Will Auckland ever get new trains?

While Auckland’s public transport systems are getting seriously overcrowded, we are still waiting to find out which company has been awarded the $500 million contract to build the new Auckland electric rail cars (aka Electric Multiple Units or EMUs). The trains, themselves, won’t be operational until 2014 at the earliest.

As motorway, after motorway, finishes 6 months early, the slow progress of this project seems further proof that this government doesn’t really care about public transport. Looking at the timeline below you can see how much this project has been delayed by the National government. The timelime below also tells an interesting story about this government’s lack of transparency in spending public money.

  • In Oct, 2008 the Labour government approved Auckland Regional Council’s plan to levy a regional fuel tax to fund the electrification of Auckland’s rail network. The Auckland Regional Transport Agency (ARTA) working with Kiwirail began preparing to ask companies to tender for the contract to build the EMUs
  • In Mar, 2009 the National government announced it would cancel the regional fuel tax, preventing any agency from further developing a tender for the electric rail cars
  • In Nov, 2009, 8 months later, the government approved funding of up to $500 million to purchase new EMUs and asked Kiwirail to manage the procurement process in consultation with ARTA
  • On the 17th of July, 2010 according to the Auckland Transport Blog, Kiwirail announced a shortlist of 4 companies that could potentially supply the EMUs: these were Hitachi Limited; Hyundai Rotem; Bombardier Transportation Australia Pty Limited; and a consortium of Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles, SA. (CAF) and Mitsubishi Corporation. None of these companies are Chinese. Oddly enough the press release Kiwirail put out at the time is no longer up on their website but you can see a copy on the Auckland Transport Blog.
  • On the 11th of July the Auckland Trains Blog reported that engineers from China were visiting NZ, drumming up work
  • In July, 2010 according to the Auckland Trains Blog both Steven Joyce and John Key visited China
  • On the 3rd of Sep, 2010 with almost no explanation as to why Kiwirail announced that it was inviting 10 companies to bid for the tender to build the EMUs, 6 more than the 4 who were originally shortlisted. Several of these were Chinese companies
  • On the 3rd of December, 2010 it was reported that 4 companies, including Bombardier Transportation Australia which was one of the 4 companies originally shortlisted in July, 2010, had withdrawn from the tender process. The managing director of Bombardier said “Your [decision to extend the shortlist] raises questions on the level of confidence that Bombardier can have in the tender process”
  • Subsequent responses to questions by the Minister of Transport have done little to clarify who is still in the running for the tender and whether all 4 of the original companies short-listed withdrew.
  • Last week, the Herald reports that Sammy Wong is being investigated by the Auditor General for something related to his involvement with a Chinese rail company called Loric. And reccently Labour called on the government to defer announcing who has been awarded the contract until these investigations are finished.

Part of the delays in this project have been due to the government’s luke warm attitude to funding public transport projects. But they have also been caused by Kiwirail’s (mysterious) decision to re-open the tender in July, 2010.

Meanwhile, Auckland’s trains are at capacity and suffer from frequent breakdowns. Given the Minister’s enthusiasm for getting motorways finished quickly, it would be nice if he could also hurry this crucial public transport project along.

I don’t agree with Trevor Mallard that Kiwirail should delay announcing the winner of the contract until the end of this year. This project has been delayed long enough!

But given the size of this contract ($500 million) and the huge significance of the project, I think the Minister of Transport should offer a transparent and comprehensive explanation of why Kiwirail re-opened the tender process. Don’t you?

28 Comments Posted

  1. This is just political spin; National/Act did not want Kiwi workers to have jobs. They want them under stress. However, they knew it would look bad in an election year so they’re throwing a rotten tomato or two the way of New Zealand workers to have a little input. Makes you sick when there was an elegant application by South Island coach builders to make those trains. This is just a taste of what will happen once Key and Douglas force through the TPP Agreement just before the election.

  2. Do you think they are not going to require maintenance??

    Maintenance is a different beast to manufacture.

  3. “There is no point in building up production infrastructure for something that might only be built once every decade”

    Do you think they are not going to require maintenance??..

  4. Gerrit, the other issue is that we don’t require new passenger trains all that often. New Zealand isn’t like Australia where there are new passenger trains rolling off the assembly line on a regular basis because some system needs new rolling stock. The reality is that once this current lot of rolling stock has entered service, we will not be needing new rolling stock for another five to ten years. There is no point in building up production infrastructure for something that might only be built once every decade.

