Grim Facts Behind Helensville Service Failing

Helensville:Last train Dec 24

Helensville:Last train Dec 24

There was no real surprise yesterday when the plug got pulled on the Helensville rail service and a closer look today shows how bad the numbers really were. A nice idea but just not enough to fly.

Back in July, I was predicting it was hard to see how it would survive.

But why I’m worried is that it’s happening in the prime minister’s own electorate so he will be very aware of the situation. And as the plug is pulled next month, I can see  John and good mate Steven standing around a Christmas BBQ at John’s flash Parnell mansion commenting on how the failure in his own electorate proves that rail doesn’t work and the poor passenger support for this service shows demand isn’t there for rail services outside the city fringe. Methinks it would be music to Steven’s ears.

Even the ARC transport committee review says it shows that ARTA was unable to provide a service that meets the service
guidelines, and therefore “it’s unsurprising that the trial has not been successful.”

The failure to meet those guidelines says a lot about the state and reliability of the Auckland rail service as a whole and why we need up upgrade urgently, with full government buy-in. When you look deeper into what happened and what sort of service was impossible with the present network, you have a good case to show you can’t try and achieve something if the odds are against you from the start.

So what sort of report will the local Helensville MP get?

The facts: a total of 8,028 passenger trips were taken over the 12-month trial, an average of 43 passengers per day across the three services combined, The level of patronage achieved falls below the stated ARTA success factor of 80 passenger trips per day.

analysis shows that the most popular station on the Helensville route was Huapai, with an average of 8 boardings on the morning service.

The ARC funded 40 percent of the service, and NZTA funded 60 percent.


In December 2008, a customer feedback survey was issued in the local community,
seeking feedback on the Helensville rail service.

Only 4 percent of respondents used
the rail service on a daily basis. The most significant reasons why respondents didn’t use the service were cited as:

  • departure times (48%)
  • journey time (26%)
  • location of station (12%)
  • train service is unreliable (7%)

When asked about what may influence respondents to use the service, the main response was:

  • if regular services or additional departure times were on offer (56%)
  • Reduced journey time (11%)
  • increased reliability (11%)

The report says: Bus journeys between Helensville and Britomart are faster than the rail service. For instance, the 6.34am bus arrives at Britomart at 7.50am, 17 minutes before the 6.32am rail service.

Past research suggests that there are a number of factors that contribute to demand
for passenger transport services. Some of the most significant factors include:

  • Service frequency
  • Travel time
  • Service coverage
  • Service integration (of modes, services and timetables).
In other words, services must be fast, reliable and frequent if they are to be
It is likely that, in order for the service to be successful in attracting additional
patronage, the frequency, speed and reliability of services would need to be
increased significantly.

In the Passenger Transport Network Plan, ARTA’s minimum
service guidelines state that, even for the local connector network, services should be
provided every 20-30 minutes during the peak period, and every 60 minutes during
the off-peak period and on evenings and weekends. The provision of one inbound
service and two outbound services per day falls well short of this target, but this is the
maximum that can be provided with current infrastructure and rolling stock.

ARTA’s review of the Helensville trial considered a range of options, including
changes to departure times, provision of additional services during peak and interpeak
periods, provision of weekend services, provision of shuttle services, and
additional services terminating at Huapai.

Most of these options were rejected
because they would not be cost effective, or would disrupt other Western line
services unacceptably.

However, the review identified an option that could be considered for a limited trial,
that may result in some patronage gains. This option involves the provision of
additional services terminating at Huapai, with the additional costs to be offset by
discontinuing rail services to Waimauku and Helensville.

The ARTA review found that Huapai has been the most popular station during the Helensville rail trial.

In the Rail Development Plan, Huapai is a terminus station on the western line, with a regular hourly service planned for introduction after the electrification of the core Auckland network. So the review concludes that rail offers a more direct route between Waitakere City and Huapai than road travel, and is likely to be quicker than road travel during peak periods. In contrast, rail travel between Huapai and Helensville is less direct than the highway. The journey time from Waitakere to Huapai is approximately 13 minutes. The journey between Huapai and Helensville is a further 26-28 minutes. Therefore journey times to Huapai are likely to be more acceptable.

But who would pay for this?

ARTA’s funding from NZTA under the National Land Transport Programme is fully allocated, and ARTA advises that there is no NZTA funding available for the Helensville rail service or a trial service to Huapai. Therefore if a trial was to be provided, it would need to be fully funded by the ARC. Good luck in finding that.

Related Posts

  1. Helensville - Auckland train service canned
  2. Will Helensville Rail Service Survive?
  3. Auckland Bus Dispute: Train Service Struggles This Morning
  4. Auckland Bus Dispute Will Test Train Service
  5. Wellington Train Service Shut Down In Rush-hour




  1. Andrew says:

    I’m starting to wonder if you can really call this a failure?

    This trial wasn’t just about Helensville, it also had stations at Huapai and Waimauku.

    It’s looking likely that Huapai and possibly also Waimauku will get a regular rail service as a result of this trial.

    Two out of three ain’t bad.

  2. Jon R says:

    Certainly, it would seem as though this service was set up to fail from the out set.

    Strange that if mulimillion dollar changes to road layouts are required, all the money in the world is thrown at them. If a rail service needs modifications to time tables etc. to make it a success… well, there is not a bean in the bottom of the pot.


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