Today marks the latest milestone for the City Rail Link with the Western Line returning to dual line running.

City Rail Link Ltd, Link Alliance, Auckland Transport, and KiwiRail are excited to announce that on Monday 10th July the Western Line will return to dual line running.

This follows three years of trains running on a single track through Maungawhau Station in Mt Eden. This is a significant milestone for the City Rail Link project, and for commuters travelling between Newmarket Station and West Auckland.

The Link Alliance has built two new sections of Western Line track at Maungawhau Station to make room for the new City Rail Link lines. The new lines will take passengers into the tunnels towards Waitematā (Britomart) Station and through Karanga-a-Hape and Te Waihorotiu stations.

Passenger services through the area have been reduced to a single track since 2020 to allow trains to continue running while enabling safe construction along the line. The return to dual line running is great news for commuters who will now enjoy faster travel times.

This is great to see. Both tracks were completed a few months ago but single track running was maintained while some other work on the CRL took place.

This raised and reminded me of a few issues, some of which are related to each other.

Why aren’t the timetables online?

Auckland Transport have put posters up at Western Line stations highlighting that there’s a new timetable and to check the AT website.

Surprisingly, despite departure times for all stations west of Mt Eden changing, there has been very little notification, not even through the AT Mobile app. The app, along with other other journey planners that use the GTFS feed, such as Google Maps, do have the new timetables but bizarrely, AT haven’t loaded the new version on their timetables page.

This is a good example of how AT is really not focused on good customer experiences and having clear communication.

On a related note, I discovered the hard way recently that the now former weekend timetable they have on the timetables page was wrong with westbound arrival times out by 10 minutes e.g. the online timetable said a train I wanted to catch would arrive at 11:09 but the app and real time boards had it scheduled for 11:19. A timetable being 10 minutes out is not very useful.

Travel times still slower than 20 years ago

As noted above, the return to dual line running means Western Line trains can run faster and more reliably, which is great, but frustratingly our trains are still running slower than they were 20 years ago when Britomart opened.

A journey from Swanson to Britomart is now scheduled to take 54 minutes, two minutes faster than the timetable last week and the same as what it was prior to the Mt Eden works starting. But for a period in 2018/19 it was 52 minutes, prior to electrification it was 53 minutes and just after Britomart opened it was just 48 minutes.

This shows how the total travel time from Swanson to Britomart has changed over since over nearly 20 years.

Dwells still way too long

This is an issue we’ve been raising for years but a big part of why the overall travel time is so long is our incredibly long dwell times. It’s not uncommon for a train to dwell at a station for 50 seconds or more whereas on many other rail systems, dwell times can be 30 seconds or less. For a trip all the way to/from Swanson that means trains are at least five minutes slower than they could be.

The reason for slow dwell times is due to poor equipment (slow doors) and poor processes and it’s appalling that after nearly nine years, AT and rail operators have done nothing to fix it.

Rail Network Rebuild no guarantee of faster journey times

Aside from the CRL directly, the big thing happening right now is the rail network rebuild which is fixing the foundations on the tracks. Most of the Eastern Line is currently closed for this work.

As I’ve highlighted before, Kiwirail touted faster and more reliable trains in the original press release about the rebuild work.

“Replacing the railway foundations will remove the growing number of speed restrictions that have been placed on the network in recent years and make it much more resilient.

“For Aucklanders it will mean more reliable trains, faster journey times, and is crucial to enabling the more frequent trains to come with CRL day one.”

Yet not once have we had any explanation how much more reliable or how much faster will trains be.

Originally expected travel times for electric trains

Our trains are on average 5-10km/h slower than similar systems overseas and also slower than the original requirement for our electric trains – which was in line with those many overseas systems. If we were achieving those originally required travel times we’d see the following on our existing network

  • Swanson to Britomart – 43 minutes instead of 56 minutes (and this is before the CRL makes things even better)
  • Papakura to Britomart – 41 minutes instead of 50 minutes
  • Manukau to Britomart – 32 minutes instead of 37 minutes

So it’s great that we’ve got faster travel times than we had last week but we’ve still got a long way to go.

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  1. The dwell times thing is infuriating, with those theoretical numbers couldn’t Swanson to TeW get down to about 35 mins?

    1. The 43 minutes that was part of the original EMU requirement included 30 second dwell times at all stations with the exception of Newmarket – which had a 2 minute one.

      1. There are 2 sections that are still under speed restrictions , between Surges Rd and just before New Lynn on the western side where they are doing the sheet piling to stablise the embankment to stop it from collapsing again .

    2. Dwell times don’t matter to the the operator. Trains are run to collect subsidies, not for the convenience of passengers.

  2. Speaking of timetables being wrong, they’ve still not been updated on Remuera Station so there’s no mention of the Eastern Line running through or the off peak nature of the Onehunga Line. I also noticed this morning a network map in Britomart which shows the Eastern Line as operating and even more surprisingly Mt Eden as still open. I know it’s no big deal but also shows a failure to get the most basic things right.

    1. Most of the people who used to make these customer service and timetable updates on a weekly and daily basis, have been made redundant. They were replaced by a department called Customer Central, manned by expensive “facilitators” with no experience of the actual bus/train/ferry network, and with no budget to do anything. Instead they have daily agile/process meetings, to discuss “how to make things better”. Agile is a software development process, that has become the latest fad that is being sold to CCOs by the big accounting and consulting companies, as “the way” to transform their business operations. Agile has now become a self sustaining industry. See:

      1. Lol sounds like the usual lets get rid of people routine.

        Either Agile, or AI & Automation, or both.

        I mean these things are interesting, but they don’t reduce the need for headcount, everything is usually understaffed as is it. AT however I don’t really get why they have so many employees vs what they actually deliver. But of course, that being said, they get rid of the useful ones, not the seemingly pointless ones.

  3. To be fair, AT did attempt to do something about the dwell times by shifting to driver-operated door controls (which the trains were built for), but it led to strikes by the union which is presumably why it’s been abandoned and put in the too-hard basket

  4. It’s shocking that we still have ridiculously long dwell times. Not only do longer dwell times add to the cost of running services, they also make trains less appealing and frustrating for users. It would be great to see actual train speeds increased too (assuming that the bad track condition was the reason for that).

    1. The worst dwell time is Newmarket where it has to wait for the Southern/Eastern line have cleared the Station then Train Control releases the Western line to Britomart .

  5. Why can’t Auckland Transport & KiwiRail double track the Onehunga Branch Line to Penrose? This would solve the off-peak nature of the Onehunga Line. The 30-minute frequency & using two train services to get to Onehunga from Britomart/Newmarket stations during peak times has reduce significantly the use of Onehunga train services. Only off-peak can you get a direct connection there.

      1. If this was Cities Skylines we could just change to zoning on those apartments and they’d get immediately demolished and rebuilt to give access to the space. Ah if only life were a simulation.

    1. How do they get on in Wellington with the Johnsinville line. I seemed to remember it has a passing loop half way along. Couldn’t we have something similar.

      1. Answer, yes, but there has never been any real imperative to operate more than one train on the Onehunga Branch. 3-car length train-crossings should be possible at the loop that is currently designated as Te Papapa industrial siding, and the service frequency could be doubled to 4 trains per hour.
        It would of course have been preferable if a crossing loop and Te Papapa station had been co-located, such that time-spent performing loop-crossings and dwell-time at the platform could have co-incided.

      1. That would seem logical, to make a crosstown route from Avondale to Penrose, but given the mayor’s preference for crosstown heavy rail on the Avondale-Southdown line (whether that eventuates or not) I doubt AT or the council are really looking into it.

        i assume if light rail gets built though, the Onehunga Line would be relegated to being part of a crosstown routing to Henderson in the long run… no point running two rapid transit lines with identical ~20 minute travel times between Onehunga and the central city, i suppose.

        1. “the mayor’s preference for crosstown heavy rail”

          Whatever PTUANZ have whispered in his ear, Mr Brown gets only one vote.

      2. If it’s too expensive to double track the heavy rail, then it will be the same cost for a double tracked light rail

    2. Back in 2014 AT looked at the costs of doing so as well as addressing the various level crossings. They claim a big engineering solution of trenched or overhead rail is needed and at the time it was estimated to cost $500-600 million. With the construction cost inflation we’ve seen, that would easily be over $1 billion now. Hard to see that stacking up.

      1. Oh come on Matt. You know that was probably just Mark Lambert gold-plating as he does to make an idea sound unfeasible. Gees, the guy didn’t even want Onehunga Line reopened in the first place.

  6. Firstly, this is good news, the lucky dip at Grafton Station was becoming boring so two ways trains through again at least saves that five minutes at the “Hospital” station (they should change the audio to talk about the Domain and the Uni Med School so it doesn’t sound so dire).

    And to back up the idea of double tracking Onehunga, absolutely. That is the LS train, it can be fast ex Newmarket, then again Penrose to Te Papapa; but the squeeze into Onehunga is useless. Timetabling leads to excessive waits at Penrose if you are travelling counter peak. The space for double tracking is occupied by storage facilities for boats, caravans and so many useless things you would hope that Kiwirail could prioritise a very important link, particularly as it connects to Dressmart, an important shopping destination, and some good eating options. Obviously with Ngā Hau Māngere connecting Māngere Bridge to Onehunga, it would make it a greater facility for bike people also. I know Onehunga was a relatively cheap track upgrade but it will connect to whatever light rail is pushed into Māngere Town Centre and become an important part of the overall network, parallel to Ōtāhuhu and really beginning to connect South Auckland, as it should be connected, to the isthmus.

    1. Ever thought that those who have their boats, caravans, and so many other useless things stored may think that a slow train to Onehunga is a useless thing. Beauty is in the eye if the beholder.

      1. Onehunga local here. That train is useless, me and my wife used to use it but she’s gone back to driving as it’s quicker/more reliable and when I want to go to town I just drive to Penrose station.

        Arguably the storage yards next to the train line fulfill their purpose better than the train line itself. There’s a lot of wasted potential there.

    2. there would probably have to be a grade-separate flying junction at Penrose if you were running full-frequency service (4-8 trains per hour) on a double-tracked Onehunga line as well as high frequency service (16 trains per hour) on the Southern Line to Otahuhu, Papakura, & Pukekohe. if the Onehunga line had been able to be extended to the Airport i think that would have been necessary

      i can see reliability issues and continued short delays at stations waiting for other trains to pass and clear the junction, if a flat junction was retained.

      can see merit in the proposals to turn the Onehunga branch line into part of a New Lynn-Avondale-Penrose-Pakuranga crosstown light rail line, given that the Mangere light rail/metro should be providing the direct city centre to Onehunga transit connection. frees up more space for the Southern Line trains, and then the crosstown line from Henderson and Newmarket can terminate at Otahuhu or Manukau instead.

      1. Kiwirail won’t let the Avondale southdown designation be used as light rail.
        They already tried to add heavy rail to the current light rail plan. So crosstown light rail won’t happen on the a-s designation.

        Also we don’t need more services terminating at manukau and clogging up the Westfield to manakau rail traffic jam.

        Lastly if it’s too expensive to double track the onehunga line as heavy rail then the same cost would apply to double tracking it as light rail. Probably more with the change of the existing line also. So whatever happens with the onehunga line the double tracking cost will have to be paid.

        1. “Lastly if it’s too expensive to double track the onehunga line as heavy rail then the same cost would apply to double tracking it as light rail”

          much of the expense of double-tracking the onehunga line would come from the grade separation aspect. so what you say may be true for light metro type light rail, but a street-running type light rail system could use the surface corridor double-tracked and the level crossings could remain in place. i wonder if that is because trams/ligth rail vehicles are inherently designed to interact with perpendicular road traffic at intersections in a way that heavy rail isn’t – smaller vehicles, lighter construction, better braking ability.

          of course you could simply double track the onehunga line as heavy rail without grade separation, that too would be cheaper; but then the safety issues at each level crossing would limit train frequencies to no more than 4-6 trains per hour; and there would still be the question of train conflicts at the Penrose junction.

          I was not aware of the capacity issues Westfield-Wiri and assumed the third main was supposed to address some of those. I picked Manukau as an non-Onehunga terminus for a crosstown line on the grounds that is a major urban hub and not in the middle of an industrial block like Otahuhu station is.

        2. regardless of it being heavy or light rail, It’s still running perpendicular to the street and therefore requires safety barriers/ lights! delays.
          I don’t see any benefit from where you mention smaller vehicles/ better braking etc as this just seems to suggest we will spend heaps of money double tracking and then put a smaller/ less capacity and slower vehicle which would somewhat defeat the purpose.

          On the whole a lot of arguments on here say double tracking the onehunga line is expensive and therefore light rail may be better. However I would argue whatever costs/ Issues exist for light rail also exist for heavy and there is no real benefit to converting the onehunga line.

          Better to bite the bullet and double track it with a bridge to a mangere Bridge station. It can be done slowly as resources allow.

