"]Transport's big leap forward waiting on law
5:00AM Monday March 03, 2008
By Mathew Dearnaley
The first stage of Auckland's rail upgrade - the $600 million Project Dart - is a quantum leap in infrastructure improvements, mainly along the western line.
Projects include new "feature" stations at Newmarket and New Lynn, upgrading of other stations, signals replacement and completion of the double-tracking programme from Newmarket to Swanson.
This work will bring short-term pain - trains will run late, especially during the New Lynn work - for the long-term gain of comfortable, fast electric trains carrying thousands more passengers at 10-minute frequencies.
Major projects on the southern line include the replacement of the Onehunga branch line and a new branch line to Manukau City Centre.
But the big leap forward - electrification - hinges on the fate of the Government's Land Transport Amendment Bill, due to be reported back to Parliament this month.
The legislation allows councils introduce regional petrol taxes of up to 10c a litre to pay for roading and public transport projects. Up to half the money can go to public transport.
Ontrack's work to electrify the network will cost about $500 million. The regional petrol tax will enable ARTA to borrow about $400 million to buy 33 electric trains.
ARTA is confident that services can be boosted to 10-minute frequencies and the Britomart will be able to handle 18 trains an hour, instead of the present 12, by 2016. By then, it's estimated, around 440,000 Aucklanders will live within 800m of a rail station.
Electrification should be completed by 2013 but ARTA wants electric trains on parts of the "core network" in time for the Rugby World Cup in 2011. However, Ontrack's Phil McQueen, in charge of the electrification project, is wary about tailoring the project towards "three or four rugby matches" rather than the city's needs for the next 50 years.
All the progress could be undermined by the bottleneck at the Britomart tunnel.
There are options to ease the flow - including bi-directional signalling (allowing trains to enter and leave on the same track) and using the old Auckland station yards to park unneeded trains.
But attention seems to be focused on the bigger picture, not the details.
ARTA's ideal solution is the much-vaunted city loop - an underground link from Britomart under Albert St to join the western line at Mt Eden: a snip at $1 billion and at least a decade away.
ARTA points out the loop won't just solve the bottleneck problem but, with underground stations near Wellesley St and Karangahape Rd, would boost CBD shopping and commerce - just as Melbourne's city loop has done.
There are other dream schemes - a link to Auckland Airport, and a Southdown-Avondale link allowing northern freight trains to bypass the inner-city lines. Ontrack even envisage rail services on the North Shore, "we just need to deal with the gap [the harbour] in the middle".
With billions earmarked for the city's motorways, none of these big ticket rail projects are expected anytime soon. Auckland's passenger rail service will continue to run to the Government's timetable - but at least it's on the right tracks.[/quote][quote="http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10495708&pnum=0
"]Uphill slog to fix rail
5:00AM Monday March 03, 2008
By Geoff Cumming
Rail rage has come to the Britomart. Well, almost. The businesswoman losing her composure is stuck on a train waiting to get into the station. She will, she tells the attendant, never darken the doors of an Auckland train again.
Other passengers, me included, share her sentiments. On too many days, our western line train slows to a halt outside the Britomart tunnel - or in the tunnel itself - while they clear space inside. But this day, a recent Monday, is something else again. We've come down the Newmarket line, via Parnell. Another train waits on the eastern line from Glen Innes. A couple of trains have come out of Britomart, so surely there's room inside ... but still we wait. For 27 minutes.
The attendants don't exactly ease passengers' frustration.
Why are we waiting outside the Britomart tunnel? "We are waiting for the red light to turn green."
What went wrong that day defied explanation. A train which broke down at Greenlane had some part in it. Other mishaps quickly accumulated. It was "one of those days", an Ontrack spokeswoman told me later.
The usual cause of delays outside Britomart is the tunnel itself. The Britomart station may be a marvellous asset, a catalyst for reviving passenger rail in Auckland, but it has an Achilles heel - the tunnel installed by the Auckland City Council before it was built has only one line in and one out.
Inside the terminus are five platforms. In the morning peak, trains come in faster than they can get trains out. And when trains leave, they have to go somewhere. The nearest "parking lot" for the passenger trains is at Westfield, near Otahuhu.
The bottleneck has become an issue since frequencies were improved to 15 minutes last July. What will happen when they boost frequencies to 10 minutes, with new rolling stock and longer, electric trains?
Giant strides are being made to upgrade the city's rail network. Project Dart, a $600 million, Government-funded programme, is full steam ahead upgrading infrastructure - double-tracking on the western line, new signalling and new and refurbished stations - ahead of the billion dollar-plus electrification of the network from Papakura to Swanson. ARTA, the Auckland Regional Transport Authority responsible for passenger transport, is pouring more money into stations on the southern and eastern lines. All up, it's the biggest investment in railways since the early-80s.
Photo / Dean Purcell
But commuters live with the here and now. So little was invested for so long that the revival is like following the career of injury-hit Shane Bond - you take the rough with the smooth.
That can mean noisy, rattly carriages with dodgy air conditioning and rudimentary seating. Or trains running late due to signalling failures or a breakdown. Or the "one lane bridge factor" - waiting while a train coming the other way negotiates a single-track section of the network. While double-tracking of the western line is gathering pace, the work itself brings delays. Things will get worse before they get better: Construction of a new station at New Lynn and double tracking between New Lynn and Avondale is expected to bring months of frustration. Like NZ cricket supporters, you've got to have faith. And things are much, much better for a passenger service which was just about extinct a decade ago.
In numbers carried daily, rail remains a small player compared to buses but bus patronage has peaked and buses have to share congested roads with commuters. Trains, in conjunction with buses and ferries, are the key to a meaningful mass transit system for Auckland. Rail patronage has grown from 2 million passenger trips a year to 6 million in five years.
Without further investment, the network will soon reach capacity.
Since mad Monday, my train has been on time and whisked me into town from Kingsland in 17 or 18 minutes, no hiccups. That's quicker, and far less stressful, than a motorist can do at peak hour.
That's how it is most days. Signalling failures have been rare since Newmarket was upgraded last year. Progress on double tracking has increased reliability. And 15-minute frequencies at peak times have brought more and more commuters out of their cars.
But small things - like the scrub fire off Gladstone Rd which closed the entire network for an hour - can throw the schedule out for the rest of the day.
A new control room, deep inside Britomart, has improved co-ordination between service operator Veolia, network owners Ontrack (the Railways Corporation) - who control train movements from Wellington - and ARTA. A bank of screens provides pictures of trains entering and leaving almost every station. It's from here that staff can monitor station security and holler at wrongdoers over the loudspeakers. When a computerised network map is installed in a few weeks, staff will be able to pinpoint every train using GPS equipment.
This gives a better basis to respond when things go wrong, such as a breakdown, or when trains are running late.
"Very rarely is it the same two things," says Veolia's Stuart Anderson. "There's always some sort of variable.
"Generally when something goes wrong, there's a big domino effect - a heck of a lot of decisions need to be made quickly. You have to make your decision and live by it."
Veolia general manager Nick French says the new control centre, once fully commissioned, will put Auckland's monitoring and response capability on a par with Melbourne's. "[Then] it really comes back to infrastructure and vehicles and decisions about rolling stock."[/quote]