  5. I would agree with Gerrit there. Though I think four Southern lines are required. An express passenger line intercity. A freight line from the inland container terminal at Wiri to Ports of Auckland and the in and out commuter lines.

    On building trains in NZ I think Government should be spending to build more within New Zealand. For the longer term benefit of our balance of payments. And more self sufficiency as the costs of transport fuels rise.

  6. BJ,

    Problem is of a structural and resource nature. Not labour.

    We (NZL inc.) does not have train designers, Kiwirail would need to purchase a proven design from overseas.

    Except for Cable Price in Thames (who make a lot of Australian bogies and train components) we dont have the spare heavy duty steel casting and machining infastructure to handle the increased capacity required to manufacture 38 EMU units in the time frame required.

    If Kiwirail (state government) is serious about local manufacture they should start by buying a rail casting machine and install it at Glenbrook steel mill to facilitate local rail manufacture and a possible state export stream.

    Much like many commercial operators have exclusive dies at aluminium extrusion companies like McKecnie or Ulrich, so could Kiwirail have their own rail casting machine.

    Labour skills can be built up (with initial overseas supervision) as you progress through the manufacturing process, much like the marine industry has done successfully.

    What you cant do is install sufficient manufacturing infastructure to begin the process without some major capital input.

    Remember to that the raw material costs have to be purchased “up front”.

    A substancial capital outlay that will cause a cashflow situation that New Zealand could possibly not afford.

    Buying ready to use means repayments can be negotiated and upfront costs reduced.

    Further to the discussion on fast commutor trains in Auckland (from points south – Hamilton)

    With twin tracks is not possible to run express trains on the commutor line. Anytime of the day there are at least 12 trains (6 into and 6 out off the Auckland CBD) doing slow runs due to frequent stops. It is not easy to safely and comfortably run an express service that “weaves” its way through the slow traffic sharing the infastructure.

    Its needs a third line dedicated to express and limited stop traffic.

    This third line could also be used to move freight to and from the Port of Auckland.

  7. One has to ask still, what is the logic of NOT building our own trains here? Is there something about New Zealand workers that causes the government to somehow disdain the use of our own labour?

    That is the part that sickens.


  8. Trevor

    Excellent thought. The high-speed link to the airport connection to the commuter terminal, then the improvements to the airport connections for Auckland proper also serve the high-speed inter-city rail. Brilliant.


  9. “A “high speed” rail link can-should connect to the commuter rail someplace on the rail loop. It does not HAVE to go all the way downtown.”

    Perhaps the “high speed” rail link should go to the airport, and the rail loop extended to the airport. A significant amount of the traffic to/from Auckland from/to Hamilton is likely to be to the airport anyway. It is also served by buses and taxis.


  10. When I examine those things and the fare structures of the Airlines I wonder why the rest of the country hates Hamilton so much.

    Nothing to do with Hamilton hate, more to do with commercial reality. Few people fly to Hamilton, so Air New Zealand use small 19 seater Beech 1900Ds to fly the punters down. Because a small plane is being used, the fares are a lot higher than shall we say with a 136 seater Boeing 737-300 flying from Auckland to Wellington.

  11. A high-speed link between Hamilton and Auckland would be a useful and easy thing. There is an aspect of this which seems to be missing though, as the current trains aren’t even “normal” speed. They’re just too damned slow.

    The cost of a flight from Wellington to Auckland is (budget fare) about $70. The cost to go to Hamilton is more like $300.

    When I consider the way rail and road link Wellington to the rest of the country I get the impression that someone didn’t want Wellington linked to the rest of the country. Maybe some sort of subconscious wish that it would just go away…. (works both ways).

    When I examine those things and the fare structures of the Airlines I wonder why the rest of the country hates Hamilton so much.

    A thought. A “high speed” rail link can-should connect to the commuter rail someplace on the rail loop. It does not HAVE to go all the way downtown.


  12. Given our existing narrow railway gauge and the large numbers of hills to thread our tracks between, and of course our smaller population, I don’t think that we can expect to see any high speed trains here any time soon. Also we don’t have a tunnel or bridge to get road or rail past Cook Strait which may be necessary to get enough patronage to justify any high speed trains.



