Last Wednesday, Auckland's long-awaited $1 billion rail electrification project was given Government funding approval for a fleet of of up to 114 electric multiple unit (EMU) railcars. Transport Minister Steven Joyce announced the Cabinet had approved $500 million for electric rolling stock to start running in 2013. That is on top of a commitment of $500 million the Government inherited from the previous Labour Government to electrify Auckland's railway tracks south to Papakura and west to Swanson.
Being able to accelerate and brake faster than the diesel units they will replace, the EMUs should allow 10-minute service frequencies and, naturally, cost less to run.
But the Auckland Regional Transport Authority may still have to lease up to 13 electric locomotives to pull existing refurbished British SA carriages along the southern line.
Although the Auckland Regional Council originally sought 140 railcars, Mr Joyce said the proposed units would be longer and the overall fleet capable of carrying an equivalent number of passengers. They are expected to be more cost-effective and efficient, although numbers and dimensions remain to be finalised. $45 million of "essential" spending will include lengthening station platforms.
Electrification of the Auckland rail network was first planned in the 1940s and came closest to being realised with the Rapid Rail plans from the mid-1970s, before the Muldoon government axed them in 1976.
According to Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee in an interview last year, “Electrification will build on the remarkable momentum achieved in Auckland rail over the past five years in which patronage has grown from just over 2 million to over 7 million passenger trips per year. We are set to overtake Wellington’s rail patronage of about 11.5 million passenger trips in the next two to three years.”
You can only wonder why railway projects in Auckland seem to take ages to be actioned. The Britomart station project is probably the best known example of a highly successful project which unfathomably took several years to happen. And these works will still leave a lot of the Auckland Region unserviced by rail. In our book the Railways of New Zealand: a journey through history we included a map of the proposed rapid rail system from the 1970s - that would have covered a much greater area including the North Shore and an airport link. Oh well.