Big Train Out Problems


A reported 8000 trips were made by train for the Big Day Out.  But it wasn’t a happy experience for everyone. Overall, it’s a healthy number out of a near sell-out crowd of 45.000.
This year the full network was in operation and there were some special services running directly to Penrose, the nearest station to Mt Smart.
But this site has had lsome complaints - but thankfully not as many as that U2 concert where the train operator initially claimed someone pulled an emergency lever but later admitted, after concertgoer complaints to AKT,  the real problem was that the service could not cope with capacity.
On Big Day Out day, the biggest complaint has been about communication failures. The old right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing that so often plagues such events.
In one reported incident, people were asked by a Train Manager to get off a train at Newmarket and told to wait for a southern line train that went specifically to Penrose.

But the train was in fact going to Penrose and so then carried on and arrived at Penrose empty!

Others who used trains on the day but who were not going to Mt Smart complained they did not know when they got on the train it was a special express to Penrose and they could not get off. Another communication fail.

Another unconfirmed report said staffing was short on the day.

Will they get there?

As regulars know, communication failures continue to be the biggest complaint of Veolia’s service with patchy communication that is either over the top or totally non-existent along with announcements that are confusing or conflicting.

Lucy H has this story:

“We caught a train to Penrose in the morning and that all went fine except for the bizzarely ineffecient ticketing. Coming home we got on the train at about 10.15 pm (after a lengthy wait on platform). It was crowded but took us to Newmarket fairly speedily.

At that point the driver said “Travellers on the Western line get off here and transfer for your train to Waitakere.”

We got along with others and found ourselves looking at an electronic sign which said the next train to West Auckland was at 11.45 pm. That is, an HOUR after our train had just dropped us off.

There was one guy on the platform who we questioned but sadly he could hardly speak English and had no idea when the next train was coming or what we were asking.

One of the girls checked her phone and said “But it says here on the timetable that there will be trains every twenty minutes taking us home.” So we all waited with no train in sight.

It was cold and wet and people were miserable and really pissed off that they had been told to get off the train at Newmarket and wait for a service that wasn’t coming for an hour. Understandably since they might well have had more luck going into town and getting a late bus from Britomart out West.

We left about 11.20 as we were lucky enough to live in Kingsland so could get a taxi with minimal cost. But I felt sorry for the 30 people we left behind shivering and sneezing.”

James B’s story:

“I got on a Kingsland and was told to transfer at Newmarket, which I duly did, to a train at crush levels, only to see the train I was on continue on to the Southern line. The train manager was clearly ill informed.”

And Richard:

“I catch the train infrequently but decided to go to Remuera today. I arrived at Britomart and found a huge crowd and realised it was the Big Day Out.  There was an announcement that the Papakura via Newmarket was leaving from Platform One and the board above the platform indicated the same.  It was the service about 10.15am and it had the biggest crowd I have ever seen on a NZ train.

The TM was selling tickets and I presented my Gold Card and asked for Remuera.  She didn’t issue a ticket and wandered off which I thought strange.  After the Newmarket stop I fought my way to the door but we sailed past Remuera then Greenlane I saw the TM and said I wanted to get off at Remuera why didn’t we stop.  She said it was a special and non stop to Penrose.  I became ropeable   and told her they had not said that and what were they going to do to which she said I would have to get a train back.

After waiting 20 minutes I and another couple retraced our steps on another train.  I had lost my cool with the supervisor chap trying to collect fares with his mates at Penrose and have now completed a complaint form for MAXX

This is not on, a special should be listed as such, not  just change the stops on a regular service without advising passengers.  My trip by bus and train from Glenfield to Remuera station took 1hour 45minutes.
By car it would take off peak 20-25minutes and if one could cycle over the bridge a cycle ride of about 45minutes maximum

I seem to recall there was a report that Veolia did this for a previous concert and a passenger who missed their stop as a result pressed the emergency button and this threw the system into chaos.

Frankly the way I felt today I don’t blame him/her.”

The train operator and Auckland Transport have done well with the effort to encourage people to use public transport for big events, as a precursor to the Rugby World Cup 2011.

But we should not be having these problems. And we should have them sorted out by now if we are going to have that smooth Rugby tournament.

Among the tweets:

@Matt_Green still trying to get home on public transport

wombleton OH on train waiting for a platform: this is the bigday out. God help us at the world cup

@DavidSlack: Train stops at Newmarket for about a month while guard tries to get the smoker to own up.

jmctv on train..a few random drunk teens

jazstar #bdo waiting for train .. Last time I did BDO was 15 yrs ago never imagined we’d have trains lol #ageingRocker

andrewdickens2 Train to BDO. $11 return. $8.20 for 2 one ways. ??!?

mikebros The big day out train sure smelt like teen spirit




  1. James B says:

    I think the service was sufficient, there was just a lack of (accurate) communication. They just need to be 100% sure that train managers understand exactly where the service goes. I got to the stadium maybe 5 minutes later than I would have done had I been on the express, so no biggie. However this could be a biggie for the World Cup if someone misses kick off.

