Raymond Siddalls sadly passed away over the weekend. Raymond played a critical role in saving rail in Auckland so we thought it was worth once again running this post from April-2014 in his honour (with a few minor updates).

Next Monday will be a historic day for transport in Auckland as for the first time the city will have electric trains carrying fare paying passengers. Electrifying the rail network is something that has been talked about for 90 years, mostly in conjunction with some version of the City Rail Link. While Britomart was undoubtedly a turning point for rail in Auckland, it wouldn’t have been possible without some key events and a whole pile of luck that occurred just over a decade earlier, without which it is unlikely we would have a rail system today. One man was at the centre of it all and this is the story of how he saved rail in Auckland.

The story starts in the late 80’s where the Auckland rail network is in serious decline. The trains were being run under the name of City Line which was part of NZ Rail Ltd and also ran a number of bus services.

Unlike Wellington which had just fairly new electric trains, the trains running on the Auckland network were decrepit and consisted of former long-distance carriages that had been converted for suburban use. They were originally built in 1936 and had steel frames but the bodies were made from wood. They were also hard to access, requiring customers to climb up into the trains from what were basically oversized kerbs that masqueraded as station platforms. The video below shows what these trains looked like. Also note: to change ends there was no driving cab like today, the locomotive had to be uncoupled and moved to the other end of the train at a station with a passing loop.

At the time Auckland had also seen numerous grand plans for new public transport networks but none ever saw the political support needed to actually implement them. At the time the latest idea was convert the western line to light rail using a tram train from Henderson then send it via a tunnel under K Rd before running down the surface of Queen St. The problem was the idea couldn’t get political support. The City Council didn’t want trams on Queen St and the regional council saw it as competition to the Yellow Bus Company which they owned 90% of. That left Auckland with its near derelict trains and not much hope for the future.

It’s now the early 90’s and enter Raymond Siddalls. With a year to go before the regional council took over the contracting of services he was in charge running the suburban fleet. His bosses had also tasked him with shutting the Auckland network down. With an aging fleet, falling patronage and little political support (both locally and nationally) no one thought it could be made to work. After looking at the operations Raymond was surprised to find that with a restructure, he was be able to cut down the costs and actually have the company start making a profit on the gross contracts it held.

The critical time came in 1991 when a decision needed to be made on how to move forward. New legislation controlling how public transport services would operate was coming into effect and basically changed everything. No longer could PT be treated as a social service and the focus was on making PT stand up commercially. The legislation also didn’t allow for any distinction between rail and bus services which meant bus companies could tender for rail routes. Note: this legislation is still in effect today and has had a significant negative effect on the planning and provision of PT for over two decades. The new PTOM legislation should address most (but not all) of the issues it caused.

With the network actually making a profit the operation was kept going and the operating company tendered for the 120 services a day that they were already running (today there are something like 365 services per day). One problem though was each service had to take on the full cost of running the network. They subsequently were able to re-tender for the services as a combined timetable which allowed the costs to be shared across all services.

The councils started to get on board and the company was awarded the contract in the South for three years while in the west it was for four years. They were then able to successfully argue that with a 4-year contract on the entire network there was a chance to look at new rolling stock which would boost and the councils agreed to this. The contract was due to start in June 1992.

Around this time, it just so happened that one staff member was about to go to Perth to attend a wedding. Perth was just about to finish electrifying their rail network and so the staff member was asked to drop in to find out what they were planning to do with their unneeded DMU’s (Diesel Multiple Units – the ones that don’t have a locomotive).

It turns out there were no plans for them and so subsequently Raymond flew over to inspect and value the trains. He made a call that there were no other buyers interested in them and so put in an offer for them at scrap value. All up he was aiming for 20 trains and his hunch about no other buyers being interested paid off, managing to secure 19 of them.

One of the ADLs as they looked before being refurbished in the mid 2000’s

With a new fleet of trains seemingly secured it wasn’t the end of the problems though. Perth is flat and the steepest track has a grade of 1:200 while Auckland is far from flat with trains needing to be able to handle grades of 1:36. This meant many needed their engines and transmissions overhauled to be able to handle the Auckland conditions. They also wanted to refurbish the trains by re-upholstering the seats and replacing the floor coverings. Lastly they had to raise the platform heights around the network so that people could actually get on to the trains. To make things even more difficult in Auckland the rail unions were striking trying to reopen the workshops and re-employ some of the staff who had been laid off by the earlier rail restructuring.

