The World As We Lived It
You may notice if you look at the URLs on pages at the top of your browser, this site – formerly aucklandtrains.co.nz – has now become officially changed to AKT (aktnz.co.nz) as part of a major web hosting upgrade to cope with increased traffic and reflecting the wider range of transport and Auckland issues discussed here these days.
As that under the bonnet site transfer was taking place, it was fascinating to see the old posts fly past and the state of the nation exactly three years ago and marvel and how we have seen so much progress although sometimes it feels one step forward and two back politically.
At this time, exactly three years ago, the site was excitedly reporting that new timetables for Southern and Eastern lines were to came into effect and we expected the next changes in six months when the Newmarket station re-opens.
The changes saw:
- Southern Line: More capacity on peak services.Two extra carriages will be added to some peak services.One extra late night service Sunday to Thursday - leaving Britomart at 10.10pm to Papakura (last train currently at 9.10pm).
- Eastern Line: Two extra morning peak services between Otahuhu and Glen Innes (6.50am and 7.24am. Extra late night services Sunday to Thursday. Two additional services leaving Britomart at 9.40pm to Papakura (last train currently at 8.40pm) and 10.40pm to Otahuhu.
- Pukekohe: Additional departure from Pukekohe at 8.04am, Additional later train from Pukekohe departing at 8.24pm. 75 minute frequency from Britomart to Pukekohe (and return) throughout the day. One later train to Pukekohe in the evening - leaving Britomart at 7.10pm and arriving at Pukekohe at 8.16pm.
- Western: No changes except the annoying midweek nightly bus replacements no longer happen.
But after the expectation of such much needed improvements, things as so often happened came crashing down with a thud on the day of change.
In a post headed “Monday Meltdown -Number 2397″ I reported:
Mechanical problems were to blame for the dreadful delays on all lines this morning – the first day of the new timetable schedules. It was so bad, passengers were advised to find “alternative transport’ to work or school if they weren’t able to cope with the delays. So much for a launch day boasting improvements.
And a week later I wrote in frustration at Auckland’s “Dinosaur” train service:
Tonight’s busy Waitakere – bound 4.58pm Western line service was cancelled because of a “mechanical fault.” This led to the next scheduled service, the 5.13pm Swanson service being pretty much standing room only by the time it left the Brit full of disgruntled customers. My carriage saw hearts sink when a false Chinese whisper began that this had morphed into the 5.13pm No Stop Til Brooklyn (or read Newmarket / New Lynn) Express service.
This morning it was all fun and games too. The 7.35am city-bound I think it was, also got cancelled because of a mechanical fault. The train I finally boarded was so crowded because an essential rush hour service was skipped, I had to adopt the position of a French v All Blacks rugby scrum to push myself on board. I noticed that by the time we got to Mt Albert station and subsequent stops, some passengers couldn’t fit on or, for their own health and safety, waited for another train.
Then came the night Britomart’s screens went blank.
“Just when you thought things could not possibly get worse..and everything that could breakdown has. At Britomart, the display screens showing what trains are leaving and when fell silent. Today they went blank (left) and announcements had to be made to tell people where to go. On board a guard also kept telling people what train they were on in case they had got on the wrong one.”
Day after day, problems continued dominating much of the despair in posts and discussion on the site.
In a post called “Another day, another delay” -this Auckland Trains site’s original tag line:
“Today’s morning rush hour points failure – coming after an evening rush hour signals failure – has pushed commuters too far. “This morning, trains were cancelled, delayed and packed. And even when the trains finally made it close to Britomart, the rescheduled arrivals meant long waits on the side before the tunnel waiting for a train to leave so there was a spare berth at the Brit.At Britomart, commuters were also overheard berating guards for not getting to their work on time because of the subsequent delays leaving the Brit.”
Major signal faults were common (remember them?)
“Western line services ground to a halt just before 5pm – thanks to yet another signal crash. This time the signal fault was at Boston Rd. Trains stopped, passengers got out wondering what the delay was – or they stopped mid-station. Just what Auckland needs on a rainy Monday rush hour night.”
The June performance figures came out and weren’t very flash.
The one year old Helensville service was up for review by ARTA and not looking promising but the rest of the signs were despite the constant disruptions to service.
We learnt that in the previous 12 months:
- There were 6 million trips taken on Auckland’s trains – the highest number since records began in 1955
- Patronage on the Southern Line grow 15.7%
- Patronage on the Western line grow 16.1%
Wellington was having its regular problems.
One morning the entire peak time commuter service shut down. the cause: An overhead power fault.
KiwiRail, at first, closed only some lines and rail passengers had to queue for buses but now the entire system has closed while they try to work out the problem. They said they don’t know the cause.
