The recent launch of Auckland’s highly-anticipated electric trains signalled a new era for the city’s public transport infrastructure – although as expected, it didn’t come without its share of teething issues.
Auckland’s first electric train rolled into service early in the morning of April 28, embarking from Onehunga station and headed for the CBD transport hub at Britomart. Extensive news coverage on the day suggested that the vast majority of passengers were excited about the new mode of transport and most of the public feedback was favourable.
However, minor problems and integration issues were always going to be expected in the initial stages, and several passengers were left frustrated by delays – some lasting around 20 minutes. These setbacks cropped up despite a successful ‘open day’ on April 27, on which around 5,000 Auckland residents were invited to participate in a trial journey for free.
Once these initial problems are resolved, however, it’s inevitable that electric trains will develop into a vital public infrastructure component in New Zealand’s largest city. With additional service lines to be opened over the rest of this year and the start of the next, the gradual rollout of these vehicles will be followed with keen interest.
A major project has come to fruition
Monday’s launch of the electric trains marks the culmination of years of research and development on how these trains can represent a huge step forward for Auckland’s oft-criticised public transport.
It all began three years ago when Auckland Transport reached an agreement with a leading Spanish railway engineering firm for the delivery of more than 50 electric trains. Each train comprises two motor cars and a trailer car, and has the capacity to carry almost 400 travellers each.
The trains are tested for about 1,000 hours on the tracks before they are made available for public use. In addition, drivers are required to take part in over 700 hours training on an electric train simulator.
The models boast the latest in train technology, including 16 CCTV cameras per train, emergency call points that can act as a direct link between passengers and train staff, and doors with obstacle detection features. The trains also adhere to the most recent global standards for bodyshell design, ensuring the safety of all on board.
What do the new trains offer?
The main benefits of the new trains have been centred around their operational superiority to traditional carriages. Akin to the advantages of electric and hybrid cars, electric trains have been touted as faster, quieter and more energy efficient than their predecessors.
This means they reduce both noise and air pollution, creating a more pleasant environment for those inside and also outside the train.
In developing the trains, a lot of emphasis was placed on enhancing passenger safety and comfort, and this is clearly evident in the new trains that rolled out this week. Every detail from non-slip flooring, wider doors, automatic ramps for wheelchair users and air conditioning is geared towards improving the customer experience.
The next steps
While the electric train launch marks a huge step forward for public transport in Auckland, mayor Len Brown noted that further investment is needed if the city is to reach its true potential – and accommodate the inevitably growing passenger demand. Specifically, he said that a $2.86 billion underground rail project must get off the ground as soon as possible.
“We could probably max our patronage on the present suburban rail network at between 16 million and 17 million [passenger trips] per annum. I think once the electric trains come on, we’ll get there pretty quick,” the mayor was quoted as saying in an April 28 New Zealand Herald article.
In reality, the electric trains are just the start of a longer journey for New Zealand rail – and it will be interesting to see how the government facilitates further growth in future.
Interested in New Zealand’s electrification projects? Noel Burton, Head Engineering NZ from Siemens Rail Automation will be delivering a presentation on “The future of signalling in NZ: using the Auckland electrification project to help drive nationwide change”, at the upcoming New Zealand Rail conference. It will take place on 17th and 18th June at the Heritage Auckland Hotel. To find out more about the conference program and to register, please visit the New Zealand Rail conference website.
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