Ring My Bell
Sarawira St is just down the road or railtrack from the busy Newmarket railway station.
It’s also a nice street in Parnell where residents have got used to the odd train passing through but nothing like the volume that heads through now.
And the passing of those trains is accompanied by train bells and train horns very close to where people live and try to sleep.
Back in December I wrote how the increased frequency of Auckland trains is going to become a major irritant for many Auckland residents. That timetable is to be even more frequent with the next timetable in February which includes 10-minute Western frequencies, the new Manukau line and some extended weekend services.
Sarawira residents and members of the relevant local board, Waitemata, have been trying to address the issue of that particular crossing. But the news for the residents is not what they would like to hear.
Local board members, Auckland Transport officers, KiwiRail officers and some local residents met at the location during peak hour to review the situation.
The Board’s latest report says that KiwiRail’s Jenni Austen explained that this level crossing is one of the busiest level crossings for trains on the Auckland network and several factors such as the bend in the track and the slope of Sarawia Street limit visibility at this crossing.
“KiwiRail is bound by the Railways Act and must ensure that safety features such as bells operate within legal guidelines. Train whistles operate at the discretion of train drivers, who make an evaluation based on the
conditions on whether or not to sound the horn.”
KiwiRail said that they have made as many modifications as are possible to the bell volume at the crossing but have agreed to work with the train operator to try and better anticipate passenger loading times at Newmarket station in order to trigger the bells as close to the actual departure of trains as possible – as part of the system train guards use a swipe card to alert train control when passengers are on board and a train is ready to depart.
“As funding is limited, the elimination of level crossings needs to be undertaken in order of priority and to also compete for priority with other transport activities. The former transport agency, ARTA compiled a list of priorities for grade separation.
“Unfortunately Sarawia Street grade separation may not be high on this list and so achieving funding for it is likely to be challenging.
As a part of the current Regional Land Transport Plan and Long Term Plan development, AT will be updating the ARTA assessment and assessing the projects for funding.”
The crossing issue is not just an irritation for residents. As train frequencies increase, so will the frustrations of those vehicles trying to cross but having to wait.
Albert-Eden local board member Graeme Easte reminded the Council last year about the issue as he has for a decade.
There are at least 25 all-grade rail crossings (21 for road and pedestrian and 4 for pedestrian only) in Auckland and in his ward alone 7 (Normanby Rd, Porters Ave, George St, Morningside Drive, Asquith, Rossgrove and Woodward).
Several level crossings were grade-separated as part of the New Lynn trench project but nothing has been programmed to eliminate the remaining points of conflict.
OOutgoing councils had nothing in their plans, ARTA no funding, KiwiRail says it’s not their issue as roads cross their railway tracks and NZTA says it’s not their problem. The ARC allocated $21m some years ago but this was withdrawn when no one offered to help. Now it will be up to Auckland Transport which has enough on its plate.
In 2004 it was estimated it could cost $51m to eliminate every level crossing in the old Auckland City (not including Onehunga which had not opened). It will be more expensive now.
The ARTA report had suggested as solutions -and noted vehicle numbers then as being:
Kingdon 7409 (vehicles a day) Solution: Close road + Ped crossing Cost then $1.02m
Normandby 12,957 Raise carriageway + Overbridge $4.45m
Porters Ave 2,816 Raise carriageway + Overbridge $3.28m
George St 2785 Close road plus pedestrian overpass $0.45m
Morningside 10,208 Raise carriageway + Overbridge $3.53m
Asquith 10,284 Lower carriageway and underpass $7.80m
Rossgrove 5211 Close rd, build bypass to Asquith $5.17m
Woodward 13779 Raise carriageway + Overbridge $4.63m
St Jude 19,898 Raise carriageway + Overbridge $5.04m
Chalmers 2,094 Raise carriageway + Overbridge $4.20m
St Georges Rd 10,711 Raise carriageway + Overbridge $3.75m
Sarawia St 585 Raise carriageway + Overbridge $4.21m
Church St East 1080 Close road. build alternative $1.40m
There will be some relief when electric trains start as far as noise – but as time marches on, there is no time to find funding and resolve the issue of busy streets and vehicles having to wait for trains to cross.