We laughed at the thought Auckland could ever have a “world class transport service” in time for the Rugby World Cup.
The Auckland Regional Authority Transport Authority advertised for a Rugby World Cup Project manager and the job description read:
“Our mission is to deliver a world-class transport system that makes Auckland an even better place to live, work and play…..ARTA is the lead agency for passenger transport service provision in the Auckland region for RWC 2011 and is responsible for developing and implementing a programme of transport initiatives. The role of the RWC Project Manager is to ensure ARTA meets and exceeds our customers’ transport expectations for this major international sporting event by providing a world class service.” We were sceptical it could possibly improve in time.
And in preparation for the Cup, commuters trying to board from Morningside were battling to be able to find any room on the platform to stand amid machines and workmen busy tearing down the old station and putting up a new Mt-Eden style station.
Newmarket development was in full steam:
And the rail trench work at New Lynn was going well: Besides the start of the building of the southern trench wall construction at New Lynn, OnTrack staff were busy with construction of the new rail overbridge between Clark St, Rankin Ave and Totara Ave. Work was about to begin on a new Manukau line and the site published this diagram:
Manukau Mayor Les Brown said he had become a big fan of the Project Dart Manukau rail proposal but admitted to earlier concerns:
“The problem that I had with the rail spur from the main truck line was two-fold. Firstly, in the initial years I was not convinced rail was a better option than a strong enhancement of our bus services. I wasn’t sure if rail would deliver the numbers necessary to justify it economically. Secondly I felt the rail spur should enter into the northern side of the city centre, rather than where we’ve finally decided in the south.
Over the years I reconciled myself to the fact that our council, whatever its configuration, was going to support the rail line. And I’ve certainly reconciled myself to the arguments relating to it.
In the last three years, we’ve seen a 300 to 400 per cent increase in patronage on the southern rail line with a lot of scope for even further quantum shifts in numbers.
I’ve also accepted that the rail station site at the south of the city centre at Hayman Park is a starting point for a greater expansion of the rail network. It could eventually be extended out through the eastern part of the city into Botany, Pakuranga and then back into Panmure.
The train and bus station is due to open in late 2010. The first stage of the planned tertiary campus is likely to be open to its first students in the first semester of 2012.The campus and station will attract a lot more people to the city centre and help kickstart further investment.”
But there was a question mark over funding for the proposed rejuvenation of the Onehunga line:
“NZ Transport Agency Acting agency regional director Tommy Parker says the proposed stations will be at the ITM site at 109-113 Onehunga Mall, Mt Smart and Te Papapa. The Auckland Regional Transport Authority is well advanced with designs for the latter two which will be fairly small stations. The total cost will be $3/9m.
The ITM site will be funded initially with the others in due course. Mr Parker says the agency has not yet approved funding but in the wake of the removal of the regional fuel tax, the board considers that rail stations are legitimate candidates for co-funding. ARA chairman Mike Lee says in order to pay for projects such as integrated ticketing, $60m will have to be borrowed.”
We reported the just appointed new KiwiRail CEO Jim Quinn (ex-CEO of Express Couriers) was admitting underinvestment in nearly every facet of the network has left his executive team with a large task. He revealed that the rail assets that cost taxpayers’ $690 million last year were now valued at just $349 million.
And the first real signs were emerging of the political issues over Auckland rail.
Papers obtained under the Official Information Act showed that the transport ministry had “deep concerns” about the plans for developing the rail network in Auckland, saying it remained an “ongoing technical and fiscal risk to the Government.” The ministry complained to the new minister that it had not been involved in advising on recent rail investments under the previous Labour Government so that has now changed with the Minister putting the ministry as the ones making the recommendations instead of Treasury.
Speaking on RNZ’s Morning Report, Transport Minister Steven Joyce said: said: “We’re working on governance of MetroRail – the principles around that. There’s a bit of work going on in terms of who’s best to own the trains. In principle, we’ve made the decision it’s KiwiRail. We need to decide whether to confirm that decision in the next month or two. We’re just working our way through it and we’ll have it all tided up in the next couple of months.”
Then in Parliament, the Minister was quizzed further about Auckland’s rail projects and integrated ticketing.
NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Minister of Transport: What progress has been made on advancing public transport projects in Auckland?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport) : I am pleased to report that the Auckland Regional Council and the New Zealand Transport Agency have reached agreement to advance a range of public transport projects in Auckland that were to have been funded by the Auckland regional fuel tax. New and improved rail stations, including those planned at New Lynn, Manukau, Onehunga, Grafton, and Avondale, will receive a subsidy of up to 60 percent from the New Zealand Transport Agency. In addition, the New Zealand Transport Agency will pay for 60 percent of the outstanding work on the Newmarket station and make a $5 million contribution to work already done. The agency has also agreed to lend the Auckland Regional Council $33 million for the purchase of new diesel trains to cater for growing patronage until the electric trains arrive. I note that this has all happened without saddling the people of Auckland with an extra 9.5c per litre regional fuel tax.
Nikki Kaye: How is the Government going to purchase electric commuter trains for Auckland now that the 9.5c per litre fuel tax has been cancelled?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Government is committed to the electrification project. The Ministry of Transport is currently investigating various options for the purchase of electric trains in Auckland. These include the Crown increasing investment in KiwiRail, KiwiRail borrowing the money and the Crown providing an additional direct passenger subsidy until patronage increases, or some form of public-private partnership, most likely on an availability basis. We must ensure it goes ahead in a way that meets the needs of Aucklanders and ensures the most efficient use of taxpayers’ funds.
Phil Twyford: When the Minister told the select committee this morning that funding for the purchase of Auckland’s trains was outstanding, how much is the Government contributing and when will that money be provided?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As I said in answer to the previous supplementary question, we are currently working on a number of options and that decision is yet to be made.
Phil Twyford: When the Minister cautioned the select committee this morning that integrated ticketing systems can end up in budget blowouts, just how much of the estimated $100 million cost is he planning to contribute, and what guarantees can he give this House that the information technology component will be kept under control?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Personally, none.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a relatively simple point of order. That member is a new Minister, but he cannot give personal answers in this House. He must answer as a Minister, and not give his personal views.
Mr SPEAKER: I hear what the honourable member is saying. I assume the Minister was speaking as Minister, but he should correct that answer and make it clear what his answer meant.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As a Minister, I am also contributing nothing. If there are any funds to be contributed—and there will be—they will be contributed by the New Zealand Transport Agency.
Nikki Kaye: What work is being done to introduce integrated ticketing to Auckland?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Again, I am pleased to report that the New Zealand Transport Agency and the Auckland Regional Transport Authority are working together on developing a sensible integrated ticketing system that balances the needs and conveniences of commuters with what is affordable. I commend their cautious approach, and I note that the sums of money involved and the potential for cost escalation have been viewed nervously by all participants. The New Zealand Transport Agency will provide financial assistance at the same rate as for other public transport projects.
We had just had a protest walk and cycle over the bridge in protest at authorities not considering a cycleway across the bridge:
Mt Albert’s by-election in the wake of Helen Clark stepping down as the electroate’s MP saw transport as the key issue especially the proposed Waterview connection.
In the early stages of the by-election campaign, candidates mingled with a group of public transport campaigners on Mt Albert’s train platform as a CBT campaign was launched as part of mounting pressure on the government to indicate the future of some of Auckland’s key public transport projects.
The site reported worringly that:
“Since the scrapping of the regional petrol tax idea, it’s had become unclear how the money will be found to start or complete a number of key projects such as the Newmarket station.”
The campaign for a Hamilton -Auckland commuter service was stepped up but there were critics in Hamilton.
A public meeting in Hamilton showed strong support for the proposed Hamilton to Auckland weekday rail service with about 60 residents and business people attending. But in spite of strong support from the audience, Environment Waikato’s representative said it refuses to fund the service.
And the Waikato Times wrote in an editorial:
“The National Government has committed to fast-tracking the two-laning of the Waikato Expressway. That is the region’s transport priority.The train service is a lovely idea. But that doesn’t make it right, right now.”Last night’s public meeting in Hamilton showed strong support for the proposed Hamilton to Auckland weekday rail service with about 60 residents and business people attending. But in spite of strong support from the audience, Environment Waikato’s representative said it refuses to fund the service.
As we moved into August, Len Brown announced he was standing on a pro-rail platform for Mayoralty of the new Super City being formed and the Government announced we would get a new transport authority as part of the Super City prompting ARC Chair Mike Lee to say in a message to the Minister of Transport:
If you are serious about improving Auckland public transport, provide the money for electrification and electric trains that you promised us by July, after the Government did away with the regional fuel tax in March. he clock is ticking. Increases in public transport use in Auckland cannot be sustained without investment in electrification and electric trains.
“We do not need more bureaucratic deck chair shuffling. That will achieve nothing. What we need urgently is the Government to invest in electrification and electric trains as promised.
“There is no logic to the current game playing by the Government. If it is not going to honour its commitment to help fund electrification and electric trains, it should let the people of Auckland know now.”
As they say: The rest is history.