Woeful Punctuality


Only 69% of Auckland’s train services were on time in January and Veolia Transport acknowledges that there has been “a reduction in performance in recent months.”

The Eastern Line recorded a woeful 51.1% and Southern 60.1%, both among the worst ever for those lines.

The Western Line did 78.9% and Onehunga was the best, as usual, with 87.9%
Veolia says it’s working with Auckland Transport and KiwiRail to “resolve the issues that impact service delivery.”

And Veolia has also finally publicly acknowledged something that has bugged this site and its readers for months:” Veolia Transport is also reviewing customer communications to find ways we can improve.”

Let’s hope they understand what they discover what the  word communication means.

Veolia’s services in January got off to a late start because of the Christmas -January pre-electrification work and Baldwin station upgrade, but services stuttered when they did resume as was noted by posts on this blog.

  • Train breakdowns and faults meant 57 services were cancelled
  • Track and signaling problems resulted in 42 service cancellations
  • Other issues resulted in 110 cancellations during the month

In specific events noted by Veolia:

  • Six rail infrastructure issues between 10 and 17 January meant 304 services were delayed and 21 cancelled.  Work upgrading the Rossgrove level crossing ran late on 10 January delaying morning services. Points and signaling issues occurred in key areas between Pukekohe and Papakura on 11 January, Papakura on 12 January, Newmarket on 13 January, and Quay Park on 17 January.
  • A signal black out between Manurewa and Papakura on 18 January stopped trains.
  • Consistent signal and points faults at Paerata level crossing impacted on train services between 10 and 14 January.
  • A mechanical issue with a locomotive on January 20 caused delays to 30 services and meant 15 were cancelled.
  • On the evening of 22 January a freight train broke down at Papakura causing delays and seven cancellations.
  • Flooding at Britomart following heavy storms on January 23 affected the signals and points and caused delays and cancellations across all lines.
  • A Police incident on 24 January delayed 78 services causing 19 cancellations.

Of the 5,194 services scheduled for January on the network, 96% arrived at their final destination and 69% were on time.

The rail network was closed from Christmas Day until Jan 9 for the Western Line and part of the Southern Line  and resumed in total on January 17.

Veolia Transport says it provided bus services for customers while rail lines were closed and the punctuality of these services affected train services. Some bus services feeding train stations were delayed by traffic which in turn meant the connecting trains left stations late.

Network-wide safety measures were also in place while work upgrading platforms was carried out over Christmas. These lower than normal speed restrictions made some journeys longer than usual.

The entire network was closed over Auckland Anniversary weekend, 29 to 31 January for more work.

January was an unusual month but this bad performance record has been a trend for some time.

In the previous month -  December - the average overall punctuality on the lines was 74.6% – only Onehunga being the standout – and in that month, a month shortened by the Christmas work from December 24 there were -

  • Train breakdowns and faults resulting in 64 services being cancelled
  • Track and signalling problems resulting in 179 services being cancelled
  • Other issues resulting in 38 service cancellations during the month






  1. Stranded on the North Shore says:

    I can’t wait until we stop reporting the punctuality, but instead seriously concentrate on frequency. When (if?!!?) that happens, the timetables and punctuality will be utterly irrelevant, instead we’ll be talking about frequency and length of the journey… We can just dream…

  2. GJA says:

    Yes I really do not care if a train (or all trains) is delayed by 10 minutes, if the trains run every ten minutes, i.e. a train still arrives at the platform within a few minutes of me arriving there.

    A big frustration is also having to sit in the train, that is going VERY slowly or that stops for a long time.

  3. Matt says:

    Big annoyance for Southern and Eastern passengers is that trains are so infrequent. Western Line gets 10 minute frequencies, but during the morning peak there’s a full 18 minute gap between services - at Ellerslie they’re 8:06 and 8:24. That’s completely unacceptable, as far as I’m concerned, and I don’t give a fig what the reason is. Also means that things are worse on the Eastern, because at least those of us north of Otahuhu get Onehunga services.

  4. Matt says:

    PS: Nice work on infuriating Veolia management. The more infuriating, the better, because it means you’re getting through to them how bollocks their service and communication are.

  5. joust says:

    we have a chicken/egg situation here as punctuality on low frequencies remains poor, so patronage only grows relatively modestly.

    If the operator managed to achieve its service levels customers would feel like they can rely on trains and patronage would grow more than it has been.

    Unfortunately with higher loadings we all know how difficult the operator finds their job and the stats suffer again!

  6. Rob M says:

    Its always a mistake to have a foreign operator manage your public transport network. The sooner we are rid of Veolia, the better.

  7. Matt says:

    Rob, the problem is less the origin of the operator than the terms of the contract. A contract that imposes harsh financial penalties for non-compliance is essential when tendering public transport operations to the private sector, be they foreign or domestic, but Auckland public transport is operated under very weak contractual conditions.

