What to do with the Onehunga Line after the City Rail Link opens has been a discussion for many years and at last Thursday’s Transport and Infrastructure Committee, Auckland Transport presented the council with their thinking along with giving a clearer indication of what their post-CRL operating plans are.

The Onehunga Line was reopened in 2010 as part of Project Dart, following a package of work driven by then Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee and supported by a grassroots campaign by the Campaign for Better Transport.

It was able to be reopened very cheaply, especially compared to project today, costing a mere $21m with half going on trackwork and half going on buying land at the Onehunga terminus and building two new stations and a third platform where the branch joins the mainline at Penrose Station.

There is a reason for this, the project was a no-frills job that did little to change the old single track freight branch other that make it functional. Its an example of how you can get things done quickly easily if you don’t load up the brief.

But it also means the level of service has always been low with trains running at most, only every 30 minutes. Prior to COVID the line carried around 750,000 trips a year, of which just over 500k were to or from Onehunga. I do wonder how much higher those numbers would be if services were able to operate at the same frequencies as the rest of the network.

The CRL work at Britomart reduced the number of platforms available from five to four. In order to serve the other, longer and busier lines, as well as keeping a platform spare for use during the transition between peak and off-peak and to help maintain reliability during the far to frequent disruptions that occur, last year Onehunga Line services were cut back to terminate at Newmarket with passengers having to transfer if they want to travel further.

AT say that to increase services will require additional infrastructure and reducing the number of Southern Line services that can run.

  1. The configuration of the branch line limits the length of the trains to three cars and services every 30 minutes. Due to the configuration of the connection to the main line, frequencies of service of less than 30-minutes create issues with Southern Line services having to wait at Ellerslie until the Onehunga service clears the main line into Penrose.
  2. Consideration for increased frequencies would require additional infrastructure (such as double tracking or a passing loop, flyover at the junction or four-tracking of the mainline), and additional safety mitigations at level crossings that are currently not funded

AT also want to try and address the loss of a direct connection between western line stations and Newmarket, which they say carried five times more people than the Onehunga line did.

As such, they came up with five options. These also confirm the plan is to link the Western and Eastern Lines together with Southern Line services looping around the CRL – as suggested last year.

Option 1: Onehunga to Henderson via Grafton

This is AT’s preferred option as it is cheap, requires no new infrastructure and provides a west to Newmarket direct service. Onehunga line users would need to transfer at either Newmarket or Maungawhau to get to the city centre stations.

For me a downside is while there will appear to be a semblance of service from the west to Newmarket, it is infrequent and most of the time it will be quicker just to catch a regular service to Karanga-a-Hape and transfer to a Southern Line service to get to Newmarket. Future improvements to frequencies will only make this easier. Also, anyone west of Henderson will have to transfer anyway.

Option 2: Onehunga to Waitemata/Britomart

This would effectively restore the Onehunga Line service to what it was prior to mid-last year. AT say this would be about 5 minutes faster than options where a transfer is involved.

AT claim it would add 15 minutes to all trips between west and inner southern stations but this seems to assume people would only want to travel on the half-hour timetable and so everyone doing that route would only ever catch this service. As mentioned above, future improvements to frequencies will make transferring even easier.

Option 3: Onehunga to Henderson via CRL

While this would have direct services for Onehunga Line trains and more services from the west, it would require using up some of the valuable, and still limited, CRL spots on 3-car trains meaning there may have to be reduction in capacity on the other, more highly used lines. It would also require more trains meaning we’d need to buy more or reduce the length of trains on other lines.

Option 4: Onehunga with CRL Loop

Like with above, this would impact on the capacity of the Western and Southern Lines.

Option 5: Onehunga to Waitemata/Britomart and Henderson to Newmarket

AT say this option has the most customer benefits but would require more investment in trains and infrastructure, both of which are currently unfunded.

Option Summary

This is AT’s summary of the options above

The missing option

The one main option that is missing from here is the idea of running a line as a shuttle service, which combined with a very limited amount of extra infrastructure, could enable the line to operate with higher frequencies.

Longer term I do think the best option is to replace the Onehunga Line with our Crosstown Light Rail idea.

Unfortunately, at the time of writing this post the council’s recording of the meeting wasn’t available online, so I’m not sure if any questions from councillors may have teased out any additional information. (Editor’s note: the video of the meeting is now on Council’s YouTube channel, if anyone wants to dig into it.)

The presentation to the committee wasn’t for the councillors to actually make any decisions on, however, the minutes show that Josephine Bartley, seconded by Mike Lee, moved but lost an amendment to request an immediate return of services to Britomart and then to consult the community on post-CRL options over the coming 2-3 years.