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by James B, AKT. AKT said: 8000 travelled on big day out trains. Sadly the usual problems Anyone have a story to tell? #auckland #BDO2011 [...]

  3. Andrew says:

    I didn’t go to BDO but remember the U2 issue well.

    Veolia fail at co-ordination and communication again and again, year after year. The apologise, apologise and apologise some more but the same crap just keeps on happening every time. It never changes.

    I now have no confidence in Veolia’s ability to manage Rugby World Cup services.

  4. Sam says:

    Jon, i think over the past few years you have built a bit of a reputation for yourself. This post is of particular relevance for the world cup as it reports on the total communication failure which led to chaos in the previous 2 big events, whilst comparing them to simalar failures we face everyday. It is more than a glimpse into how prepared the rail network is for the RWC and its about the last chance anyone has to do anything about it.

    For many events they come out with a timetable, but cant quite deliver the frequencies and the result is distrust from the public and huge overcrowding, along with delays as planned operation gets increasingly detatched from the reality.

    After xmas in the park we left Grafton almost 25 mins after we arrived when there was meant to be a 10-15 minute frequncy. The train was on time, but we sat on the platform for 15 mins as they continuously waited for just one more family to get down the steps. These little things add up and i believe they cause many of our problems.

    Jon, i recommend you send an email to Mike Lee and the Mayors office with a link to this post… They need to see what were in for and make some changes while they still can.

  5. Matt L says:

    Veolia make the same mistakes as they did last year and the year before that, in fact I don’t think they have ever got it right and I don’t think they have the ability or the will to try and sort it out. The only thing they care about is making sure they get paid and they couldn’t give a s**t if making it a better experience for the customer.

    I think we have given them enough chances to sort things out and it is now time to dump them and get a different operator or even for AT to run the services themselves as it would probably be better quality and cheaper as well being more answerable to the public.

  6. Matt says:

    Insufficient staff should never be an excuse for event trains. Never, ever, ever! By definition event trains are planned, meaning the event is planned, and that should include some rough estimates of audience numbers.

    Veolia management need to be left in no doubt that if RWC is hit by these problems they will not be awarded a renewal of the contract to run Auckland’s train services when it’s next up for review. These problems are the kind of thing people expect from government-run rail services, and are meant to be unthinkable when the holy grail of “the market” is brought to bear. But if there is no prospect of extreme financial penalty, most private sector operators actually don’t give a damn.

  7. Antz says:

    To be honest I kinda do hope for a massive disaster on the trains at the RWC, if the apalling system (by world standards) has grabbed international attention and has much more angry and pressuring public, then maybe the government would respond to improve the system.

  8. Matt says:

    Antz, more likely they’ll say “Look at all the money that’s been poured into it, and look at how terribly it coped with the demand. Best that we stop wasting money on this black hole.”

    This lot will certainly take that tack if they think they can get away with it.

  9. richard says:

    Sam has a relevant point regarding letting more and more on the train. This occurred on my Britomart - Penrose - Remuera experience as well.

    At Britomart the adjacent train was due to leave at 1008 and my excursion at 1015. The 1008 left several minutes late. The crowds were moving on to our train and at about 1012 a whistle blew , the door warning sounded and the door started closing only to stop and reopen. Another eight minutes lapsed, another 100+ passengers crushed in and we were off ten minutes late.

    A bus can wait for a late passenger, trains and trams can’t ……one late and they are all late.

    Departure time and as happens overseas, blow the whistle, close the doors and late comers wait for the next one

