Friday, January 20, 2017

BrizCommuter becomes WellyCommuter

Matangi trains at Wellington Station
Whilst trying to escape Brisbane's Rail Fail (#FleeQld), BrizCommuter travelled to Wellington and Auckland in New Zealand, to experience their public transport systems. The first in this two part series is BrizCommuter's insight into Wellington's public transport system.

Wellington is the administrative capital of New Zealand, located at the Southern end of New Zealand's North Island. It has a population of around 200,000 (just 10% of Brisbane's population) and a population of 400,000 in its surrounding urban area. It is thus quite a small city to have a half-decent commuter rail system, as well as a bus and trolleybus network. Wellington is like a mini-Hong Kong, with a bowl shaped inner-city with (shorter) high rises next to a harbour, and a cable car climbing the mountain.

All public transport operators are privatised, with train services run by Transdev Wellington, and use run by multiple companies including GO Wellington. They are all branded as Metlink. The Greater Wellington Regional Council is responsible for planning and subsidising public transport.

Matangi Train at Redwood Station
Wellington has a relatively new fleet of 75x2-car EMU trains (Matangi/FP Class) that run on its 1,500V DC overhead electrified network. There are 4 urban lines, the Johnsonville Line, Kapiti Line, Melling Branch, and Hutt Valley Line. There is a 4 track core section, with all of these lines terminating at Wellington Station, which has There are also some diesel hauled services to/from Masterton (Wairarapa Connection) , Palmerston North, and Auckland. On the 4 electrified urban lines, the off-peak base service is an all stations train running every 30 minutes (hourly on Melling Branch), which is reasonable enough for such a small urban area. The peak services are approximately every 15 to 20 minutes for most stations, with a mix of express and non-express services patterns, though frequencies are not consistent (other than every 15 minutes on the Johnsonville Line). Counter-peak frequencies are in some cases worse than every 30 minutes, with added expresses between Wellington and the turn-back location in the am peak (or vice versa in the pm peak). Trains can be be formed of 2, 4, or 6-car consists, with most peak services observed as being 4 or 6-cars. All trains observed in the peak had spare seats available, though this was a relatively quiet time of the year.

The platforms are relatively low. For each 2-train train, one carriage has low/platform level floor and doors for wheelchair and pram access. This makes for much better accessibility than in Brisbane. There are manually operated fold out ramps if required. The ends of this carriage, and 100% of the second carriage has 100% high level seating.

All lines are worth travelling on for interested visitors. In particular the Johnsonville Line has many sharp curves and tunnels as it climbs the hillside. The Kapiti Line has many coastal sections, and a very long tunnel between Wellington and Takapu Road stations. Another point of interest is Redwood Station which has offset side platforms either side of a level crossing to reduce level crossing closure time. Pedestrian crossings only have lights and no barriers.

Whilst the Snapper smart card is available for buses, taxis, and some shops, trains still rely on paper tickets. Most stations do not have a ticket office or ticket machine, and are bought on board from the guard. In fact some 4 and 6-car trains have more than one guard for this reason. This is rather quaint, if somewhat inefficient. However, with roaming staff on every train, it may deter fare evaders. Fares are also relatively high, in line with New Zealand's high cost of living. Child discounts are unacceptably small at 20%.

Wellington Cablecar
Wellington also has a decent bus and trolleybus network, which a reasonable number of high frequency routes (every 10 to 20 min) for a city of its size. As the city's hilly topography makes it relatively linear in nature, it is easier for the city to have an efficient bus network. As Wellington Station is not particularly central, a large number of commuters use the buses and trolleybuses to get from Wellington Station to other parts of the CBD. With a good interchange at Wellington Station, and many buses travelling along the same routes through the CBD, then the service through the CBD is operated at very high frequency. There has been some lobbying towards running tram trains from the existing train lines through to the CBD, but BrizCommuter doesn't know if there will be any progress in the land of reality.

Wellington also has a 5 station mountain-side cable car (funicular) which is mainly used by tourists. However locals can still use it with the smart card. Get there early to avoid queues, especially if a cruise ship is in town. There are also a couple of harbour ferries.

BrizCommuter found Wellington's public transport system a joy to use. The only delays were experienced just after "strong" or "severe" earthquakes! The smart card needs to be rolled out system wide with a more integrated fare structure. Train frequencies could be better, and peak frequencies more consistent. However, frequencies are still still very good for a city of Wellington's population.

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