To fund the overhaul, refurbishment and raise the platform heights it was determined that the only way they could make it viable would be if the rail contract was extended to 10 years. Due to the confirmed availability of rolling stock this was considered a good deal. As such the regional council ended up voting unanimously to support the proposal with one person abstaining – the abstention was from a light rail advocate.

In another stroke of luck all of this happened just before the rail network was privatised, something that could have put the whole idea in jeopardy.

At around the time the DMU’s were introduced patronage on the rail network reached its lowest point ever of just over 1 million trips per year. Within a couple of years after their introduction, the DMU’s were responsible for a reverse in the in the patronage decline that had been witnessed over the previous decades. It then continued to grow and reached about 2.5 million trips before Britomart was opened. It was also that growth that helped give the political courage needed to get Britomart built.

Raymond also happened to table the idea of Britomart all the way back in 1990 and he was instrumental in ensuring that a corridor was left to the site of Britomart as the initial plan had been to sell off the old rail yard land entirely.

Put simply without the actions that Raymond took we almost certainly would not have a rail network today that is about to served by modern electric trains. He has been a hero to PT in Auckland that I think the city should be eternally thankful for. Thanks Raymond.

Note: Thanks to Raymond for agreeing to share his memories with us. Also thanks to Auckland Transport (where Raymond currently works) for allowing us to talk to him.

Share this


  1. Our Dad was part of the team that commissioned the DMu’s on their arrival to Auck. What started as a 3 – 4 week job turned into a 25 year career.

    1. Yes, unforgettable this post.

      If we get another HR line in Auckland, we should call it the Siddalls line. Or some landmark on the network, acknowledging him.

      1. Ah no sorry I could not agree to this. That line was proposed years before hand and there was a specailised group of guys (civil engineers) based in the Railway Station in Auckland working on this in the late seventies through till mid/late eighties. The land has been in NZR possession for many years and has been subject to political decsions for far too long. The files were many however the fortunes of NZR was not blowing in a favourable direction with deregulation after the Labour Govt came in an mid eighties. Richard Prebble was going to save Rail but had to back track when the financial reality became obvious to them and he started the closure of most of the railway systems.

  2. As someone who grew up walking on empty train tracks, it is fitting to remember a person who actually achieved something positive in our city’s public transport story. Rest in Peace

  3. I often direct people to this post when they’re trying to find out about the story of transport in Auckland. It’s important to show that successful outcomes do not happen automatically. Without Raymond Siddalls the transport story of Auckland would have been very different, and not in a positive way.

    What a good man. RIP Raymond.

  4. Good on Raymond.
    Man that video sure shows how ugly the old & stinky the loco hauled carriage setups were.
    Kind of on topic, does anyone remember or have pics on the web of how you got from the old Strand Station to the platforms? Was it all covered and safe etc? Guess the tracks didnt’ go through so you could access quite easily from the ends.

    1. Before Britomart opened and the old Station Building closed there were tunnels under the tracks to get to the strand as well as walkways over the tracks at the end of the platforms .

      1. Those subways under the tracks at Auckland Station were all beautifully lined in “subway” tiles. Are any of those subways still there, and what happened to the tiles, some of which, if my memory serves me rightly, had the NZR motif on them.

  5. Yes, Raymond Got rail transport Up and moving. He was my manager 1996. And I found Raymond to be realistic and fear. Let us remember what he did.

  6. Now it would be almost impossible to buy rolling stock like that for such a low price. It’s all advertised worldwide on the internet and far more in demand. But it shows how absurd and unbalanced the transport spending was by the early 1990s. Also virtually zero maintenance was happening through this period which is why we are having to spend hundreds of millions now on things like the rail foundation rebuild. The trains (and the rest of the PT system) were “profitable” but only by ignoring long term investment.

  7. You know what we need included in Auckland’s expanded Heavy Rail network? Doninion RD. For a long-time now Dominion RD has needed some form of rail going under its street, key answer is tunnelled Heavy Rail. It be good idea to combat this against ALR (Auckland Light Rail group) to stop them from proceeding with their idea. You’ll find that bringing a Light Rail in any form is a conservative thing since Light Rail is a form of rail dating back to the 19th century, also Auckland once had Light Rail laid on Dominion RD, it would be a huge step-back for Auckland, its not progressive, transformative idea, its conservative!

    A tunnelled Heavy Rail down under Dominion RD with it doing a city-circuit around around Auckland CBD and terminating at Onehunga, with adding a second platform at Onehunga Station, would make more sense than some Light Rail line. Commuters will be wanting a service that’ll get them to places within one rail-line without the need of transferring onto another mode of transport. Light Rail won’t have the capability to that here in Auckland due to Heavy Rail existence and presence at major centres commuters need to stop-in, while only Heavy Rail stops at major centres. We should be doing more to Heavy Rail, since that’s the mode we’ve got here in Auckland! Makes more sense to construct a Heavy Rail line under Dominion RD due to existence and presence in Auckland.

