On Sunday, the City Rail Link reached its final milestone with the tunnel boring machine breaking through to Karangahape station and right on target – great work for everyone involved.
Once completed, the CRL will transform our rail network, but it will take more time and investment to fully realize the benefits of the City Rail Link. Plans to do this were outlined in the last ATAP report and would take place in three high-level stages
- Step 1 – this should allow the CRL to operate on the first day and would see the capacity of the city’s network go from 15,000 people per hour to 22,500 per hour – this may not seem like much but in fact amounts to adding an 8-lane motorway.
- 2nd step – further network upgrades would see capacity increased to around 36,000 people per hour – around 14 other motorway lanes
- Step 3 – mainly concerns the modernization of the network to manage 9-car trains and would see the capacity increase to 54,000 people per hour – 18 additional motorway lanes.
While upgrades under Stage 1 are either underway or due before the LCR opens in 2024, the timing of these future stages will depend on what happens with ridership.
By now, our COVID lockdown has largely eliminated ridership on the network, and last year’s rail track closures haven’t helped either, but the lockdown will eventually end and it will recover. Something I’ve been thinking about recently is how we’re improving traffic to both recover from foreclosure and move on to steps 2 and 3 above.
It is clear that CRL alone will significantly increase rail usage. The West Line will save a lot of time by not having to go around downtown, including changing direction at Newmarket. Meanwhile, the new Aotea and Karangahape Rd stations will make the network more useful to more people on all lines.
There are other improvements underway that will also help boost usage. For example, the Eastern Busway will dump people at Panmure while the new Puhinui station will make it easier for people to access the airport. Further south, electrification towards Pukekohe will make the train much more attractive; and the new stations planned around Drury will open up the rail network to more people. There will also be a lot more people living near the grid in the existing urban area, particularly in the west where there is a bunch of development going on right now – the Henderson-Massey local council area has seen more building permits than any other local council area in Auckland.
What worries me is that Auckland Transport will rely on these expensive upgrades and housing changes to increase ridership, and ignore / miss some smaller opportunities to make the network more useful and better. use what we already have. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about.
Fixing of stopping times / travel speeds
In their Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP), and I’m sure in other documents, Auckland Transport makes the following observation.
Much of Auckland’s public transport network is simply not fast enough to compete with private car travel, even during peak periods.
As mentioned, especially from the west, the CRL will result in significant travel time savings. But even these savings in travel time are probably based on current train performance and this is an area where many improvements can be made – this from an article last year comparing average train speeds to ‘Auckland to what was required in the tender and to lines in a number of different cities.
One of the main reasons for our poor performance and also one of the most frustrating things about using our trains is simply our stupidly long dwell times. It is not uncommon for a train to stay in a station for 50 seconds or more while on many other systems dwell times can be 30 seconds or less. For those further away, the combined delay can add up to five minutes to the total travel time.
There are a lot of excuses that I have seen as to why we cannot improve the dwell times, such as the fact that the doors and the accessibility ramp in the middle car of the train are slow. Yet even on doors that don’t require a ramp to extend, it takes 7-8 seconds from the time the train stops moving for the doors to be open enough for people to get on / off. . By comparison, in some systems overseas, the doors will begin to open in the last few seconds before the train comes to a complete stop.
AT and others involved in Auckland’s rail network need to give higher priority to improving the technical causes of delays. But even without that, they could make changes to speed up trains. For example, earlier this year I was on a train where the train manager was pushing to make up for past delays and managed to cut downtime to 30 seconds just by tweaking the process they used.
The typical process for shutdowns is:
- the train stops and the conductor opens the doors.
- the train manager locks his local door to prevent it from closing, waits for people to board / disembark, then closes all other doors.
- the conductor checks that all the doors are clear, gets on the train and releases the lock thus closing their door.
- the conductor signals to the conductor to leave.
This particular conductor effectively combined steps 2 and 3 above. They started the process of closing all the doors and then about a second later they released the lock on the local door, sticking their heads through the door to verify that the other doors had closed and that no one was. was caught. They tucked their heads in before the local door closed on them, then waved to the driver. This simple adjustment was all it took to speed up the train.
This is the kind of adjustment that could easily be made to speed up services – and depending on the schedule, it may even be enough that one less train is needed to perform the same level of service.
A similar operation to this is also common on many systems overseas, typically with the conductor parked in the rear driver’s cab.
Improve access to stations
Stations are only useful if people can get to them, but our stations are not always easy to get to. We have seen the importance of first-hand access to Auckland, for example by moving the old Boston Rd station 200m onto the track to become Grafton, it has become a much more useful and busy station. Meanwhile, in 2018/19, with the boom in rail use, the only station to experience a decrease in boardings was Papatoetoe, whose access to the North Station was notably removed as part of the project. barrier.
Regarding the Rapid Transit network, AT RLTP declares:
However, it is currently limited to the rail network and the Northern Busway, which provides walk-in access to just over 300,000 Aucklanders.
Yet when it comes to improving access, the focus is almost exclusively on large park-and-ride developments – more cycling facilities are great, but there are generally no safe roads to access them. .
It is also important to allow Aucklanders to use multiple modes of transport to make a trip – by car and bus, by car and train, by bike and by bus, or by bike and by train – is also important. important. As a result, there are now just over 6,000 parkings in relay car parks (10% added over the last three years), and more cycling facilities in public transport interchanges and in off-street car parks (such as in the Toka Puia park car in Takapuna). Further improvements are planned in targeted locations in TÄmaki Makaurau.
Yet if you look at our stations and their local road networks, there are often large swathes of area near stations that are largely inaccessible on foot – and there doesn’t seem to be an AT priority to change that.
In some cases, access could be significantly improved with new access points. A good example is in Greenlane where new access to the station at the south end of the station with about 200m of path along the tracks could open up easy walking access to hundreds of other houses – that would also be a Much nicer way to get to the station rather than the side of the freeway interchange as well. The GIF below shows a watershed 800m walk from the station as it currently exists, and whether a new bridge has been added.
The station even had a bridge at the southern end.
Some of the stations where something like this might come in handy include Ranui (joining both sides of Marinich Dr), Sylvia Park with access to Carbine Rd, and the restoration of the northern access to Papatoetoe.
In other stations the solutions are not so clear and in these Auckland Transport may have to work with Panuku and Kainga Ora to buy properties and redevelop them with links added through them. This could add both more housing and better access. For example, at my local station, Sturges Rd, the redevelopment of a few houses could allow residents of Te Kanawa Cres to easily access the station.
Essentially, AT should seek to maximize the watersheds of the stations.
All of this doesn’t include even simpler things that could make access easier and more welcoming, like crosswalks at key points. Still using Sturges Rd as an example, access to one of the platforms is on the right in the image below, but there is no pedestrian crossing to access it and there is often a constant stream of cars. There is also very little signage to even suggest the station exists.
Of course, these types of speed and access improvements are needed not only at stations, but throughout our public transport network. It is surprising that AT does not have dedicated teams tasked and funded to find ways to make these kinds of improvements on an ongoing basis.
What do you think AT should do to make our trains (or other public transport services) more attractive and useful?