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  1. The shuttle idea seems the most logical and can be implemented pretty quickly with no impact on Southern Line services. Can anyone see a negative here (other than a transfer)?

    1. While transferring is slightly annoying, it does kinda follow the whole logic of our New Network revamp for buses – bring up the frequencies really high, to reduce the downsides of transfers. Could a single train set could do a 15m service despite the single track?

      What improvements would be useful at Penrose to make transfers easier?

        1. To me there are two answers, both of which have the Onehunga branch as a shuttle service.
          The first is the idea of a cross town light rail, but that isn’t likely anytime soon.
          The second would involve a smallish (probably expensive) relocation of Penrose 3.
          If a new platform was built on the western side of the double track beside the city line and the Onehunga line then realigned to use the freight line, and maybe an extra line on the other side of the new platform, you would have an easy to use transfer station.
          If you take the shuttle concept further, once you have sorted the road crossings, and add a second platform at Onehunga the line could be service with three trains, by timetabling the one waiting at either end to depart on the arrival of the one using the line.
          A cheap, and nasty, option to the many road crossing is to close some and force traffic to use an alternative with Galway St, Alfred St, Captain Springs Rd and Maurice Rd being obvious, to me at least, ones to close. Maurice St least would need to have a pedestrian over bridge because of its access to Mt Smart Stadium.

  2. Might be a dumb question, but there’s pretty clearly a corridor from the old port to the current Onehunga station that Light Rail could easily handle. If we had some firm handle on how they proposed to handle that stretch of water for Light Rail then it would be nice to see that utilised – although I’m guessing that’s going to be mostly tunneled around this area now?

  3. As a user of the Onehunga Line, the key issue with a shuttle service is the need to transfer at Penrose. It takes easily three minutes to walk between stations and during that time you will often see a train you may have wanted to take pull in. If the permanent solution was for a shuttle service, investment in Penrose Station to improve transferring needs to occur.

    However, based on the current sitatuion, there is no guarentee AT will increase frequency for a shuttle service. It boggles my mind why the current peak shuttle service is still at 30 minute frequencies, given the train just sits at Penrose for 14 minutes after every service. They could easily increase frequency to every 20 minutes.

    1. It is pretty ridiculous watching the shuttle sit there with its doors open as I head up and over the bridge on the way to work every morning. Anecdotally, plenty of people seem to take the current shuttle towards Penrose to transfer, but nobody gets on it going toward Onehunga, probably because the timetable is atrocious for trying to transfer from Penrose without sitting in a stationary train for 10 minutes.

    2. Perhaps a cheaper option AT would consider if to reduce visibility so that you cannot see the train approach and leave as you change platforms?

      That way you won’t know you’ve just missed one and everyone is happy!

      I jest but suspect this would be AT/ the Mayor’s preference if it saved a couple of bucks.

    3. Penrose could be re-designed to enable cross-platform transfers, with the Onehunga line splitting into two tracks, one for each direction. You’d still have the overpass for making a U-turn (e.g. you’re on the Southern and traveling towards the CBD but want to go to Onehunga Station, you’d have to use the overpass), but for Onehunga -> CBD you’d walk across a platform to transfer to the Southern -> CBD line.

      The other platform would have CBD -> Southern, you walk across the platform to transfer to Penrose -> Onehunga.

    4. AT were originally pushing for a bus shuttle rather than reinstalling the rail connection.
      The whole Onehunga branch gave the appearance of something that was designed to fail.

  4. I agree the Shuttle Option of the Onehunga line to Penrose would become its own separate short train network. Immediate improvement, time efficient & cost effective. Doesn’t affect the Southern Line. Taking only six or seven minutes each way plus turnaround time at each end.

    Currently I catch the 5.15am Onehunga Bus 30 to Queen Street, The Civic Monday-Friday. After work catch the Southern & Onehunga trains home. Have the 66 Bus as back up if I miss Onehunga train or it’s cancelled.

  5. If they are going to do shuttle then may as well convert to LR now? Could they fit two tracks of LR in the same space? And if you are going to do LR, do you continue it past Penrose, maybe to Panmure?

    1. Now you’re talking. Run it all the way to Howick. Let’s see them argue that trams aren’t in keeping with the historical v1bEz of the village. Then do it to St Heliers too.

      1. LR has a bit of a dirty name at the moment, I don’t think this would get over the line as a pilot project.

        I’d spend a fraction of the money improving the transfer experience at Penrose and running the HR shuttle service, while at the same time playing Brown off against central government in getting it extended up SH20 as he wants it. Light rail can be part of that discussion or for another day, once HR has runs on the board.

