Last week Auckland Transport confirmed how they’ll attempt to mitigate the first of the rail network shutdowns that begins at Christmas. The first section covers the Southern Line between Newmarket and Otahuhu as well as the Onehunga Line and is expected to last until March next year and will then be followed by the Eastern Line.
KiwiRail Chief Operating Officer David Gordon says: “Stage one of the rebuild will run for two months, between 16 January and 19 March, with trains unable to operate on the Onehunga Line and the Southern Line between Ōtāhuhu and Newmarket, effectively closing six stations – Remuera, Greenlane, Ellerslie, Penrose, Te Papapa and Onehunga.
“During this time we will be digging up and replacing the rock foundations under the tracks and improving drainage in the rail corridor, which is a crucial part of preparing the network for the more frequent trains to come with CRL.”
Auckland Transport Interim Chief Executive Mark Lambert says AT has been working closely with KiwiRail to ensure there is the least possible disruption for Auckland’s rail customers while this work is underway.
“For those customers unable to travel to and from the six stations where trains will not be running we have released details of a range of alternative bus services, including two express services,” Mr Lambert says.
To ensure those replacement bus services will be able to give customers faster and more reliable alternative bus journeys, AT is also working to ensure our traffic lights are optimised for buses travelling on those routes.
“Because the Rail Network Rebuild is being completed by KiwiRail in stages we are able to reduce the number of passengers affected by disruption from this project at any one time,” Mr Lambert says.
“For this stage one of the project about 85% of our rail passengers will be able to continue catching the train. All Southern Line passengers travelling between Britomart and stations south of Ōtāhuhu can still use trains as Southern Line train services will be rerouted through the Eastern Line, meaning trains will continue to run between Britomart and most Southern Line stops.
“It’s hugely important that we are able to keep running rail services for as many of our customers as possible during this project.”
AT has also launched a customer communications campaign today which will provide affected passengers with information they need to plan their journeys with confidence when stage one of the Rail Network Rebuild begins in January.
KiwiRail will also be communicating with rail corridor neighbours about the work in stage one.
The date is shown as 16 January but that’s only because the entire network will be shutdown from 26 December through to 15 January for both this work and other projects, such as the third main on the Southern Line.
As for how they’re mitigating the closure, This section is probably the easiest for AT to mitigate out of all of the planned rail closures due to the nature of the road network with allowing for relatively direct services along roads with at least some existing bus priority measures.
Despite this, AT seem to have made the whole thing as complex as they possibly could to understand. The mitigation revolves around the four areas below but there are a few fishhooks hidden in the detail of some of them.
- rail replacement buses that follow the train route
- express rail replacement buses direct to major destinations, such as Britomart and Newmarket
- re-routing the Southern Line so that customers travelling between Britomart and Stations between Ōtāhuhu and Papakura can continue to use the train
- existing bus routes (you may find one of our existing bus routes better suits your journey).
Let’s look at some these and their fishhooks in more detail.
Re-routing Southern Line services
At a high-level this is pretty straightforward, Southern Line trains from Papakura will use the Eastern Line trains to get to Britomart. The caveat though comes in the form of the existing Eastern Line services, which are impacted in two ways:
- Trains will only run every 20 minutes during the peak. This means those that catch the train from Manukau will be disadvantaged, potentially with longer waits, especially if transferring from a bus. The upside is those on the Eastern Line between Otahuhu and Britomart will have up to 9 trains an hour – however, these aren’t evenly spaced and so spacing between services varies from 3 minutes to 10 minutes.
- Off peak eastern line trains will terminate at Otahuhu meaning those travelling to/from Manukau will be forced to transfer.
Newmarket Rail users
The Western line will continue to run as normal however the timetable has had some additional services added off-peak between Britomart and Newmarket so there are still 6 trains per hour at that time. Like with the Eastern line though, these aren’t evenly spaced and run only a few minutes ahead of the western service meaning for all intents and purposes, trains are still only every 20 minutes – I’ve highlighted this in the image below.
In total AT are running four different rail replacement bus routes
Otahuhu to Newmarket
A rail replacement bus will run between Otahuhu and Newmarket and it will run at the same frequency as the trains. However, surely AT could have done a better job to tighten up the transfer as there is about 8 minutes between the Southern Line train arriving at Otahuhu and the rail bus departing. It appears focus was more on having a cleaner timetable than on minimising customer delays.
Ellerslie to Britomart
For those at Ellerslie, Greenlane and Remuera wanting to get to the city there’s a separate weekday only ‘express’ rail bus running every 15 minutes in the morning and afternoon peaks. Interestingly it doesn’t mention this service stopping at Newmarket even though it will have to travel through there.
Outside of the peaks or those going to Newmarket will either need to catch an existing bus service, most likely the frequent 70 route, or the normal rail replacement bus and transfer to another bus or a western line train at Newmarket.
Onehunga to Newmarket
For the Onehunga Line, AT are running another ‘express’ bus between Onehunga to Newmarket every 20 minutes from Monday to Saturday. It is scheduled to take just 20 minutes to run making it both faster and more frequent that the existing rail service is. It will also run every 30 minutes on Sundays. This route seems particularly odd given the speed and frequency plus that this route is already served by both the 30 and the 309 services.
Onehunga to Otahuhu
You may have noticed there are two stations missing from the information above, Penrose and Te Papapa. To serve them AT are introducing a forth temporary service that will run from Onehunga to Otahuhu via those two stations.
Existing bus routes
On top of these rail replacement buses there are obviously sill regular buses.
Probably what I find most frustrating about all this how AT communicate it. They leave it up to the public to decipher a page of text and a bunch PDF timetables just to work out what the options are – and it was only by looking at this in that level of detail I could see the fishhooks like that Manukau rail services is being reduced. With that in mind, here’s a couple of things AT could do to make it easier for the public to understand what the options are.
- How about a map showing the rail replacement bus routes and the changes to rail line routing. Even better, how about those as well as showing the most relevant existing bus options like the 30 and 70.
- A link from the Rail Network Rebuild to the journey planner and existing timetables might be useful.
- How about for each station being closed having some recommendations on how to get to/from it. For example, highlighting the ability to use the 30 or 309 from Onehunga or the 70 for Ellerslie, Greenlane and Remuera users – interestingly they/Kiwirail did this in in a briefing to Transport Minister Michael Wood in September so why not show it to the public?
It’s important that AT learn now how to get their messaging right as this section is probably the easiest to mitigate.
There is of course no mention of alternatives such as safe options for riding a bike, because there are none and/or it seems AT have no plans to put any in.