  13. Maybe Kiwirail re-opened the tender process because the Minister gave them the hard word and said that rather than going for a more expensive, smaller number of trains they should try and get more trains cheaper. And perhaps that’s a good thing…

    but it would be nice for him to explain why Kiwirail did open the tender. I think “It’s an operational matter for Kiwirail” doesn’t really cut it as an explanation…

  14. Looks like we (the NZ taxpayer) are being set up again.

    This is stuff that needs to be publicized as in real investigative reporters digging into the details of what is happening and raking the con-artists over the coals. Sort of thing that Campbell might get stuck into.

    Our job is to turn these things into election issues and stick them to the party responsible.

    Simple right?

    I wish.

  15. FROG: I didn’t know Dr Who was working for them too… In July, 2011 according to the Auckland Trains Blog both Steven Joyce and John Key visited China

    [frog: Fixed now.]

  16. Having recently visited China, and travelled on their 250kmh HSTs (High Speed Trains) – at 244kmh – on tracks also used by general freight and passenger traffic – limited to 120kmh (limited?! Pah – try even doing that speed in NZ! 80kmh is a speed target on most of NZ’s rail system, 100kmh in a few places, 5kmh in others), I am quite happy for Chinese companies to be involved in a legitimate, open tendering process.

    What I am unhappy about is what Gareth’s post is pointing out: the unexplainable delays, the huge amount of National party meddling in the ability of Auckland to determine its own transport priorities (regional fuel tax removal, spatial plan, etc), the lack of enthusiasm for PT funding – tho Steve(n Joyce) loves to be at ceremonies of new shiny things: rail stations, roads, road control centres, road project first sod turnings, … roads; and the unclarity about who will buy, own, operate and pay for the Auckland EMUs (see: http://transportblog.co.nz/2011/04/17/who-is-going-to-pay-for-aucklands-electric-trains/)

    Fishy? Indeed.

  17. Frog: I take your point and I must give credit to Gareth Hughs for a very good article, but there are times when I find all this sleazy stuff that is going on rather sickening.

    [frog: Drak, I haven’t commented on this thread until now, despite your assertion to the contrary. You often say good stuff on frogblog, But go sober up and save the good stuff for tomorrow. This is not Kiwiblog.]

    What I think is going on here is that the Chinese companies are offering a cheaper deal than all the others and it might not just end there. they could even be offering a cheaper labour force.

    Remember the MAI???????

    MAI I come into your country to undercut and monopolize your business – – -MAI I bring my cheap (slave) labour – – -MAI I dump cheap and shoddy rail infrastructure!!!!MAI I – – – –

    This joke needs to be taken very seriously!!!!!!!

  18. Me too, Valis. But I hope the thread continues down some useful path of debate that is on topic with Gareth’s original post and a comment I made early on.

    Auckland Trains, remember! That is what this thread is meant to be about, as far as I can ascertain.

  19. Let’s play ‘Spot the Whore of Babylon’

    Now surely Phil- U and Valis can get that metaphor?????

  20. @Chris McNair 5:07 PM

    I also think that there is something here that smells very fishy.

    Indeed it does, Chris. It has the stench of Jenny Shipley (she’s on another thread here today too) and Sammy Wong all over it.

  21. Will Auckland ever get new trains?

    We will; it would be the height of stupidity to spend a fortune on new wires and not have trains underneath them, and we have to also remember that some of Auckland’s rolling stock is due for retirement in the near future anyway and it always been hoped that new EMUs would be their replacements.

    Of course, given the time gap between the announcement (May 2007) and the 2008 election (November 2008), at least some of the blame can also be laid at Labour’s door – there was nothing preventing an order from being signed and sealed by the time of the 2008 election.

    Meanwhile, Auckland’s trains are at capacity and suffer from frequent breakdowns.

    It is only on the Southern/Eastern Line that trains are really at capacity, and that is due to “Western Line bias” by Auckland Transport – they got the new six-car sets, whilst passengers from south of Otahuhu have not had any significant increase in morning peak capacity since 2007.

  22. Yes, yes I do.

    I also think that there is something here that smells very fishy.

    National backrubbing in back rooms with Chinese Government?

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