        As an alternative quick-fix, what about a NW-style “busway” from Avondale to Penrose (and eventually, up to Ellerslie to connect with the Eastern Busway)? Frequencies could be every 5mins.

  6. The shuttle option is not a goer because (a) Mike Lee works the Mayor like a puppet and will never let it happen; (b) have you guys ever actually tried to transfer from Penrose 1/2 to Penrose 3? It’s a 3 minute walk over a high, weather-exposed walkway. No-one would prefer that to a direct bus.

    1. Not to mention, it’s all ramps and no stairs or escalators. So you’re forced to walk a significant distance just to go vertically and no closer to the other platform. And then at platform 3, you’re forced to enter half way along even though there easily could be stairs at the end of the platform connecting to the ramp.

      The station situation works ok when just serving Penrose, but is abysmal at providing for convenient transfers.

    2. Build another platform, on the other side of the tracks closer to the penrose platforms. Keep the existing platform for game-day 6 car services. Lift + stairs and a covered bridge across to the main platform, and connect a ramp up to the existing overbridge.

  7. Better train frequencies on the Onehunga to Penrose line would match the timetables of the Southern trains arriving at Penrose would improve this service & dwell times. Have heard people complaining of walking the bridge over the Southern lines to catch the Onehunga train. Maybe it is the effort or rushing to catch the train? Have missed the occasional train & it’s quite a long wait for the next train. Depends on the Southern train you catch & when it arrives at Penrose?

  8. I’d see the service making the most sense if it ran just between Onehunga and Maungawhau.
    This should give sufficient opportunity to transfer between services (not requiring a 3min walk between platforms) and close the Maungawhau-Grafton-Newmarket gap.
    Most importantly it keeps the western line operation simple. The favoured option would be a real pain for people travelling to/from west, e.g. If travelling into town some trains will head to Aotea, some to Newmarket. There is no way of transferring to alternate services at Maungawhau, as there are no platforms for trains running Aotea-Newmarket. You are left waiting for the next scheduled west line service, or overshooting Maungawhau, transferring at the next station and backtracking.
    For most people it will be best if all western trains went via Aotea, and a transfer at Maungawhau for travelers in that direction.

  9. First thing scrap the extension of light rail if not all together at least past Mount Roskill. Extend the heavy rail down the old formation to the port then build a bridge across to Mangere bridge and extend the track onto Mangere Town centre. Build a passing track somewhere so we can run two trains on the branch as a shuttle between Mangere Town centre and Penrose. Upgrade the walkway between platform three and the main station at Penrose. We should be able to have 15 min frequency if not better. Without having to double track the whole branch.

  10. Option 1 is really bad for western line users going to Britomart isn’t it? If i am boarding at Sunnyvale it means only every second train is a direct train to britomart. If i get the Newmarket one i will have to transfer at Grafton or Newmarket.

    If the majority of trips are to britomart then all trains should go to britomart and people needing to go to Newmarket could transfer at Kroad.

    Wouldn’t a Maungawhau to Onehunga line work fine?

    1. Not really, it would be more like every 5th service going to Newmarket and it would be an additional service so wouldn’t reduce the frequency between Henderson and Britomart.

      1. It would be a reduction. Either way you cut it, if you’re using trains and crews and track capacity to run trains out to Henderson and back on one line, you’re not using them on the other line.

  11. I’m really not a fan of multiple lines running on the same track, so I’d prefer it stops at Penrose.

    I was thinking the shuttle service idea is the one that makes the most sense. Theoretically then trains can run a lot more frequently than if they go all the way to Britomart.

    As long as all the trains are running frequently enough (at least every 5 minutes at rush hour – I know, it’s a pipe dream for Auckland to be on par with other 1st world metro systems…) that your change-over is not too much of an inconvenience, there is nothing wrong with multiple changes.

    I’d actually go so far as to suggest it continue from Avondale all the way up Rosebank Rd to SH16 to intersect with the NW light rail. Considering all the Avondale College students I see getting off at Avondale station, I’m sure it’d get plenty of use from them as well.

  12. Can the Penrose/Onehunga platform be shifted further north? Allowing a opening doors on both sides transfer? They do that at the moment in Newmarket for transfers from Onehunga onto the Southern or Western into town. Only helps one direction, but could also reduce the walking distance for city to Onehunga transfers.

    1. Or terminate the Onehunga line inbetween the two Southern line tracks, with a platform on either side; open both doors to transfer either direction. Might need to buy up the portacom business land to reconfigure the tracks if it isn’t owned by KiwiRail or AC/AT though.

      1. Personally, I’d trade a walk to an Onehunga bound train if that meant higher frequency for the shuttle. A 15min frequency for the shuttle from Onehunga to Penrose would be much better than an easy transfer. Long term a cross-town line would mean a complete station redesign.

        Can we also look at other ideas? Would a two-train shuttle allow an easier passing track option = possibility of 10min frequency?

    2. Yes shifting platforms could be the way to go, though they have kind of recently upgraded the existing one for 6 car train handling for concerts at the stadium.

  13. Mt Eden has spare platforms (the Newmarket – Western line leg). In the short term, run Western lines through the CRL into the Eastern, and Onehunga ones to Mt Eden. Southern can alternate clockwise/anticlockwise and terminate somewhere near Otahuhu.

    People from the Western line going to Newmarket can either change at Mt Eden or K Rd depending on how they feel, as K Rd is slightly further but the walk is shorter (just across the platform) and the frequency would be greater. Depending on the future, either the Onehunga line can be extended to Henderson, or turned into a shuttle and the third set of platforms created at Mt Eden like there should’ve been on day 1. I don’t actually understand the operation pattern they planned that wouldn’t require platforms there.

  14. In my eyes I see the onehunga line 2 the airport then to Manukau also in some parts of the world light rail runs on heavy rail which could happen in this case

  15. I agree with AT on this, not least because it’s achievable without taking precious dollars away from other projects, something which we tend to cast aside as irrelevant on these forums. Not only does it provide a through service from the west to the inner south of the isthmus, but it also offers the opportunity, with an increase in frequency to 15 min, to operate alternate services to Otahuhu, eliminating Matt’s criticism that the frequency would be too low. We’ve got to get over the idea that a single seat from everywhere to everywhere is the mark of a sophisticated network – experience elsewhere suggests that’s emphatically NOT the case.

  16. Imagine your commute today. Maybe it was raining, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe you had a transfer to another public transport service, maybe you had two.

    Now imagine, after the Council showed it could provide your public transport service, the Council reduced your service, and you now have another transfer to get to your destination.

    How is this a good outcome?

    BTW – if you want a cross city transit line from the west, why just go to Penrose? Why not use the rail destination from Onehunga to Southdown, to Sylvia Park, to Glenn Innes?

    1. Which is why the crosstown Avondale to southdown line has to be heavy rail so it can continue on to the eastern line to Sylvia Park and Glen innes

    2. If it means your train comes every ten minutes reliably, instead of every half hour with regular cancellations, I’d consider that a very good outcome.

      1. Lengthy transfers become a major irritant with time; enough of an irritant to turn people off using a service. If we’re relegating this line to a simple shuttle then we may as well close it again and run some buses.

        The eagerness to sever this line from the network is quite surprising to me

        1. Post-CRL, Southern line should be running frequently enough that there’s very little wait time if you had to transfer at Penrose. The longest wait time would be if you were coming back and transferring to Onehunga line at Penrose and the train just pulled away.

          If you’ve ever been to any overseas networks (particularly in Asia), it’s pretty common for there to be short lines with transfers across platforms to a more major line, and it’s super convenient. From a user’s perspective, if the Onehunga train is more frequent and they still get to their location quickly and don’t have to walk up a long overpass then it’s far better than the current “ah crap the train just pulled away, I have to wait 30 minutes for the next one now”.

  17. There are two branch lines which cause issues. Onehunga and manukau. Happily there is a big destination in the middle of them being the airport. So the answer seems pretty straightforward. Run one branch through the airport to the other branch and end up with no branches. (Although some plonka has built puhunui station in the wrong place)

    This would also reduce congestion between Westfield and wiri which impacts freight and the ability to get things off the port to wiri.

  18. Ensuring there is still a connection from the west to Newmarket seems like a big benefit of option 1. Not everyone wants to go into the CBD and making these intra-isthmus journeys easier on PT should still be a goal (in this case it seems to be win-win). The 64 bus is a poor subsitute.

    1. There is, transfer at K road. Connects all the western line stations to all the southern line directly, and Vice versa.

  19. We need to invest in rail – the Onehunga to Avondale underground line needs to be finished and the Light rail scrapped – if we have the huge sum of money to invest in light rail we should invest it in a loop from Onehunga to Avondale or Mt Albert that would open so many options for commuters and stop Onehunga trains servicing a dead end! This is the long term solution need to be started NOW

    1. Avondale to Southdown line is not an underground, but KRL do own the land for the route. There will be some deep cuttings in Onehunga so they may consider some cut & cover for short lengths there.