    The $6 Billion Southdown – Avondale Heavy Rail line is owned by Kiwirail, but the land is only owned by Kiwirail, doesn’t cover for the construction costs for constructing the line. Auckland Council and Central Government would only be covering the construction cost would only be less than $1 Billion since only purchasing materials for the line. Auckland Council & Central Government won’t be paying for purchasing land since Kiwirail owns the land and is state-owned meaning owned by Central Government.

    Along with Southdown – Avondale line, a tunnelled Heavy Rail Dominion RD line would be good combination for Auckland and be built at same time makes more sense too. If you built Southdown – Avondale line with a tunnelled Heavy Rail under Dominion RD, you’d get massive discount purely cause of Kiwirail, since they own Southdown – Avondale line. If you did cost findings between tunnelled Heavy Rail Dominion RD line and Southdown – Avondale line would be cheaper than Light Rail. Tunnelled Heavy Rail Dominion RD line ($7 Billion) and Southdown – Avondale line ($1 Billion) would cost when combined around $8-$9 Billion, since Southdown – Avondale line is discounted due to Kiwirail already bought land, only thing for needed is the construction costs which is paid by Central Government. Whereas Light Rail would be $11 Billion (construction costs & land acquisition), takes Auckland back to the 1900’s again, wouldn’t transform Auckland into modern society and not bring ‘Best of Both Worlds’.


    Upgrading our town centres Mount Roskill, Eden Valley and Balmoral should be done proper way! You don’t upgrade your town centres and regenerate town centres just to make the town centre sprawling and golden plated for a picture frame, you need to guarantee businesses and reassure form of transport will be constructed. Good example of this is Northcote, where regeneration happens. Another down side to upgrading/regenerating, you get mass migration of international immigrants buying housing instead whole purpose is to help struggling NZ Citizens in need, locals who need housing, Mount Roskill, Eden Valley and Balmoral will turnout just like Northcote.

    If Auckland Council was to take ALR project head to head, make them defunct. Bring an Heavy Rail line under Dominion RD would be your answer! We need to bring in with the Heavy Rail, out with the Light Rail! Scarp Light Rail overall!

    1. There is not a single reason in all of that as to why the massive expense of an underground HR line is better than cheaper surface rail LR.

      And the reason is because its not. Its just you have a fetish for HR and want to see more of it.

      P.S. LR is more modern technology than HR.

      1. Stated plenty of reason of the past weeks now of why Heavy Rail is better form of transport for Dominion RD, since its fast, utility (able to connect onto another track and able to form more network lines instead of just one line which goes one way, can catch another line to another place p.s meaning transformative change), more modern than shitty Light Rail aka Tram, which is slow, stale like a granny car, ineffective in bringing transformative change. So called Light Rail isn’t modern at all, if it was modern, it would be fast, better utilisation in allowing another network line to get into other places in one stop, improve peoples lives, enable businesses to grow, housing to grow, lastly won’t bring ‘Best of Both Worlds’ to Dominion RD. Most concerning thing will decimate businesses who need customers via private vehicles using Dominion RD, if we block it with a surfaced Tram Light Rail, businesses will go out of business cause cars can’t drive onto Dominion RD. Businesses have explained this problem several times with ALR, even when they conducted a survey.


      2. Why is a preference for HR a “fetish”, and a preference for LR not? Of course neither is. We all have our ideas of what is best, and considering HR would capitalize on the CRL and wider network, and lead to greater network possibilities and compatibility, I’m very much in the HR camp.

        Besides, LR is dead in the water. It’s just not going to happen. I can assure you the planning has already changed gear behind the scenes. A lot of planning work is now under way for the Southdown-Avondale heavy rail line, whilst work on light rail is stalled and about to be canned completely. The next big rail project in Auckland is going to be this new heavy rail line, and will have commuter trains as well, either operated by KiwiRail, or AT if AT agree to add it to their network. They are also looking at the possibility of running them between Huapai and Hamilton as a sort of regional network, but it’s early days yet and more of a thought exercise at this point.

  8. Yeah, I don’t need the link. Like most people, I ignored your earlier posts. It was just a rant that got boring after line 5.