    Look at the shambles that is NZ Bus, run by an NZ-owned company but very definitely not operating in anything that could be recognised as the interests of the public or the contracting party. There’s nothing that can be done easily to rein them in, because the contracts are weak.

  8. Matt L says:

    Matt - A correction, the Western line only gets 15 min frequencies at peak where as some places out south get trains every 10 e.g. in the morning there are trains leaving Papakura at 6:52, 7:00, 7:10, 7:19, 7:25, 7:30, 7:40, 7:50, 8:01, 8:10, 8:21.

    The poor performance is not surprising given Veolia’s attitude, I took the opportunity to speak to the senior managers they have had at a few stations over the last week and of all of them the guy from Veolia was shocking. He was extremely defensive always blaming something else like works or breakdowns. I did mention that there was things they could do as well like hurry up the pedestrian like TM’s who take far to long at stops.

  9. Hood says:

    I have to say well done Jon C (sarcasm encase your wondering), you have headlined with “Veolia’s woeful punctuality” and then followed up by listing the reasons for which I must say have a lot of trouble blaming Veolia for…


    Train breakdowns

    Track & signaling problems

    Rail infrastructure issues

    Signal black outs

    Constant signal and points failures

    Mechanical issue with locomotive

    Freight train broke down

    Flooding at Britomart

    Police incident

    Network closed

    Busses unable to keep to train timetable

    Greater amount of speed restrictions than normal

    Network closures

    All of which are beyond Veolia’s control and who the hell wants to try and explain all of that to angry customers. I’m not saying a better job could not have been done from what I have heard but I wasn’t there so will avoid comment.

    It is far too easy to jump on the blame someone bandwagon as the posters above have happily participated in doing so which only helps in making this article nothing more than lower end sensationalized tabloid journalism.

    I would like to add that I am NOT a Veolia spokes person or fan boy, I am just getting very sick of miss directed blame especially through the media, including forums like this, I know people need to vent their frustration as we all do but picking the easy target does nothing but loose credibility.

    I have some comments on the posts above; some appear to be lacking in facts (I haven’t checked on the frequencies) but I would like to hear from someone who knows (from Veolia management or Kiwi Rail would be nice) the reason(s) for the lack of either frequencies or train size, is it lack of rolling stock? Lack of staff? Inability to provide frequencies until new signal system is in place? ARTA (or who ever they are now) not willing or able to pay for the services required?

    Also the difference between a good and bad TM is so great it makes one wonder what is looked for in a suitable candidate?

    Looking forward to answers but not holding my breath…

  10. Carl says:

    and they want us to pay more money?


  11. Jon C says:

    @ Hood You may some fair points - there are reasons beyond their control.
    But Veolia is acknowledging itself it can do better.
    Its biggest problem is poor communication when breakdowns occur.
    It refuses to provide reasons and explanations.
    It needs to smarten up and also at last acknowledges this.
    I have offered Veolia a voice but it refuses.

  12. Matt says:

    Matt L, so when are the 10 minute frequencies on the Western Line kicking in? I thought they were supposed to have started after the works just completed?

  13. Matt L says:

    Hood - The reasons given for lack of frequencies was all of the reasons you listed. They said out west 10 min frequencies couldn’t come until the new signalling was in place at the end of the year, there is no money to pay for new services and rolling stock is stretched until we get the EMU’s.

    As for my comment about TM’s, I wasn’t referring to any one in particular but more to the process which could easily see 5-10 seconds taken off per stop which over all stops could easily amount to 2-3 minutes which would probably put most of those trains back within the 5 min window they have for on time performance.

    Also I mentioned to them a better measure would probably be to look at actual passenger minutes late rather that % of trains. There could quite easily be the situation that they get 95% but it just so happens the 5% of trains that are late are all peak services so affect far more people than if they were off peak. It just helps to make it more accurate and they admitted they already collect the data internally.

  14. Geoff says:

    The initial cause of each delay is only part of the problem. The real problem, which Veolia are not acknowledging, is the flow-on effect caused by mixing the routes. They need to do what Wellington has just done, and decouple each individual route. Keep the west trains out west, the east trains out east, and the south trains down south. Isolate the flow-on to the line that had the initial problem.

  15. Matt says:

    Geoff, that’s easier said than done when the lines all have to mix in the Britomart tunnel, and the Western and Southern lines have to mix between Britomart and Newmarket. A not-inconsiderable number of the problems have occurred within the stretches that are shared, and that is not resolvable without the CBD tunnel to provide an alternative route.

  16. Aaron says:

    There has been an issue this morning on the trains, however Veolia Transports new text messaging system to alert passengers of issues sent the following message:

    f2¡6H(O i7, A./ D.2 ¤pO2; ¡{
    A4.2\/oP Dn9\g

    Now I’m no linguist but I don’t think anyone can decipher this.

