Rail Link Puts Fun Into Getting To School

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NZ Herald reports:

Leah Robinson’s young sons leaped out of bed yesterday morning when offered a choice between travelling by car on congested roads or by train along Onehunga’s resurrected branch railway line.

“I told them if there’s any mucking around, we’ll go by car,” said Ms Robinson.

But that was no more than a parental ruse as Ms Robinson said she was sick of spending an hour and a half in morning traffic driving her four children in a circuit from home in Te Papapa to schools and a kindergarten in Ellerslie and Remuera.

“It’s just horrible,” she said of congestion normally at its worst around Greenlane, which has become just a nine-minute train ride from Te Papapa after the introduction of the new rail service at the weekend…

The 3km branch line between Onehunga and Penrose has cost KiwiRail $10 million and the Auckland Regional Transport Authority $3.6 million to resurrect with three stations. Auckland Regional Council also spent about $8 million to buy the site for the Onehunga station near the bottom of Onehunga Mall.

Although Saturday saw the formal re-opening of the line, the new service settled into a workaday routine yesterday. The Herald counted 19 passengers boarding the 7.45am Britomart-bound train at Onehunga, including three high-school students looking forward to halving the 45 minutes or so it used to take them to catch a bus to Newmarket.

St Peter’s College students Griegen Schwenke, Lenny Hayne and Leitham Motio’o – all aged 15 – were also pleased that their two-stage train fare of $1.70 would be less than the $1.90 on the bus.

A smaller group of 10 passengers caught the next train from Onehunga, at 8.15am, although they were joined by 10 others at Te Papapa station.

Events manager Marion Stables was disappointed more commuters had yet to change their travel habits to take advantage of the service, but was confident it would do wonders for Onehunga as its popularity grew.

Campaign for Better Transport spokesman Jon Reeves, whose organisation has worked since 2002 with Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee to reintroduce trains to Onehunga, said he believed numbers would pick up and build momentum to extend the line to the airport.

Mr Lee said the airport was just nine kilometres from Onehunga compared with a distance of 14km from there to Britomart.

“I can’t see any good reason why we shouldn’t push on and extend rail across the new rail-capable [duplicated] Manukau Harbour crossing.”

Onehunga Business Association general manager Amanda Kinzett predicted an increase in patronage once a park and ride zone opens at Onehunga station on Monday with 60 vehicle spaces and CCTV security.

Onehunga Opening Day

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What a day yesterday!  Not even the weather could dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm. Due to snow branches on the line, the carriages for the steam train were late, but Isaac Broome saved the day with a two car set for the dignitaries and CBTers. A big crowd greeted the train as it rolled in to Onehunga station on time yesterday at 10:30, 18th September 2010.

Geoff Blackmore captures the moment the first official train arrives at Onehunga

 While the speeches were in progress, steam loco JA 1275 from Mainline steam pulled into the station. I suspect that’s what the crowds were really waiting for!  At the tail end of the train was a diesel locomotive, which as pointed out on the forum is only 14 years younger than the steam train. (JA 1275 entered service in July 1952, DC 4536 entered service as DA 1505 in September 1966!)

JA 1275 pulls in to the station

ARC Chair Mike Lee gave a speech that summarised the long slog to get Onehunga reopened. In it he thanked the efforts of the Campaign for Better Transport, and singled out Garth Houltham as the campaign manager for our petition that achieved 8,000 signatures in the summer of 2005 / 2006.  Mike hammered home the popularity of rail and drew applause every time he mentioned rail to the airport.

Minister of Transport Steven Joyce addresses the crowd

Hon. Steven Joyce also addressed the crowd with the somewhat predictable “need to invest in all modes” speech. Didn’t explain why there is such a disproportionate crown investment in roading over public transport, though this was not a day for such nit-pickery.  I think he had to be secretly impressed by the turn out and the sheer cost effectiveness of reopening the branch line.

L to R: Cameron Pitches, ARC Chair Mike Lee, Garth Houltham, Jennifer Northover, Jon Reeves

We’ll see how the patronage goes this week!

Work starts on Onehunga rail station

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Finally, the New Zealand Herald reports work has started on Onehunga’s new rail station:

ARC chairman Mike Lee and the Campaign for Better Transport, which raised an 8000-signature petition in 2006 to reopen the Onehunga branch railway line to passenger trains, were last week becoming increasingly nervous about a lack of progress on the site.

It’s a shame there won’t be integration with buses, but at least they’ll be handy to the station, with Onehunga’s main bus station being by the public library.

New station brings Onehunga trains closer

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There was a good turn out at the ARTA Onehunga Line Open Evening last week from both the public and CBT members.  Whilst ARTA did not make a presentation as such, information was displayed regarding railway station and level crossing locations, and ARTA spokespeople were available for questioning.  CBT was also able to pass on our feedback to ARTA regarding the points we felt were necessary to ensure success of the Onehunga line. 

Amongst the information given below in this article in the Herald, Sharon Hunter also had the following to say (although she did also say nothing is set in concrete):

  • Onehunga line services will almost certainly terminate at Britomart (as opposed to Newmarket, as has been feared).
  • ARTA will be working with Dress-Smart to display train times and information in the shopping mall, much like what has been done at Sylvia Park.
  • Feeder buses from Mangere are being considered
  • The main bus station in Onehunga will stay were it is.  ARTA will be looking at re-routing buses past the Onehunga railway station.
  • ARTA acknowledged that the suggestion of one month’s free travel trial period at the commencement of the service is a nice one, but that it is perhaps unlikely to happen.
  • There may be a Park and Ride service offered at the old ITM site.
  • Completion of the project is timed for the end of the first quarter of 2010.

As the Herald reports, unfortunately at the moment only hourly services are being considered for off-peak and weekend travel.