    LR is just as fast as HR in area like Dom Rd. HR simply hasn’t got the time between stops to utilise any top end speed advantage it might have. Your comment on connections is baffling; whatever mode you put on that route has exactly the same ability to connect to other lines to allow transfers. LR will be the first of many lines all complimenting the current HR network. London, KL, Sydney all use a mix of heavy, light metro and light rail, depending on the route. We don’t need to add further and further lines to the current HR network without harming frequencies.

    And cars will still have their own lanes on Dom Rd, with a surface light rail. What will decimate businesses is the longer closures of Dom Rd to allow the tunnelling and building of access to stations. Just look at the CRL and the CBD as evidence of that. Surface light rail is a much quicker build.

    1. And if you think leaving Dom Rd as a traffic sewer will drive transformational change, as opposed to surface level rail with the ability to deliver far more customers than the few carparks available, well, good luck.

      So yeah, you are a HR boffin who hates LR for no logical reason. You aren’t the first to post here and you won’t be the last.

    2. Light Tram, Light Metro is slow as granny car and old fashioned, time to get with the times, modern times! London, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney don’t empathise on quality, all they focus on silver plated projects which always misses one thing, quality, that’s what quality about here in Auckland, its also what AT stands upon its values, we are also a quality country. What Light Tram brings is no quality, it will bring is cheap stale materials to the stations (not construction costs), along with eroding old feel overtime we see in London, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney. To build more frequency here in Auckland, that why we should look towards creating a ‘Second City Rail Line’, along with making upgrades to ‘Eastern Approach Tunnel at Britomart’ so we can create a city circuit all of our current line and including new Dominion RD line, also for future lines to utilise and versatility.

      In case you haven’t been to Dominion RD, clear you haven’t, there no wide enough gap to cater both light tram and general private vehicles, there’d be no space for parking cars & buses on side of road for businesses who rely on customers in cars and buses. Tunnelled Heavy Rail under Dominion RD would cause no harm during construction due to depth underground and it be bored by bored machine, not cut and cover. Dominion RD surface isn’t plain flat, very sloppy, so it require to be 15-20 metres underground. Plus a Heavy Rail would far more sense than some Light Tram, already got Southdown-Avondale planned, makes sense to build a Heavy Rail Dominion RD line at the same time since they’d both would save each some time.

  9. I have several times over the years requested that the Greater Auckland site either correct or remove the regularly repeated “How rail was saved in Auckland” post, without any response. Yes, the DMU’s saved Auckland rail but their genesis story is not as related by Ray Siddalls. In the end worked up a letter with the assistance of the editor for the New Zealand Railway Observer to at least get the real sequence of events down in a journal of historical record. The text of this letter, published in 2022, follows:

    “The [DMU] story, which has been related several times, has been shopped around a bit over recent years. However, it does not accurately represent the facts as experienced by me and recorded in my contemporary notebooks and reports.

    In April 1989 I made a private trip to Perth to visit a friend. During this time progress with rejuvenating and then electrifying Perth’s 1067mm gauge commuter rail network was well advanced. I had noted that this would likely displace their DMU fleet and that this had potential for reuse in New Zealand. I took advantage of this holiday to organise a visit with Brian Cornish and Mike Beaven at the West Australian Government Railways Chief Mechanical Engineers Office. This occurred on 17th April 1989, followed by a visit Claisebrook DMU Deport on the next day, hosted by Kim Bennett the depot manager. On returning to New Zealand, I prepared a short report evaluating the suitability of these vehicles for NZ service.
    The release from service of the newest DMU’s, the ADL-ADC sets, was subject to political desire for expanded services beyond the reach of the new electrification, so this was going to be a waiting game.

    On 15th March 1991 I was telephoned by Mike Beavan of WAGR to confirm that the ADL-ADC fleet were now expected to be released from service by the end of 1991, but still potentially subject to political directives to open new services elsewhere. With these not eventuating, later in 1991 (no date in my notes) I was contacted by Mike advising that the vehicles were for sale and asking the best way to proceed. I suggested approaching the then NZRC CEO Francis Small and formally determine our interest in purchasing.

    As a consequence, I prepared a more detailed feasibility report, dated March 1992. This evaluated the suitability of these cars (positive), suggested a budget for the purchase, conversion and operation and made a basic business case. It recommended the purchase of all ten ADL-ADC sets and a minimum of six of the older ADK+ADB sets.

