated person does get it they remain infectious for less time. The current spread in the USA is something like 3/4 amongst the unvaccinated. (Nature 12/8/21). So the is higher from the unvaccinated until they have spread it to each other and gained some resistance that way.

      2. You can still catch COVID if you are vaccinated (especially if you dont have much of an immune system)
        The masks are mainly to prevent you pushing out so much of the virus, protecting others around an infectious person, rather than to protect the wearer, unless you are wearing something better than the standard mask, ie a good N95.

        Your bigger threat is actually vaccinated people, who are more likely to be asymptomatically spreading the virus out and about
        Based on the fact that Sydney’s case load is plummeting, despite lowering of restrictions, is almost exclusively to do with more people being vaccinated than here. Its quite clear that unvaccinated people are more responsible for spread and higher case numbers, than vaccinated.

        Simply not having had the vaccine doesn’t make you a permanently contagious zombie wandering the streets
        No, but it does make you vastly more likely to be contagious, and much more heavily contagious than if you were vaccinated.

        The unvaccinated individual should in fact be fearful of you.
        If that sells having vaccinated & immune compromised separated on PT from unvaccinated then I’m all for it. But that thats not true.

        I am double vaccinated but …
        I believe you, but uhhh, that is unironically what a LOT of anti-vaxxers say to try give credit to their (bad) arguments.

      3. Brutus, sorry but no.
        If you’re vaccinated you are far less likely to catch COVID (over 80% less likely). Then if you do catch it you are infected & infectious for a shorter period of time reducing your chances of spreading it.
        Furthermore there are very few cases where the vaccine isn’t considered suitable (even people that have reactions are still mostly considered ok to vaccinate).
        It really is the unvaccinated that are both a danger and holding us all back.

  9. The demise of business schools in the CDB is a largely behind the fall of passengers at Papatoetoe. Closing the northern entrance hasn’t helped. Enforcing the bike lanes on Station road made a difference as they were acting as an overflow Park and Ride. But its being a long time since the Park and Ride was full.
    Otahuhu station seems to be a bit of a white elephant. Maybe a station at Massey Road would have being better. The old bus station at Otahuhu could have being retained along with buses along Great South road and to Middlemore. Still to late to change it now but maybe a bit more thought needs to be put into connecting bus routes. An eastern entrance to Sylvia park would be good. Penrose is messy as well but unless a way and will is found to improve frequency on the branch I can’t see much point in changing it. A southern entrance to Greenlane would be good but a bus stop nearer the station is a more pressing issue.

    1. Otahuhu does ok I think from memory, way bigger patronage after it opened and the new bus network was introduced. They are working on a street upgrade leading to the station which should help cycle and active mode counts.

      1. I presume that Otahuhu Station is also designed more for post-CRL operations; with more services intended to terminate there.

        According to the CRL future rail network map, both the Purple Line (Henderson-Newmarket-Otahuhu) and the Brown Line (Mt Albert-CRL-Otahuhu) will terminate at Otahuhu – a total of 12tph. https://www.cityraillink.co.nz/crls-benefits

        1. There’s probably a whole separate argument over whether AT’s currently proposed post-CRL operating pattern is ideal, or whether we even need a Henderson-Otahuhu line.

          But even in other cases – say, if the Onehunga branch is converted to light rail, then it would still be useful with a CFN 2.0-type routing to terminate Green Line trains at Otahuhu.

        2. There’s been a couple of previous posts on the “purple line” I think. Yes probably better to run some short-runners on the southern line from Otahuhu (apparently in the old diesel days they did this).

        3. Yeah, I’ve read those posts criticizing the “purple line”. I agree – given that transfers at Karangahape Station or a Mt Eden-Newmarket frequent bus could be just as quick, I don’t think a crosstown HR line should be such a priority compared with maximizing frequency on the radial (Western, Southern, Eastern) lines.

          I’m in favour of consistent “lines”or service patterns – easier to understand and use. If the Onehunga line is shut and converted to light rail, the Western-Onehunga service pattern could become a Western-Otahuhu line instead.

        4. My understanding of the current thinking is that the Onehunga line won’t go through the CRL at all. That is so that valuable CRL spots aren’t taken up by 3-car trains. As such, the purple line would be Henderson to Onehunga and the Western Line would terminate at Otahuhu

        5. That’s going to be a blow for Onehunga users, surely 90% of them are travelling to the CBD and will face longer journeys?

        6. @Matt L – that actually makes a bit of sense for an operating pattern, especially considering train lengths. That sounds like the thinking for post CRL service patterns has changed somewhat since the 2014 plan.

          @Kraut – Given the low frequencies on the current Onehunga Line, the frequent Manukau Rd buses, and future light rail, I’d say there will be decent alternatives for Onehunga & Te Papapa passengers headed to the city.

      2. You would hope Otahuhu Station would have better patronage given Mangere, Southdown and Westfield have all being closed. The whole thing is just messy now although the bus lanes along Walmsley Road work well. Need closed rail station bus replacement services which miss out the time consuming diversion into Otahuhu Town centre. 670 and 321 would be the main effected services and would run on Salesyard Road. Bus 33 could run Manukau to Penrose along Great South Road. 32 would provide connections between Mangere Town centre and Otahuhu Town centre via Massey Road and Otahuhu train station.

  10. For their talk about bike and ride. My local station Ellerslie has space for a grand total of 2 bikes, both on the far side of the motorway from the station. So I think they’re actually to serve the town centre, and not the station.

    There’s that request a bike park webpage, and I’ve given it a couple goes, and so have 10 other people. It seems like one of the most requested locations, but no. For some reason they don’t feel like doing that one.

    There’s also some extremely low hanging fruit in terms of bike ways. They are missing, I think about 200 meters on Sultan and Kaimia streets, and the rockfield – Gt south road – kaimia intersection, which has a painted gutters running through, theres plenty of room for protection for bikes. That would connect up to the painted lanes that run for a km on rockfield, and that in turn opens up pretty big swaths of residential streets.

    I think these bike ways could be targeted by AT, IMO improvements around these stations could be the easiest for them to get through. People are always crying out for more park and ride, this is the solution. Theres a clear local destination, anyone who uses the train would be able to see the utility, and there’s usually plenty of car parking to be requisitioned into bike parking 10xing its utility. Plus in these suburban areas theres usually less competing needs for road space, and bike lanes should be easier to get through. Because of the area is distance squared thing, the amount of people you open up to direct station access by promoting biking is at least 9x the walking catchment, probably more.

    I think bike park and ride is slapping AT in the face and they’re pretty well making a hash of it or ignoring it. Eg takapuna car park. Its perfect for Auckland sprawl, gets people out of 1/2 hourly feeder services, way more convenient.

  11. I have always looked at stations and seen ways that a few strategic acquisitions would unlock so much connectivity potential. The public works act needs to value pedestrian (and cycling / micro mobility etc.) network as important not just cars and rail.
    I think this was on display with Mt Eden station getting two new pedestrian bridges within 100m of each other because they the public works act didn’t allow govt/council to acquire the private property needed to unlock a more legible and logical connection. Similar at Mt Eden there is no connection due-south of the station. A whole area of well connected homes have to walk the long way around.

    This is repeated across the whole network.

  12. Improved walk up catchment with multiple entrances is a no brainer. Much better than “free” (subsidized) carparking.

  13. Seems like it could be a good idea to catalogue every Auckland rail station, and list the access issues and potential improvements for each. The maps and annotations showing walkable catchment are particularly useful.

    Having got off at Greenlane Station a lot in the first half of the year, there also could be better access to the opposite side of Greenlane coming off the northern end of the station platform. Walking west to the Great South Rd traffic lights and waiting ages for the pedestrian signal can be a bit of a pain.

    1. Absolutely agree. If pedestrian access could somehow be created under Greenlane Rd it would be significantly easier to get to the supermarket and the new office blocks that are being constructed in Marewa Rd.

        1. And the bus stops you have to walk all the way to Great South Road. Not a big problem for me but some people wouldn’t.

        2. If it can be done I’d definitely support filling in the middle of the Greenlane roundabout over the motorway, and building some sort of bus interchange closer to the Greenlane train station.

          (I mean, look at all that space: https://twitter.com/ScootFoundation/status/1447130507469201412?s=20)

          Having to do a very short dogleg shouldn’t be a significant delay for the 70 bus up and down Great South Rd, and a crosstown 65 bus along Greenlane would definitely benefit from such a bus interchange.

  14. Please tell me there will still be a central station in Auckland….. Seems crazy to have Aotea & Britomart not serviced by all trains…. What about existing traffic for Newmarket ???

    1. The majority of trains (possibly all) will go through Aotea and Britomart. Only the cross town line if it goes ahead wouldn’t.

    2. Presume you’re talking about the time travel maps? Those aren’t operating diagrams, they’re only to show how much time the CRL will save on each line.

      Operationally lines will be through-routed all the way through the CRL: e.g. the Western Line will connect with the Onehunga Line, and the Southern Line with the Eastern Line.

  15. I remember a few cyclists using the guard’s van (Auckland passenger rail early 1980’s) to transport themselves and their cycles. Netherlands allows cycles weekdays on passenger rail (not during 6.30am-9am and 4.30pm to 6pm). Perhaps when there are 9 car rail units or off peak for Auckland there could be cycle spaces on carriages for a bit of multi-mode. Maybe a permit system and tag on fee so there are no un-scheduled influxes of bicycles and permitted bike numbers are recorded.(Sturges Road, Henderson – there are pedestrian islands – for pedestrians crossing for the bus stop and Sturges Rd rail platforms) Swanson rail station – could do with a minor upgrade as freight trains go and back and forth from Northland more. (i.e a a short section of middle rail line, so two passenger trains halted at Swanson at the same time could be passed.

  16. With all these great ideas, why do we need AT. What do they ever think of. -And their salaries are how much………??

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