2011: Year Of The EMUs
Looking back at the big rail stories of the year
Signed sealed and delivered soon
There is no going back now.
In October, the paperwork was signed for Auckland’s EMUs – the electric units that will become know as our electric trains taking rail into a new exciting era.
The deal was with Spain’s CAF (Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles SA) company for 57 three car electric multiple units (EMUs).
And those trains are promised to incorporate the “latest technology in terms of safety accessibility and modern amenities on board like Wi-Fi networks. They will be comfortable, quiet, environmentally friendly.”
It was a good deal with Auckland getting to own the trains.
We were shown images of what the trains may look like although we’ll have to wait to see the finished product. At least it gets us excited.
But it’s a long wait. The first arrive mid-2013 and it will 3 years before we see them all.
And Wellington’s new trains slowly came into service – too slowly to stop the angst amongst commuters fed up with delays.
Just before Christmas, Matangi services more than doubled on the Kapiti and Hutt Valley lines – increasing from the current 14 daily return trips to more than 30 return trips every weekday.
Auckland’s march to electrification could be seen visibly as wiring appeared.
And the more masts that appeared along the lines, the more real it felt.
Two new stations became closer to a reality.
At Christmas, track work began for the new Parnell train station after years of pushing by former ARA Chair (now Auckland Council transport chair and AT Board member) Mike Lee who has done so much to push for better public transport.
AT predicts with its location near Auckland Museum and Auckland University, it will become the 5th most used station in Auckland after it opens in 18 months.
And Feb-March sees the opening of the first new Auckland railway line since the 30s, the yet to be officially named Manukau which including an underground trench resembles New Lynn and like New Lynn has a nearby bus transport hub (and from 2013 a Manukau Polytech alongside). It was a forward thinking vision of then Manukau Mayor Len Brown.
AKT had the first photos of the inside.
The opening of Manukau coincides with the last timetable changes before the EMUs arrive.
The station that served Auckland as its Parnell-based main Auckland railway station for 70 years returned for the RWC but it’s not know what use the Strand will be other than an emergency station. It was to have been the Waikato to Auckland final stop and a stabling yard.
Other proposed new services weren’t so lucky.
The hard-fought Waikato to Auckland service came to naught.
In the end, with neither government nor NZTA funding, Councils were too worried about ratepayer backlash to give it the go-ahead to cough up the money and there were too many questions about its viability with travel from Hamilton having to end at Auckland’s Strand platforms, the cost of tickets and services taking longer than the bus service.
A new Eastern rail station near Selwyn College and connecting to Gowing Drive would cost at least $20,000,000, according to Auckland Transport and was crossed off the list although advocates including the Orakei Local Board are still hopeful something can be worked out or new research might find a convincing argument.Meanwhile
Orakei’s big rail bridge replacement programme has begun.
We’re assuming it’s happening
The City Rail Link remained the elephant in the room with Britomart reaching its capacity.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown bravely continued to act as if is definite despite the Government insisting the funding issue rests on his shoulders.
The Mayor says he expects the Government to pay 50%, and ratepayers 16.6%. 30.9% would come from what he calls alternative transport funding and 2.5% from development contributions.
Ideas being kicked around include a congestion tax or toll on the existing bridge – both of which face a lobbying campaign from the AA and transport interests and some potential motorist backlash as the recession continues to hurt.
The Mayor told the Council’s strategy committee in a presentation of his 10-year plan, that the construction should begin from 2016 and the cost will be $2.4 billion.
Anyway, we can pretend it’s happening. Property will be acquired from next year and a Labour-Greens Government in years ahead would be more sympathetic. The best news is that the City Link is the Mayor’s number one priority and Aucklanders voted for it when they elected him. Even the official representative of Auckland’s motorist population, Her Majesty’s Royal NZ Herald, seems to have come around to thinking the Link may be a good idea.
Smart but slow
Also moving very slowly ahead was the much needed integrated ticketing.
Auckland Transport awarded the tender to supply smartcards for the full stage roll out of Auckland’s HOP integrated smartcard to a joint consortium comprising Australia’s Placard and NZ Post.
The final phase of HOP will be completed by the end of 2012, with the introduction of trains and ferries initially, followed by all bus operators. At least other operators have confirmed they’ll be in.
The thousands of us already enjoying HOP on the NZ Bus fleet wish it could be hurried up.
Airport Rail also moved slowly ahead although that timetable is definitely decades away.
A conventional rail loop connection from the airport through the northern corridor and southern corridor connecting to the existing passenger rail network at Puhinui and Onehunga got a big tick in stage one of the study investigating future transport to Auckland Airport.
At time of writing, funding from NZTA for stage two was still being awaited.
Not so favourable was North Shore rail which dropped off the agenda after then Transport Minister Steven Joyce insisted the Northern Busway was proven as the answer and NZTA seemed to prefer the concept of another non rail carrying bridge.
The Mayor, battling to get the City Rail Link across the line, popped North Shore rail into the too hard for now basket.
New life for old stations
A programme of train station revamps was drawn up by AT.
One driven by the NZTA and taking shape is at Ellerslie involves reducing the station’s platform by 2 metres in width and extending it by another 20 metres.
Driving the change is that the Southern Line tracks need to be relocated to create space for an additional northbound lane to be constructed on the adjacent SH1 at a later date.
One of the most needed was Mt Albert which will get a $4.8m upgrade ahead of a bigger town centre revamp.
The need for longer trains and the arrival of electric trains prompted other platform changes.
Remuera’s heritage train station had not only had its platforms lengthened but the station building is no longer off limits and was given a nice clean up.
Turning it around
All eyes will continue to be on KiwiRail – and fingers crossed that its Turnaround Plan will do just that and please the Government.
It’s been difficult with the ongoing Christchurch earthquakes, the continuing economic downturn and improvements to motorways making road freight still popular, not to mention coastal freight.
KiwiRail’s 2011 annual report put a brave face on its result which misses targets and the company revealed plans for a $6b writedown on assets.
When KiwiRail’s Tranz Scenic passenger service between Christchurch and Picton resumed on August 15, it ran under a new name – Coastal Pacific, the name the train was given in the early stages of its inception.
And it got nice new carriages.
New locomotives arrived from China amid a heated political and union debate about the future of NZ’s well-established railway workshops, suffering from dwindling work because of the overseas competition. There were redundancies.
KiwiRail commenced investigations into the provision of a third line out of Westfield heading south.
The future of provincial lines including Northland and Gisborne will be known in the coming year. If they are closed or mothballed, they won’t be coming back to life anytime soon in the future so this coming year’s decisions are crucial long-term ones.
The Rimutaka Incline Railway Heritage Trust has lodged an application with Greater Wellington Regional Council to reconstruct the former railway line between Maymorn and Summit, located in the Pakuratahi Forest Park.
And Aucklanders continued to flock to trains.
A good start
Auckland Transport celebrated its first year – it’s done a fantastic job.