    2. Agree, but the loop goes Mt Albert to Avondale to Onehunga then across to the eastern line and back through the city to mt Albert again. All heavy rail.

  20. Port Onehunga and Onehunga railway servicing the manukau ferry for the southern growth areas…

    I’m not seeing much
    Joined up thinking in these aspirational plans

  21. The shuttle idea would cost almost nothing and is immediately implementable. It is a terrible excuse for a transfer at Penrose, but on the upside there is a wonderful view from the top of the pedestrian-over-bridges. AT could do it now and increase frequence to 15 mins back and forth to make it a more useful service. Arriving at Penrose at 5.30pm to wait 25 minutes in a cold lonely station for the next train was not pleasant the other evening. Shuttle services have worked well during the ongoing track shutdowns and are far an away preferable to bus options. Aspirational we can be, but for now reality can be more helpful at least, with hardwired electric trains being the only mass transit climate change addressing option!

  22. This looks disappointing. A good rail line transports between 20,000 and 50,000 per hour. Yet the CRL plans in the Transport and Infrastructure Committee meeting (first link in Matt’s writing) the CRL only mentions 600 people per day one way and 3,000 per day another!

  23. Why would you suggest a cross town light railway from Avondale to Penrose when KiwiRail are about to build the freight (and passenger) line from Avondale to Southdown. A link to this line at Onehunga would do the trick without a lot of investment in new infrastructure and new trains.
    If the Onehunga line was extended to Wiri via the Mangere Employment Hub it could then be part of the greater Auckland rail service. Then extend a service from Britomart to the North Shore as a release valve for the CRL redirecting some Eastern and Southern trains that way, and perhaps some from the south via Onehunga.

    1. +1. The current situation has shown that kiwirail wants to have the Avondale southdown line built, so whatever other plan is proposed along that corridor kiwirail will attach the heavy rail to it to get funding.
      I can’t imagine a situation where kiwirail would allow something else to be built on their designation without the heavy rail being built at all essentially giving the designation away.
      So crosstown light rail on that designation is not a realistic idea. And all future plans for auckland transport should include the a-s line as heavy rail and go from there.

    2. Light rail is proposed to share the heavy rail corridor in the current LR consultation for Onehunga. Makes as much sense to extend it to Avondale as anything else. No mention of passenger heavy on that route.

      1. Kiwirail mentioned passenger when they suggested to the council recently that it should be built. Either way passenger would surely run along the heavy rail line. And it would be bonkers to have light rail lines right alongside heavy rail lines both taking passengers for 6 or 7km through auckland. Epic waste of money.

    3. “Why would you suggest a cross town light railway from Avondale to Penrose when KiwiRail are about to build the freight (and passenger) line from Avondale to Southdown.”

      Define “about”. Noting that it has been designated for what….75yrs?

      1. Whatever light rail plan comes along and says it will use the a-s designation will push kiwirail to say that the heavy rail has to be built at the same time. As happened a few weeks ago.
        So you either get 1)both light rail and heavy rail, which is silly
        or 2)neither. Or 3) just heavy rail.

        But the idea of getting just light rail only on the a-s designation is not likely.

        1. I wouldn’t be the first to suggest that it feels like it’s just going around in loops of contradictory consults with different agencies preventing each other from doing anything.

          If I was a gambler my money would be on nothing happening, National getting in and cancelling LR, restarting the East-West link, Onehunga line getting turned into a shuttle with 30min frequency and no usage due to terrible connections at Penrose until it gets cancelled completely, the 309 and 30 bus taking almost the same route apart from Royal Oak, leaving Onehunga in a PT black hole for anyone who doesn’t work in Newmarket or uptown. Heavy rail will go through Onehunga as someones property investments in Whangarei need the port to move up there to increase their value and it will need a high frequency container service to get there.

          Sorry for the pessimism, I hope voters get out there and prove me wrong! Unfortunately I voted for LR in 2017 and that hasn’t worked out that well.

        2. I might be overly optimistic but I think National will have no choice to move on PT a bit. Auckland is just simply that bad that it cannot continue.

          LR will be dead under National, no question. But even the MP for Cars, Simeon Brown, has talked about using the funds for (amongst others) a series of Busways based off the Northern Busway. This wouldn’t be a bad result when faced with what we have.

          Upper Harbour Highway, Avondale SH20 to Onehunga and airport, extension of Eastern Busway east to Ellerslie and south from Botany to Manukau and the airport. Better amenity for the NW.

          All of those could be well underway by the end of a first term national government (or a Labour one, which still looks possible).

        3. Would you prefer the busway over heavy rail between Avondale and southdown? Assuming national cancel light rail

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