Auckland rail about to overtake Wellington?

Rail service management in Wellington and Auckland seem to be experiencing a bit of a role-reversal lately.

Wellington has a long history of (relatively) good public transport, starting with electrification of the regional rail line in the 1950s, and the highest bus and train mode share in the country.  This has no doubt contributed to the amenity and community of the city – it’s not as congested and sprawling as Auckland.

However, this week the Dom Post has run a series focussing on the recurring problems Wellington Metro Rail has suffered with delays.  Poor delivery and public relations management has seen rail patronage fall steeply in the past year, with bus patronage only slightly up.

This can’t be good for congestion, though it doesn’t necessarily translate into massively increased car trips into the city. As an example of how transport influences households location, last month one of my co-workers actually shifted into town because he was sick of the train delays. Now he walks or cycles to work. Although his rent is a bit higher, he saves heaps on transport and his quality of life is better.

On the other side of the north island, Auckland’s previously infamously poor rail service is on a roll and going from strength to strength. ARTA’s monthly business report shows that rail patronage has grown well over 10% a year for the past 5 years, reaching the highest recorded patronage with over 800,000 boardings several months this year.  Punctuality of services has been improving regularly, and is anecdotally better than the local bus services.

It won’t take long for Auckland to catch up to Wellington if TranzMetro doesn’t get their act together. Since Wellington is the capital and has a civically-minded populace who demand good commuter services, they might actually get some attention from central government. Transport Minister Steven Joyce was quoted in the paper saying “commuter rail in Wellington has been through a long period of neglect and underinvestment.”

Whereas in Auckland, the Minister is less than enthusiastic about investing significantly in expanding the rail network, although it’s clearly suffered from decades of underinvestment.

For Auckland’s sake, I hope the new Auckland Transport Agency (ATA) will be as competent as ARTA have been, and perhaps even more effective at lobbying for increased central government funding!

8 Comments Posted

  1. Given the terribly run down state of the system, the astounding thing is how WELL it works most of the time.

    I disagree on that point; the Adelaide suburban system is even more run down than the Wellington system, and that system doesn’t have much in the way of problems. If you want to get an idea of how run down the Adelaide system is, there are Temporary Speed Restrictions that have been around for 25 years, wooden sleepers that have completely rotted away and track that has date marks from the 1920s.

  2. As a very regular user of TransMetro I’m with Chris Nimmo above. Given the terribly run down state of the system, the astounding thing is how WELL it works most of the time. Sure it occasionally lets me down, and I can accept failures will happen. What does seem to piss people off is that KiwiRail seems to have a very ineffective contingency plans and procedures to deal with these inevitable stuff-ups. That’s something they really do need to work on.

    Still it’s what we asked for when as a nation we voted National into power in the 90’s. And it’s what we will keep on getting as long as we don’t take rail seriously. Getting this right is not rocket science…just takes political will, leadership and funding.

  3. For Auckland’s sake, I hope the new Auckland Transport Agency (ATA) will be as competent as ARTA have been, and perhaps even more effective at lobbying for increased central government funding!

    I’m not particularly hopeful. Rumours are that only around 10% of Auckland Transport’s staff will be dedicated to public transport. Many staff who now do public transport are being shifted into general roles.

    Sounds like the Transport CCO may be a giant takeover by road engineers. Ugh.

  4. Wellington commuters rail use will continue to drop until the improvements are finished and the new trains are running. Then I think we’ll see a strong return to rail use by commuters.

  5. Don’t believe the Dom Post. Wellington’s rail system works just fine – and it’ll work even better when upgrades are finished. In the real world, trains are 95% on time. They’re still cheaper, faster and more reliable than driving.

  6. “I hope the new Auckland Transport Agency (ATA) will be as competent as ARTA have been”

    Lordy, I hope not Frog! ARTA have been a disaster, or hadn’t you noticed their owner, ARC chair Mike Lee pulling his hair out repeatedly as ARTA bungled Newmarket upgrade & reopen (including pointless demolition of Kingdon St platforms), Onehunga line reopening (still waiting, years late), repeated signals failures on West line despite recent signals upgrade, etc… ARTA are a living demonstration of everything wrong about a CCO. All they do is issue tenders and spin… ;(

    I would expect Auckland to eventually beat Wellington on patronage, as we have 3 times the population of the capital, and are similarly stretched over a long isthmus or valleys (time the trip from Upper Hut to Paraparaumu!). Welly made the early running, but Auckland is catching up 😉

    A big point for all lefties to grasp is – PT does not (always) need big bucks to improve! Rather than hit up govt for more dosh they don’t want to spend, think laterally. Example – the primary reason for the Auckland electrification is to improve traction (via electric motors instead of currently via direct mechanically diesel driven); but did anyone cost (over whole-of-life) upgrading existing DMUs to DEMUs? Swapping bogies to EMU bogies and popping a generator and battery pack on the existing diesel would have been challenging, but far cheaper than $1bn, and gives same traction properties. And the rest of that $1bn can go on other projects, like airport rail (c $400m for Onehunga-Airport, plus a few extra trainsets).

    Ditto the CBD rail tunnel – a vast hole in the ground to pour cash into (to the nice contractors – Stephen Selwood will be chuffed). Far better to rethink the daft radial model we use for trains – instead of taking every 2km rail line (I’m looking at you, Manukau spur) into Britomart, revise the routes to cut down on overlapping stretches of track like the ultra-congested Newmarket-Britomart section.

    Just some thoughts… if the Greens think outside the rail tracks, they could get really good rail policy ideas into place quickly. Leaving it to the usual lobbyists demanding more cash, well, that just makes you Labour-lite, doesn’t it?

  7. Long as Rail supercedes Road Trains Frog; I’m a happy little injun.
    If the prices weren’t so giddily high – we’d have one of those changes that comes from people – Voting with their feet, b’cos of their bank balance too!
    Auckland’s gridlocks are way past stupid I reckon – has anyone else heard the Gong?

Comments are closed.