The new trains promise a smoother, quieter ride into the
city for Auckland commuters. Photo NZ Herald/Greg Bowker
Auckland's gleaming new electric trains launched into
business at 5.48am today - and are now experiencing delays.
Much fuss was made this morning as the first trains to enter
passenger service headed out of Onehunga with regular
commuters outnumbered by transport officials, politicians and
journalists on the 72-metre train.
However a combination of driver nerves and possible problems
with the retraction of the door steps meant trains were
running up to 25 minutes late this morning.
Special ambassadors on board the train told passengers they
were sorry for the delays but there were a few teething
They then reportedly asked passengers for their patience
while the drivers got used to the new trains.
One official at the Onehunga station told the Herald the
delays were due to a problem with the automatic steps which
were not retracting properly.
A press release from Transdev at 9.30 confirmed some Southern
& Onehunga lines are experiencing some minor delays.
"Good morning customers thank you for your patience this
morning as we introduce our new electric trains," said
communications supervisor Jacob Tobin.
Herald reporter Mathew Dearnaley said there were mixed
reactions to the delays. Some passengers waiting at the
station were understanding but people quickly took to Twitter
to vent frustrations.
"If true that poor staff training was reason for trains
running late this morning, very poor form from Transdev. Big
black mark," tweeted Luke Christensen.
Not all were disappointed however.
Regular Onehunga commuter Reuben Thompson, catching the early
train to Britomart, before cycling to his labouring job in
Beach Rd enjoyed wheeling his bike at platform level to the
three-car train lower-midsection.
His one niggle was that only four spaces are allocated for
bikes and they have to be shared by wheelchairs. But after
the 28 minute trip to the city, he marvelled at the
smoothness and spaciousness of his new coach to work.
His only competition for space at that time of morning was
wheelchair user Murray Waring from Pukekohe, who appreciated
the automatic ramp reaching out to the platform for him.
Prang Howard was expecting an old diesel clunker when she
boarded Te Papapa for her cleaning job in the city, but said
the new machine was "awesome''.
The train was joined for its return trip from Britomart by
Auckland mayor Len Brown, who said he could sense a pride
among the first Aucklanders who rode on the new train at open
"There's a sense of it being a continuum. People are saying
it's a good start, a step up into a truly international
city,'' Mr Brown said.
Brown: More rail investment needed
However, Mr Brown has warned Aucklanders they'll need to dig
deeper for more answers to the city's congestion woes.
He expects passengers to flock to the "stunning" three-car
trains, two of which took thousands of joy-riders on free
jaunts from Britomart yesterday.
"They are quiet, fast and modern, giving a real sense of
space - you'll love them, they move beautifully," he gushed
to the Herald after an earlier test ride on the first of what
will swell to a 57-strong fleet by the middle of next year,
marking the completion of a $1.14 billion rail
Electric rail starts rolling
But Mr Brown warned that without a rapid start on a follow-up
$2.86 billion underground rail project, Britomart will soon
be bursting at the seams as a dead-end station from which the
new trains will have to keep reversing until a twin-tunnel
extension is built to Mt Eden by about 2025, under a
"We could probably max our patronage on the present suburban
rail network at between 16 million and 17 million [passenger
trips] per annum," said the mayor, who wants construction of
the 3.5km extension to start as early as 2016, after asking
his council to make hard decisions next year on how the city
will match the Government's half-share.
"I think once the electric trains come on, we'll get there
Although patronage on the old diesel fleet has languished
over much of the past two years, after more than quadrupling
from 2.5 million trips since Britomart opened in 2003, it has
since edged up to a new high of 11 million.
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee yesterday reiterated that
the Government would consider an earlier start on the
underground railway, but only if Auckland can prove urgency
by showing train patronage is on track to hit 20 million
trips well before 2020, and that CBD jobs are growing by 25
He opposed the use of tolls, congestion charges or a regional
fuel tax to pay Auckland's share because he felt motorists
should not have to carry an extra burden for the project.
Mr Brown acknowledged spending by the Government and its
Labour-led predecessor accounted for more than 75 per cent of
the rail electrification project, and said it would be up to
Aucklanders to guide the council on new revenue sources
needed to fill a $12 billion funding gap over the next 30
years on top of $56 billion already earmarked for spending on
roads and public transport.
"They know there is no easy fix and in the end it's basically
back to us - in our hands, in our pockets - dealing with the
challenge we have got as a city."
He has meanwhile reconvened an advisory "consensus-building
group" which last year left the council with two unpalatable
funding options, the first relying on hefty rates and fuel
tax rises and the other involving road user fees such as
motorway network tolling or "congestion charging" for
peak-time trips on arterial routes.
The group, slightly reduced to 15 representatives of sector
organisations after the withdrawal of the Automobile
Association and a parking company, has been asked to
construct financial models for each of the options for the
council to put to public consultation early next year.
Neither a regional fuel tax nor road charging is favoured by
AA spokesman Barney Irvine said his organisation supported
last year's exercise but believed it went as far as it could
with that, and now the council should be "taking leadership
and ownership of this, rather than an external group".
But the AA intended canvassing its 279,000 Auckland members
on a preferred funding option, ready to take full part in
next year's public consultations.
Design wins plaudits from disabled
Chris Orr felt proud to be on the train when his guide dog
Riley slid into the space under the seat and lay down with
tail tucked out of the way of passengers passing along the
"The seats are cantilevered so dogs, and bags, can go
underneath and Riley was not going to be stood on," said Mr
Orr, who takes the train from Manurewa to his job in
Newmarket as environmental awareness adviser for the Blind
"We were involved in the design of the train from the word
go, from the concept stage, and the result is you won't get
any better around the world for accessibility."
Mr Orr said that as well as the design of the seats, Auckland
Transport took advice on interior colours.
"Most of the Blind Foundation's clients have some residual
vision and are not totally blind. So our work was to get good
lighting and colour contrast so people with low vision can
use the train easier, which is important for our growing
"The use of contrasting dark-blue and yellow colours means
features can be picked up straight away - here's where the
hand grip is, the edge of the steps, they shine."
Mr Orr praised the use of contrasting colour for the
passenger information display and a further aid - the
announcement of stations coming up en route, which could be
heard above background noise and despite use of headsets.
But as a regular train user since 1976 who has advised on
designs for new stations, he was enthusiastic about other
improved accessibility features.
"In the 1970s, you had to climb three steps to a narrow door
but today stepping off at Newmarket the platform was almost
level with the train. Users of wheelchairs will appreciate
the new ramps' sensing the edge and height of platforms.
"The subtle controls for the new trains means they will stop
at the same place at the platform for passengers using the
low floor part of the train.
"That's enormous for people with limited mobility who
sometimes have to walk 20 to 30m along the platform."