Diggers will start earthworks in the next two weeks for a second Penrose railway station, needed to re-open the Onehunga branch line to passenger trains.

That follows Auckland Regional Transport Authority and KiwiRail confirmation of sites for the three main stations for the line, which is to re-open in the first half of next year.

Read the rest of this entry »

Onehunga Line Feedback

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Onehunga Line – Campaign for Better Transport feedback

In 2006 the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) campaigned hard to reopen the dormant branch railway line between Onehunga and Penrose once again to passenger services. Our 8,000 strong petition and support from the Auckland Regional Council saw the Government finally give the green light for funding on the 13 March 2007.

The CBT considers that there are a number of important steps that need to be taken to ensure that the Onehunga Line is a success. These are outlined below, and detailed individually throughout this feedback:1. Services must terminate at Britomart, not Newmarket.
2. Half-hourly frequencies off-peak and at weekends are essential.
3. ARTA to work with Dress-Smart Onehunga and the Onehunga Business Association to encourage shoppers to use the train.
4. One month free travel trial period.
5. Re-routing buses to feed into the train station for people travelling from Mangere area into the city. Read the rest of this entry »

ARTA Onehunga Line Open Evening

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“Very happily”, ARTA have announced an Open Evening to discuss the rapidly approaching reopening of the Onehunga branch line. Anyone interested is invited to come along:

  • Tuesday 18th August 6:30 – 8.00pm
  • Onehunga Community Centre
  • Beeson / Henderson Room
  • 83 Church Street, Onehunga

This is your chance to find out where the stations will be and exactly when they are due to open! Download the flyer here and stick one up at work!

Electrification – the beginning, not the end

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It has been an interesting year so far for Auckland’s public transport. Probably the biggest story of the year so far was the cancellation of the Regional Petrol Tax back in March, which put most of the public transport improvements that we can expect in the next few years, into doubt.

In the months since then it seems like everything has been about “cleaning up the mess” that Steven Joyce created in March through his transport announcements. Fortunately, most of the mess has now been cleaned up: with a decision on integrated ticketing being made last week, NZTA coming to the party and funding upgrades to Onehunga and New Lynn, the Manukau rail link going ahead, and funding for the below track part of electrification being outlined in the May budget. All we are really waiting for now is NZTA to confirm that they will provide the necessary funding subsidy for integrated ticketing (to be finalised in September I think) and for the funding of Auckland’s electric trains to be announced. Goodness knows when that will happen, although rumours suggest it might be this week.

So, we’re almost back to where we were a few months ago then. The question I wish to ask is “where to next?” It seems like the government is convinced that the money they’re going to spend on finishing ProjectDART (upgrades to the rail system  that have been ongoing for the last few years) and electrification, that’s it. Auckland’s transport planning documents suggest that this is the case as well, with funding for public transport infrastructure after electrification is complete almost disappearing. As a public transport advocate I think it’s important for me to state that I believe we’re only at the beginning of this process to truly create a top-class public transport system for Auckland. Electrification and ProjectDART cannot be seen as endpoints, but rather the first step of a process. We must develop a vision for how we want Auckland’s public transport system to look like in 30-40 years time, and work out how we’re going to get there. With higher fuel prices a certainty in the future, combined with the need to reduce CO2 emissions from our transport sector, I think that it’s critical that we back up the “talk” of quantum shifts with a real plan. And we fix our broken funding system to ensure that the money’s available to do it.

Unfortunately, I doubt the current government has the vision or desire to do anything more than the bare minimum when it comes to public transport. Maybe a future Super-City Council will be just what we need to push the need for better public transport?

Onehunga Line News

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It seems as though the funding issues for the Onehunga Line, that resulted from the removal of the regional petrol tax, have been resolved. This follows on from a post I made a couple of weeks ago that related to progress being made between the ARC and NZTA to provide the necessary extra funding. It also appears as though there will be three stations along the Onehunga Branch: one at Onehunga, one at Te Papapa (quite near Mays Road) and one near Mt Smart stadium.

I have included a map of where I think the stations will be located. I’m not 100% sure of the location of the Te Papapa station and the Mt Smart station, but they would certainly not be too far from where I’ve shown them:

onehunga-line The main benefit of the Mt Smart station seems likely to be for events, and it may well turn out that this is and events only station. There isn’t much residential development within easy walking distance of the Mt Smart station – although I guess there is potential for people who live elsewhere on the rail network but work near the station to catch the train. I suspect that wouldn’t be particularly many people though.

I have a couple of hopes for this line, apart from the obvious one that it’s reasonably popular. My first hope is that it gets decent service frequencies. There aren’t that many available peak hour slots into Britomart left (due to the lack of a CBD rail loop) so I am not sure whether, at peak hour, a huge number of trains will be able to be run from Onehunga into Britomart. I think that it’s most likely that trains which currently terminate at Otahuhu will be re-routed to instead terminate at Onehunga. Off-peak I hope that the service frequencies aren’t cut back too much either – perhaps a train every 30 minutes during weekdays and at weekends would be great. And that links in with my second hope: that the service runs on Saturdays AND Sundays, and at reasonable frequencies on both those days. The reason I hope this is because I actually think it could be damn popular. The big white blob just above the Onehunga station is DessSmart Onehunga: an extremely popular shopping centre with very limited carparking. As Sylvia Park has shown, people are very eager and willing to catch trains to shopping malls at the weekend, and I imagine that Onehunga will continue that trend – if a decent weekend service is provided. And finally, clearly the Onehunga services must start and end at Britomart. That’s a bit of a no-brainer.

So the obvious question is “when will it open?” Well, according to ARTA: “services are expected to begin on the Onehunga line early next year.” So not too far away.

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