  10. Jon C says:

    I think it’s being a bit harsh calling for Veolia’s head. In the past year I have come to admire a lot of the improvements Veolia has made and the fact that they have had to keep things going amid the rail development. And the work they have put into making train managers human and helpful is worth noting.
    But the issue that keeps being repeated over and over is the internal and external communication. As soon as there is a breakdown, it seems information flows stop, train managers say they can’t help as they have no idea and usually there are no ongoing announcements of the problems. Any announcements made of issues seem to be the luck of the draw based on whoever is staffed at the time and in charge of announcements.
    I can’t understand why the basics are not done. If we have a RWC with people milling around stations wondering what the hell is going on, which is often what happens now, we know the consequences.
    Big Day Out was another dry run for the RWC and it worked well for many. But the problems that did occur are basic and so familiar..
    Overcrowding on trains for events as happened for U2 should never happen.
    The communication fog that surrounds management of the crowds has to be addressed. Yes there are people at Britomart as information people but that’s not on other stations.
    For the massive New Year Eve fireworks display in the Brisbane CBD (before the Great Flood), the train management was brilliant. Thousands came by train. Afterwards, people were told clearly where to go and staff on the station were helpful. I have never seen such a smooth military style operation as this in Auckland.
    It’s not rocket science but our problems always have a very amateur feel about them. Look at the awful way train managers have to try to activate what sounds like a 1950 intercom system on trains to try to make an apology. And sometimes the efforts by the train managers to apologise on the train for a delay,are, bless them, cringe material. I have long asked why there is no manual providing the words that need to be said. And what about those handwritten signs at Britomart announcing problems! More often than not there are not even those. You just know something is wrong by the fact there are no trains going and people looking frustrated. And when there was an issue, we never get an explanation afterwards.
    Imagine if our airports were run like this?
    It is tiresome having to keep mentioning it and only a few months before Auckland is on show.

  11. nzbcfanboi says:

    I’m guess I’m glad my experience wasn’t too bad only real problem my service being an all stops from Newmarket when it should of gone straight to Penrose and here’s video of my trip there

  12. Matt L says:

    Veolia’s contract is not up for renewal till 2014, ARTA extended it a year or two back as they want them to stick around till after the electrification if finished and they were also concerned that Kiwirail might start acting more like a monopoly if they were running everything.

    Jon - on days where breakdowns have happened Veolia are apparently running some trains with no passengers non stop through stations following other trains so that they can claim they completed the set number of services to entitle them to full payment. This just adds unnecessary costs and is one of the reasons subsidies are much higher up here than in Wellington.

  13. Antz says:

    @matt Well since auckland has a new mayor i’d imagine he would reply “what money?”
    and i don’t think the public is that dumb now that they too are wanting better public transport.

    Also i found this article on stuff.

    on the vote 59% says we need cheaper public transport and the city rail built.
    and only 5% says build more roads, i bet it was steven joyce and his friends who voted that….

  14. Matt says:

    antz, even if National haven’t committed to anything that wasn’t already happening there’s still no denying that a lot of central government money has gone into public transport improvements in Auckland. Electrification, double-tracking, signals upgrades, Britomart… Lots of money from the taxpayer purse, not just from ratepayers.

  15. mark says:

    Matt, I understand that the electrification money is to a large degree LOANED to Auckland. AND they took away our ability to pay them back (banned the regional fuel tax).

  16. Matt says:

    Mark, the trains are a loan at this point (hopefully Labour will forgive the loan when they’re next in power), but the track work is not.

    You’re right, though, National are toxic to Auckland’s self-determination of its public transport operations.

  17. Matt L says:

    Mark of the $ 1billion it is costing to electrify the network, half of that is a loan for the trains but the other half is paid for by the government and is for the physical works which inlcudes raising bridges, resignalling the network, installing the masts and wires etc.

    When you add it up we have spend quite a bit on trains over the last decade, it hasn’t all been from the government but we have:
    $200m for Britomart which opened in 2003
    $600m for DART which is double tracking out west, Newmarket junction and station, New Lynn trench, Onehunga and Manukau etc
    $500m for electrification works
    $500m loan for Electric trains
    We then have all the money spent on subsidies. By the time electrification is finished we probably would have spent $2-$2.5bil over a decade on trains. This isn’t a bad thing as our network did need the investment and will be much better as a result but lets not pretend we haven’t spent money on it.

  18. mark says:

    Fair enough, I just needed to get the usual dig in that government is just not treating rail fairly once you compare it to motorway investment, where there’s yearly overruns of hundreds of millions (NOT clawed back the next year, BTW) while Joyce complains about the “missing” 30 million in Auckland’s farebox after he himself raised track fees.

    Yes government is investing - but only after running the system into the ground first, in the 60s-90s, and they are only doing it under duress, and they are not doing it with any of the largesse they spend on roads. It’s an old hat for anyone in the know, but it bears repeating.

  19. Martin says:

    This sort of thing will hopefully be history with installation of live rail displays at stations ala here in the UK

  20. Carl says:

    8000 out of a possible 45k? lolz good.

    what a joke, in Perth when we get BDO its probably close to to 50k people.

    about 30k of them travel on a trains.

    one thing Perth is great on is getting trains ready for the shows.

    8000 is a joke and nothing to be proud of.

  21. Scott says:

    The highly marketed, more direct special bus service is also highly patronized.


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