Friday, September 24, 2010

new Matangi electric trains for Wellington not problem free

Test runs apparantly demonstrate, among other things, that their power draw is even more than was expected, limiting how long trains can be between sub-stations. A report from the Wellington Newspapers site is reproduced below.

In the meantime, electrification and track duplication between McKays Crossing and Waikanae is continuing. It is now clear that the duplication will end just short of the bridges over SH1 and the Waikanae River at Waikanae, meaning that about 1 km will continue to be single track.


The regional council's new Matangi [meaning "wind"] electric trains, blew into Wellington Station last week like a gentle Zephyr instead of a fresh gale.

Still in testing, the train crept across the many sets of points as its wheels squealed at the bends.

The first of 48 two-car Matangi units came slowly in to Platform 9 to be welcomed by ministers, MPs, the Korean ambassador, mayors and representatives of the builders, Hyundai Rotem.

Local kaumatua and kuia were also there to welcome the trains, along with rail fans and riders, after weeks of testing culminating in a run on the Melling Line. Greater Wellington Regional Council chairwoman Fran Wilde said the Wellington region is renowned for its strong rail tradition.

"It has seemed a long time since we signed the contract for the trains, and there appeared to be an inordinate amount of time on getting the design just right.

"We're proud of our rail service in Wellington, and strongly committed to bringing it back to full strength."

The Wellington Station crowd loved the sleek, shiny, stainless-steel-clad carriages.

However, a recent Dominion Post poll found the public was divided 50/50 as to whether they would make a difference to the recent deplorable service that was driving people to take cars to work.

That is not just because of continued infrastructure renewal delays, or the need to continue using the older trains, especially for peak hours.

It is also not to do with the fact the newest of the old, the Ganz Mavags, may be uneconomical to refurbish, meaning someone would have to come up with another $225 million for more Matangi trains.

It is because, according to both public and KiwiRail employees, KiwiRail's contractual operation of the trains for GWRC has been poorly managed.

One train man said things had improved with the appointment of former New Zealand Transport Agency Wellington general manager Deborah Hume as KiwiRail's national passenger manager.

People who got a tour of the train but no ride yet had a variety of mostly positive views.

Former KiwiRail project manager at Hutt Gracefield rail workshops, Albert Bossard, says the train is pretty much exactly as the mock-up shown and consulted on.

The biggest negative comment was that the trains won't have front windows for passengers.

A KiwiRail executive said, "We can't have a front view because of all the electrical equipment up front, the only economical place to put it and be able to have more seats. Viewing was raised, but not in any significant way."

The driver cab also had to have a fire door.

One of the few to drive Matangi so far, Chris Duffel, was chuffed. The 28-year veteran driver and now trainer, from Whitby, said staff had a lot of input to the design.

"It's a red letter day for us. It's a great machine. It's smooth and quiet and pleasant to drive. The ride and interior will be so pleasant people won't miss the front view."

Disability Issues Minister Pansy Wong said the train design would help people with disabilities, with floor areas for wheelchairs and mobility scooters and new ramps.

Genevieve McLachlan from Upper Hutt, and Hobbit, 8, her guide dog, tried the new boarding.

She used to ride the trains every day, and had problems with the steep, difficult ramps. The new ramps are easier for the guards to operate. They push a button and it pops out; they don't have to handle the chair or make sure it doesn't tip.

"Getting on and off this train was slick," Mrs McLachlan said. "I don't need any help. I can't wait until this is in service, and I'll use trains more again. As a person with disabilities this had made me feel not so different."
Tawa mum of three Elizabeth Marchant was also pleased.

"It's great, it's much easier to get the pushchair in. At the moment it's far too hard."

Pushchairs don't need the wheelchair ramps if the station platform is close to the level of the train entrance.

But it will be some time before all platforms are altered.

Having these trains with their disabled facility could increase the demand for them, but with a mixed fleet of Ganz Mavag and older trains with few Matangi trains, disabled passengers will not know ahead of time when they can count on a Matangi with wheelchair space.

One potential problem is the train's noise. Though quiet inside, outside a locomotive engineer commented on the loud, high-pitched whine of the electrics turning DC into the AC the trains run on.

Longtime transport activist Paula Warren said, "I'm hearing positive things about the tests, and it's now been agreed they can't run eight-car sets on the line because of the power drain.

"But they assure us that six-car trains more frequently will do the job, and that's what we want anyway."

It's still unclear whether the Ganz Mavag units will be upgraded. Latest papers from GWRC say if the cost is more than $1.6 million per unit, they'll buy instead of upgrading. A mixed fleet would just be a mess, with everyone wanting to go on the Matangis, one report said.

No-one spoken to, including senior KiwiRail staff speaking off the record, favoured keeping the Ganzes.

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