    The claimed requested side trip as part of a private trip to Perth by a staff member in 1991 was in April 1989, was by myself and by my own instigation [I did not and have never worked for Ray Siddalls]. The inspection and two feasibility reports well predated the events Ray Siddalls describes. The claim that these cars were sold at scrap value is not correct. My 1992 report calculated a minimum salvage value of NZ$2.5m for the ten ADL+ADC sets. I was not much involved in the subsequent commercial activity and have no records, but by my recall the purchase was at least twice my calculation, possibly more. WAGR did indeed offer us the oldest vehicles in the fleet for free, if we took them away. This was declined as these vehicles were life expired, completely unsuitable and not worth the shipping cost.

    In 1991, the NZRC Railway Road Services division was split off from what was become NZRL and prepared for sale ahead of the main railway privatisation. None of the NZRL passenger management team in Auckland saw any future with the Auckland rail operation and elected to go with the road services side of the business, leaving Auckland CityRail suddenly without a manager.

    Central and Local Government certainly saw little use for rail at the time, so you can understand their decision. However, the NZRL passenger team remaining had no intention of abandoning the Auckland operation, not without a fight, as I recall. This is the same motivated team that implemented the Tranz Alpine, the Bay Express, an upgraded Coastal Pacific service, the Capital Connection, the Rotorua/Tauranga railcars and successfully steered the Wellington Metro system through some very tough times.

    Without any remaining passenger managers in Auckland, they turned to the guy running the carriage maintenance operation (Ray Siddalls) to step up, and good on him for doing so, but he was never appointed under a remit to abandon the operation. Rather he was part of a team determined to do their best to save rail.

    The Perth DMUs arrested the terminal ridership decline to 1 million and dropping, but then lacked the capacity and wider service offering to grow beyond about 2 million rides per year. Nearly a decade of opposition by Auckland local government and their agencies prevented any further initiatives to improve capacity and services. The SA/SD trains were proposed in the mid 1990’s but were long delayed by this, but eventually were able to provide the ever growing capacity to prove once and for all you can get Aucklanders out of their cars, as shown by your graph.
    Michael McKeon”

    1. It’s good to see the true story Mike, thank you. Curious that Greater Auckland appear to wilfully ignore the true story, but it may be that they don’t like any narrative that credits NZ Rail (or shock horror, Wellington-based people).

  10. one aspect people are not taking into consideration is if you introduce LR you introduce another level of design/maintenance and unquiness to a public transport fleet. The expantion of HR uses existing facilities without having to double up on resorces. Using HR uses the existing support without a heavy investment in new operating procedures and can be introduced into an existing system with less impact. Why reinvent the wheel when the existing wheel is working well within the confines of the concept? Look at most transit schemes and they use similar manufacturers using an established gauge. I cannot fathom why people want to get a different process with the associated high price just to meet a perceived advantage that does not exist. Remember we are in Auckland where we do not have the space nor layout as such as Perth. The earlier writer pointing out the amount of space on Dominion Rd is spot on.

    1. An alternative point of view is that to obtain this commonality you are locked into staying with the existing supplier, and service agents, supplying just more of basically the same as the existing fleet and servicing them all at just an enlarged existing site.
      This carries considerable risk of a single point of failure crippling the bulk of the rapid transport network.
      And thanks Michael for providing more detail on how we so very nearly completely lost our rail passenger transport here in Auckland.

      1. There isn’t enough capacity in the existing depot and stabling as it is, let alone for expansion. Auckland will need new depots and stabling yards regardless.

        The existing ‘wheel’ isn’t great, it’s greatly compromised by historic standards and mainline limits. Simple things like all the floors of our trains can’t be level with the platforms because of freight wagons. Every aspect of Aucklands trains are compromised by legacy freight intergration standards. Why would you want to do more of that?

        Simple question, if the trains are never going to share tracks with freight trains on the main line, why the hell would you want to spend extra to make poorer performing units by sticking to that odd specification?

        It’s far cheaper to build new urban passenger train lines to an international standard of track, loading gauge and power supply, that it would be to build more custom bespoke trains to the globally unique Auckland standard.

      2. Yes, thank you. This is what heavy rail or tram-train ideologues consistently refuse to understand – the single point of failure.

        Actually there are multiple points of failure with such overreliance on a “single rail system” – rolling stock failure (as has happened in Sydney and Birmingham with defects in the CAF Urbos trams, and Ottawa with the Alstom Citadis LRVs); service disruptions in a bottleneck corridor like the CRL, maintenance; lower service frequencies because of more lines sharing the same constrained tracks.

        It is standard practice for new urban rail systems to keep lines and services essentially separate from each other; see the Singapore MRT for instance. There is no interlining.

        Regardless of how shoddy delivery and promotion of light rail in Auckland has been over the past 6 years; there are obvious advantages in a separate, second rail mode to form a second RTN spine independent of the heavy rail lines.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *