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.