  7. When I initially arrived in Auckland, I was taken aback by the drivers’ practice of making a detour at each station before the doors slowly begin to close. Considering the abundance of sensors and mirrors available, it seems unnecessary.

    Everywhere overseas, the doors close abruptly and swiftly, making it possible to accidentally pinch your fingers, although it doesn’t cause any pain.

    Auckland trains are very special

  8. Curious why they don’t reopen the Mt Eden stop if the trackwork is mostly done. The stairs from Mt Eden Rd have been re-built. Sure, the full station amenities aren’t done, but it seems a shame to have the community wait another 2 (or is it 3, or 4….) years for the CRL to be complete.

  9. Has anybody tried to calculate the cost/benefit of improvements to travel time?

    I mean if you have say 20m trips that are taking on average 1 minute longer than required, then not hard to do a lost productivity analysis and calculate that it would be worthwhile to invest a few million to make improvements

    This is done every time a road needs to be widened or straightened, but in this case induced demand would be a very good thing.

    Is there nobody at AT who is capable of putting together a business case? I am sure the train manufacturer would love to upsell some speed improvements

  10. One thing I am a bit disappointed with is the original renderings of the new crl stations had platform screens doors, I noticed in the latest renderings there aren’t any.
    Platform screen doors are an essential safety feature that also helps reduce dwell times.
    As these stations will be extremely busy, it seams stupid not to include them.

  11. It’s great that you’ve featured the platform marking design of AUT Product Design graduate Dan Smith. He designed the markings back in 2015. Although he’s now a Product Development Manager at F&P Healthcare, Dan along with several of his 2014 classmates and several more grads from the 2015-2017 years, remain an unrecognised, under-utilised Aotearoa-NZ public transport facility design resource.

    1. Yeah those arrows are an excellent feature. I get frustrated by people who gormlessly block exiting passengers.

      1. And there are the ones at Britomart that want to get on the train as soon as it pulls in and they make difficult for those getting off even though it doesn’t leave for another 10/15 mins.

  12. My question is: Why are train timetables in NZ not in 24 hour format?
    Almost all rail timetables worldwide are, so why is NZ lagging (again)?

    1. NZ is seen as quaint and backwards overseas so we really must live up to that reputation. Case in point being this and our general attitude socially and politically towards PT.

    1. it’s almost like there’s a conspiracy to actively make public transport in this country inefficient and overpriced and constantly behind schedule – both in terms of poor service and increasingly expensive proposals and projects that always end up delayed or getting kicked further down the track.

      might not even be a grand planned conspiracy, really. just selfish shits in positions of wealth and power fighting to keep the status quo that they benefit from and like.

  13. Co-signing everything here, the dwells are at this point a national disgrace – whether people know or see it, or not.

    A smart government/govt dept could work on a dwell elimination/optimization project – knock 30 seconds off each call, tighten the timetable and bang – do a PR announcement and ad campaign, focused on the extremities of the route who gain the most – celebrating journey times being cut by 20% or whatever. Such an easy win. And so much new patronage and goodwill (from existing users) to gain.

    Better stock utilization across a day’s duties too. 5-10 mins end to end will have material impact on diagramming and staffing.

    So so dumb they don’t grab what is so low-hanging and without major capex.

  14. Having traveled extensively on the Auckland network and the Wellington network, I can see an issue with the doors on the Auckland units. They seem clanky and slow compared to the pocket doors on the Wellington Matangi units. This would account for the slow performance, as they first have to release the locking mechanism, then move outwards and along before being set as fully open. The Matangi doors only have to slide sideways into their pockets meaning stops are much quicker.
    On a recent trip from Upper Hutt into Wellington I observed that the average dwell time at the platforms was 20 seconds.

    1. Yes, the doors were chosen so as to maximise window area. Probably the windows with signage on them so can’t see out properly anyway. It’s only part of the reason the dwell times are slower.

  15. I can’t stress too strongly that in a competently managed urban rail system an offpeak minor station dwell should be around 25 seconds.
    In Sydney, for example, with large plug doors, typically (cumulative times): train stops 0, door starts opening 1, door finishes opening 5, door starts closing say 15-20, door finishes closing 19-24, train starts 22-27.
    In Melbourne it’s often closer to 20 seconds, as the doors are a bit smaller and not plugs, so the door opening & closing time is closer to 2 seconds than 4.

    1. If you stand back and watch all the doors they will not open before the little bridge too the centre carriage sets itself up and then the doors open .

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