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.”

Vegetation was cleared from the crossing at Easter

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.

Morningside crossing - vehicles sometimes wait for trains both ways

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.




  1. Evan J says:

    As the Sarawia St crossing only services two small residential streets, Laxon Tce and Youngs Lane, would it not be possible to open up the pedestrian lane between Furneaux Way and Laxon Tce to motor vehicles and close Sarawia St crossing altogether? That way traffic would be able to acces Laxon and Youngs off Remuera Rd via Middleton and James Cook Cres. Some sort of pedestrian access could still be left at Sarawia St, possibly an underpass.

  2. Paul in Sydney says:

    @Even. Sounds good to me, not much room though

    Put the roading lobby to good use, by putting pressure on the NZTA to part with their cash

  3. Linz says:

    That’s my house at the right-hand end of the picture. Fantastic, convenient location; and I love the trains. Most drivers just give a little toot when approaching the crossing at night. But one or two love to give a prolonged blast at the most bizarre times (e.g. 5.30 am when there is not a car or pedestrian to be seen). Given the bells, lights, barrier arms and train noise it is hard to imagine anyone other than the suicidal attempting to cross the tracks. And no I’m not a NIMBY - I support intensivication along the rail corridors as a means of enhancing the viability of the network. But 10-second horn blasts in the wee small hours are not helpful.

  4. signalhead says:

    Talk about the tail wagging the dog.
    Perhaps crossings like Woodward road, St Judes and Bruce MacLaren, crossings with HUGE traffic flow and constant safety issues should be looked at before Sarawia.
    This is one of the more well to do areas in Auckland so perhaps that is why they are getting a tad more oil than other far squeaker wheels. Double glazing might help, the electric trains will also.
    It may pay to note that when the eastern line is closed all port freight is diverted “over the hill”.
    Due to these grades the freighters are smaller and therefore to move the same amount of freight more are run.
    Once the major projects are done this arrangement may be needed less often, this may also reduce the nuisance further.

  5. Matt L says:

    Signalhead may no more but I remember the Kiwirail electrification project manager was saying at one of the open days that due to the crossing being so close to Newmarket station the signalling is more complex to compensate for it. As a result they actually investigated grade separation to help avoid some of that complexity however with the signalling completed through here it obviously didn’t happen

  6. Malcolm says:

    Seems like a pretty obvious solution looking at a map. Close the crossing and put a pedestrian overbridge in.

    Widen the footpath between Laxon Tce and Furneaux Way. Only one house in the way so could be compensated. Problem solved. Would be cheaper than $4.21 million, probably.

  7. Finn says:

    I film trains at this crossing quite alot and I have to agree that the bell on the crossing is a bit loud.

  8. Owen Thompson says:

    I think Furneaux Way & James Cook Crescent are private roads. The locals won’t agree to extra traffic down their narrow roads.

  9. geoff_184 says:

    I’ll never understand why grade separation is such an issue for pro-PT people, when it doesn’t affect the trains. It affects road traffic, so let the road people deal with it. I don’t want to see another rail dollar wasted on making road traffic flow more smoothly.

  10. Starkly says:

    Matt L: Sarawia st close was investigated as part of DART but I believe that the minister didn’t want it to go forward as part of that funding appropriation.

  11. Matt L says:

    Geoff - it affects rail when more money needs to be spent on signalling to cater for those level crossings, when there is issues with the level crossing barriers and bells that can place speed restrictions on train services, when people ignore those warnings and an accident or even just a near miss occurs i.e. if a someone gets hit, their fault or not the whole line is pretty much shut down.

  12. Paul says:

    I’d just like to point out that NZR / Kiwirail could and has all the power to completely stop all road/pedestrain activity at Level crossings essentially turning the road into two, dead end streets. Just something to consider when trying to lay responsibility on who has to pay for grade seperations, cost of improved saftey measures etc etc

  13. Matt L says:

    Paul - I’m not suggesting that Kiwirail has to pay for grade separation but trying to point out that rail can be impacted by not having it. Personally would rather we spent some of our massive roading budgets on things like this rather that projects like P2W

  14. geoff_184 says:

    Matt, the signals around Sarawia St would be there with or without the level crossing. Levels crossings do not result in additional signalling, and grade separation of Sarawia St will have zero impact on the number of trains stopping there.

    We shouldn’t start spending millions at sites that have minimal or no problems for the trains. Spend rail money where it’s needed - on trains and tracks.

  15. Rob says:

    This is what Kiwirail need to put on Sarawira St - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPcPDgNMlJA&playnext=1&list=PL4156C546BDAF75F0. The bell sound is not sharp at all and drops down to half volume once the barrier is down. With literally hundreds of thousands of people living right next to railway lines in Japan, crossing bell noise is not surprisingly, a very sensitive and emotive issue. There are several crossing bell manufacturers in Japan and those manufacturers produce 240V as well as 110V models apparently.

  16. Ian says:

    Other than modifying existing bridges and the New Lynn trench have any of the old crossings been replaced by bridges or underpasses?

  17. Trainnut says:

    There will be 51 level crossings in the Auckland area once the resignalling is completed

  18. Duncan says:

    Furneaux Way is not a publc road - it is a private road.
    As a former resident of Furneaux Way, I often used Sarawia Street and well aware of the problems associated with this crossing (Frequent trains, barrier arms down for extended periods, noisy bells, drivers that like to give a good blast on the horn, the list goes on.
    Previous council documents indicated that planning for an alternative exit to Laxon Terrace was to build a bridge over the railway lines and exit via Cowie Street.
    My suggestion for an alternative exit to Laxon Terrace is to build a new road through Endeavour Park to connect with existing road/carkpark into the park & exit onto Ayr Street. The line of this new road through Newmarket Park would be along the alignment of the current walkway from Laxon Terrace down the Newmarket Park carpark.
    In addition there still needs to be a Pedestrian bridge over the railway line from either Sarawia Street or Cowie Street to Laxon Terrace/Newmarket Park,


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