    And even yesterday, the message below was sent..

    f2 ¡6H(O i7, A./ yN0 ¤/2 4/i 4 4=

    I hate to think how much money in indecipherable texts has been sent to people

  17. mark says:

    I was attending yesterday’s Auckland Council transport committee’s session as a spectator.

    Regarding train punctuality, a presentation by a rail and maritime union representative blamed much of the delays on low staffing levels on the train, which often made stops longer than they had to be (in addition to endangering staff and service quality).

    He also noted that for the last years, the Western Line’s delays were blamed on double-tracking, yet the line still does worse now than before double-tracking.

    He ALSO blamed poor communication - saying the train managers often are not told what the holdup is, and thus can’t calm down angry passengers.

    See the below Herald article for a partial recap of the presentation (sorry for linking to the Herald, Jon C, I know you don’t like them too much! ;-)


  18. mark says:

    Oh, and Jon - the “edit comment” functionality seems broken, at least for Firefox 3.6… screen gets black, but even after a long wait & several tries, I did not get the edit window one used to get.

  19. George D says:


    Whoever is in charge of this should lose their jobs. END OF STORY.

    Anyone who performs at 51% in a normal job would be facing the chop. But apparently you can be as bad as anything in public transport and still be smiling.

    If the contracts don’t allow this, then change the contracts, as soon as possible.

  20. George D says:

    And one in twenty five trains did not run? That is completely unacceptable. If a checkout operator failed to serve one in twenty five customers we wouldn’t accept that. Why are trains different?

  21. Matt L says:

    Mark - My experience seems to be that they always have an excuse, it is always someone elses fault.

    They claim that more staff would speed up boarding time but I actually think the opposite, more staff means more people who are getting on and off at each station which adds to time. The big problem with stops though is we have a very pedestrian attitude to them. Some people don’t even attempt to get out of their seats until the doors are already open and which makes things take even longer. People will get on and off faster if they know they will be stuck till the next stop if they dont.

  22. a recent showing of ‘Top Gear’ (unfortunately) featured the japanese trainn system- on average their trains were 2 seconds late over the entire year

  23. Nick R says:

    I believe one of the Japanese lines was so punctual that on average you would have to use it every day for four years before you experienced your first delay.

  24. Mark says:

    “They claim that more staff would speed up boarding time but I actually think the opposite, more staff means more people who are getting on and off at each station which adds to time.”

    Matt, they were not talking of BOARDING time. I didn’t understand all the technical terms, but apparently it involves checking whether all entries are clear and similar stuff. And I certainly see no reason why more staff would actually be counter-productive, as you claim.

    Would be nice if someone working (or having wrked) as a train manager could comment.

    Certainly, my gut leaning is to trust a union member rather than Veolia. Unlike Veolia, they don’t stand to gain from sugar coating performance issues.

  25. Matt L says:

    Mark - The unions have an interest to get more staff, more staff = more income for them. In many other places they have driver only operation and that is just as safe as what we have here. In Perth for example they have cameras at the station that look down the platform, when a train pulls up it automatically picks up the signal and displays it on a screen in the drivers cab. He can check to see that there is no on left on the platform and close the doors. Each door has sensors that tell him they have closed correctly and another check of the screen can confirm that no one might be caught and he can leave. If they can do it why can’t we?

    Less staff means less cost to run the trains, this means less subsidies which is good for everyone. Also if the subsidies were less it would be easier to get buy in for improvements from people like those in the current government.

  26. LucyJH says:

    I do understand that Veolia is dealing with a train system that is falling apart from years of lack of maintenance. And, also, that electrification is going on all around them which must be very disruptive.

    But what gets to me about them is their incredibly poor communication. I hardly ever catch the train because I mainly cycle. And, yet I have still frequently ended up either a) having a train cancelled with no warning, b) being told buses would take me instead but then not being able to find the bus, c) ended up on a platform bewildered and unsure when the next train will come with nobody there who can speak English to say what’s going on or d) sat on a train which has just mysteriously stopped for 20 minutes, with no update or explanation to passengers about what’s happening, when the train will start again, how long it might be delayed etc

  27. JQ says:

    Dont forget that the new signalling system in Wellington isnt going to plan and probbly wont either.
    People straight off the street with no rail experience controlling trains 400km away doesnt help, they should have left Aucklands signalling in Auckland where it belongs.

  28. Rob M says:

    I live in Tokyo for much of the time these days and I can tell you its down right embarrassing/depressing every time I come back to Auckland and see the abysmal state of our transport system - especially the trains.

    What’s worse, no one in either transport planning or in charge of developing AKL’s suburban rail network seems the slightest bit interested in either communicating with, let alone buying from Japan.

    Japan does not equal expensive at all in terms of purchasing rolling stock and related equipment for suburban rail. The Japanese are desperate now to get rail projects overseas as they keep losing out to either European or Chinese firms. Granted the Japanese have been focussing on overseas high speed rail projects but they are equally strong (and quite price competitive in fact) in ordinary suburban rail - a fact that has somehow become overlooked both in Japan & abroad.

    Japan will continue to miss out on opportunities in NZ until we start knocking on their door in earnest and properly engaging them. There are many kiwis fluent in Japanese and with deep knowledge of Japanese business practices - we should be using those people to get access to better equipment and operational expertise.

    Its time we stopped just looking at what is done in Australia, Europe & North America. The demographic in Auckland has already shifted to be an increasingly higher percentage of people of North Asian origin (Korea & China in particular). It is those people who are or shortly will be, the real users of any developments made to Auckland’s rail network and given the well developed / well operated rail systems they are used to back in their respective countries (predominantly systems, equipment and operating procedures learnt from Japan), we need to be urgently tapping into equipment and resources from Japan I believe.

  29. Patrick R says:

    Rob, it appears that this government has some special deal or off the record arrangement with the chinese….. this would explain the odd business around the ‘short’ list for the EMUs suddenly getting longer; to accommodate chinese late entrants. Well if it means better, faster, cheaper chinese kit all good, but it doesn’t look like good process to me….?

  30. Matt L says:

    Rob - There are a few Japanese companies in the mix, Hitachi was one of the initial companies on the short list as was Mitsubishi who were patterned with CAF from Spain. I don’t think we need to be knocking at their door however and begging them to make trains for us.

    The Japanese have been fiercely protective of some industries that make it very hard for international companies to compete over their e.g. NZ dairy products have huge import taxes levied against them to make them uncompetitive with local producers. Perhaps if they lifted some of these types of tariffs other countries might do more business with them, the relationship has to go both ways.

  31. Rob M says:

    Matt, its not a matter of begging - that was something I certainly did not infer in my previous post. Properly dealing with Japanese companies is what hasn’t been done. In Japan, you don’t just put out a tender and wait to see who responds. The tender issuer contacts all the potential suppliers and asks them their interest in bidding. We should have got more than just Hitachi & Mitsubishi bidding. There are several other major EMU manufacturers in Japan who I believe were not aware at all that NZ was putting out a tender.

    As for your comment about Japanese being fiercely protective of certain industries, NZ has been very good over the years at getting our dairy products into Japan and getting around the restrictions - to the point where Japan has become a very profitable market for us. We exclusively supply for example, blended sugar and milk powder to Suntory for use in cans of coffee that are sold in vending machines and convenience stores in Japan. Suntory are a major producer of canned coffee in Japan and the Japanese drink an awful lot of canned coffee (sugar and milk in). Suntory now own Frucor Beverages so the ties with NZ are even closer now. NZ up until very recently, exclusively supplied for some years, ready made dough for bread baked in Subway’s 500+ stores in Japan - getting around restrictions on imports of flour into Japan…and that’s an awful lot of bread!

    Patrick, this off the table deal with the Chinese is rather concerning. Not only does it seem that processes have not been followed in the tender management, as previously stated, the Chinese have got a large portion of their rail and rolling stock building expertise from Japan but at present, build quality and reliability of their export EMUs doesn’t necessarily always follow.

    I am certainly not China-bashing in any way but I am concerned that Japan is being yet again overlooked and unlike in previous years, they are willing to sell their quality products at lower prices just so they can stop losing out to the Chinese. Japanese rail technology losing out to China overseas is hugely embarrassing to the govt in Japan right now (its often the topic of discussion on TV and in the newspapers here). It was naivety on the part of Japan to think that their rail technology and expertise would not be used by China to then undercut Japan in overseas rail projects but the one thing still going in Japan’s favour is their build quality and attention to detail…and now (finally), their willingness to drop the price in the face of a rival bid from a Chinese firm.

    With Japan’s national pride at stake here (this point keeps getting reiterated by countless govt officials and rail industry folk here in JP these days in regard to China), this is the time for NZ to skillfully engage to Japan to get high quality kit at an attractive price.

  32. DavidByrne says:

    Going back to the original topic (punctuality) I’m more concerned about the cancellation rate of trains. Even if 95% of trains do run, that still means that 5% of them don’t. Practically, that means that on my morning and evening commute I can expect to be “stood up” completely on one trip a fortnight. If I was using a car and had to make alternative arrangements once a fortnight because my car broke down, I’d rapidly get rid of that car. Is it any wonder that some people are reluctant to use PT? Though with the loading levels on the peak hour trains as they are, perhaps we don’t want to encourage too many more passengers until the EMUs arrive and there’s the capacity to carry them - otherwise there will be endless complaints about people being left behind.

  33. Woeful Punctuality - Featured - AKT…

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……


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