Train Fail Report Blames Organisers


Not estimating the number of people likely to attend the Opening Night waterfront celebrations is the biggest factor in the night’s transport and Quay St fail.

That’s the conclusion of the independent report commissioned by Auckland Transport and conducted by law firm Meredith Connell which is kind to both AT and Veolia, instead blaming the event organisers for their appalling predictions.

It confirms event organisers had predicted up to 50,000 would attend the waterfront celebrations and Auckland Transport put in contingency for a worst case scenario of 100,000.

Yet around  200,000 attended.

Veolia’s planning was based on AT’s specification which involved 10,000 inbound passengers for Britomart. More wanted to travel on the day and the train system was overloaded by 12.30pm with people left on stations.

It says Veolia and Auckland Transport could not have done anything differently because they had based their planning on the estimates of 50,000 coming into the city and their operating plans focused principally on transporting people from the city to other destinations and Eden Park.

As it turned out, some people went to the waterfront and then to Eden Park, both wanting to use trains.

And the report warns that the events should be a “warning” for the planning of the upcoming semi and finals of the RWC.

“The planning indicates that the Auckland transport network is likely to cope with the anticipated demand but if it faced with similar numbers the risks exists that similar issues could arise.
“Limiting the number of people attending the celebrations Downtown could significantly ameliorate the issue.”

Interestingly, those who created the estimates - ATEED including hiring consultants- have escaped any independent inquiry into how they got the numbers so wrong.

What I still don’t understand if that will all the publicity and messaging inviting Auckland to come down and party at the waterfront, and leave their car at home, why did nobody thought Aucklanders, who love anything free, would not have turned up even if the event organisers insisted only 50,000 would?

In summary the issues were much as we know already:

  • Event organisers underestimating numbers
  • Poor ventilation in trains
  • Poor communications
  • Some anti social and drunk behaviour
  • Health and safety issues

Concludes the report: “With the exception of poor communication, none of these factors is a direct responsibility of Veolia. However it is the operators responsibility to act proactively when faced with any difficult situation.”



The report is kind to both Auckland Transport and train operator Veolia saying many of the problems that developed were beyond their control.

The “finite capacity and inherent limitations of the rail infrastructure meant it was difficult to rectify rail problems once they developed.”

In reply to complaints about poor communication, Veolia said the rolling messages in carriages are pre-loaded and can not be changed for real time info.

“Veolia’s view is that there was very little that could be done differently in responding to the difficult incidents of delay without serious risk to the health and safety of passengers and other members of the public.”

Veolia said that if they knew about the waterfront celebration was going to attract so many, they could have treated the waterfront celebrations as a special event although it would still be a “challenge.”

“Instead Veolia’s brief from Auckland Transport  was to run normal services to and from Britomart to Eden Park,” says the report.

“As I understand it no special arrangements were made for inbound services and no extra staff were deployed on either the trains or the stations.”

He adds with emphasis that “the decision to run normal services into the city was based on an expectation by AT that there would be additional capacity on trains brought about by largely empty trains returning to the city following an  earlier than usual rush hour.”

Demand for people to come to the waterfront was especially felt on the Southern Line.

The independent report says:

  • A through Britomart station (i.e. City Loop) would have reduced the severity of the delays at Britomart
  • The crowd control plan at Britomart was complex but relied too heavily on passengers being able to heed the signage and verbal instructions rather than the “survival instinct of the quickest and most direct route”
  •  The ventilation was either not turned to its lowest settings or inadequate for the numbers on the crowded trains. Passengers who took matters into their own hands and pulled the emergency were genuine in their personal concern
  • There was a minority of bus operators who could have helped but were not asked to assist
  • The number of buses from the North Shore was inadequate
  • Holding it on a public working day and not a public holiday did not help


There are few recommendations because the inquiry is satisfied that AT has instituted measures since then for subsequent matches.

It does recommend obviously better crowd predictions although ‘it’s not an exact science,” limiting the numbers boarding trains, a different emergency alarm system on trains although this is said to be difficult until Auckland gets modern electric trains, better communication on board  and better updates to the AT website.

This site had called for an independent inquiry -and Auckland Transport  commissioned one. Good on you AT for doing that.

Read the report here




  1. Ben says:

    Reading the report (I seriously need a tablet here seems I sit on the train 35mins each way on a regular basis).

    So a hand wringing exercise or something else.

    Better read it first before additional comment

  2. joust says:

    some sense at last.

  3. Dlyan says:

    The people I feel sorry for the most are the regular users of trains. Especially on the western line, having their trains replaced with buses for the journey home is kick in the guts for those who ensure there is a service there in the first place.

  4. Geoff says:

    Agreed Dlyan. On Sunday I needed to head west by train from Britomart, just after 5pm. Next train wasn’t until 6:50pm, although there was a rail replacement bus scheduled for 6pm.

    Instead of waiting almost an hour for the bus, I walked all the way from Britomart to Morningside, and caught a train west from there, before the bus had even left Britomart.

    Auckland rail will never be a viable replacement to motor cars for as long as they don’t offer continuous service.

    You won’t find the motorways shut for events, and rail shouldn’t be any different.

  5. Mark says:

    The 200,000 seems to be nonsense. Joel Cayford on his blog has done a good m2 analysis and come up with 70,000 or so. Which someone the Herald used also came up with.

    Report is good in laying blame at event organisers (and not really AT) - they over advertisied, didn’t forecast numbers/capacity. Anothe relement people miss is that it was the event people who got a lot of schools closed - so more families went in to the evnt. If they had normal school hours, they wouldn’t have tried going in at 4pm.

    Another elemnt that was commented on, is that th event people made the event too long ie from Whakas to fireworks - 3-4 hours, so gave more time to build up crowds.

    But most concenring element was they didn’t have the smarts to think on their feet from mid-day onwards when issues became apparent - that’s the scary bit going forward.

  6. Harry McDonald says:

    Mark: agreed. Over the years I have read crowd estimates that have just been ridiculous: 300,000 at the Santa parade. It is nowhere near that. The same with xmas in the park. The crowd figures are wild over-estimations.
    No way was there 200,000 people downtown. I have seen an estimate of 78,000 by Brian Rudman and that seems much more likely. In other words the “system” couldn’t cope with entirely reasonable crowds.

  7. Gareth says:

    “Veolia said the rolling messages in carriages are pre-loaded and can not be changed for real time info.”

    That’s ridiculous. Are they saying that the train driver is not able to talk to the passengers over the audio system?

    My sister was on a train on the afternoon of the opening night going from Papakura to Panmure. The train was not stopping at any stations with no fore-warning or communication. She ended up pulling the emergency brake so she didn’t end up at Britomart. I don’t care how over capacity they were that day, Veolia had a responsibility to the passengers on the trains to communicate properly.

  8. Julie Fairey says:

    This whole thing is making my brain melt.

    On the one hand the key error seems to be a massive underestimation of the crowds. Therefore the event organisers bear the bulk of the blame for getting that so wrong.

    On the other, if, as Cayford and Rudman contend, the crowd was actually more like 70,000 then it fits within the 100,000 worst case scenario that was supposedly being operated on. In which case why wasn’t AT etc able to cope with a crowd size supposedly within their estimates?

    And how will we ever find out?

  9. Ben says:

    @Gareth. Ummm maybe because the current SA/SD fleet (the loco hauled sets) do not have audio systems that drivers can talk to the passengers in the drivers cabs - that is only available DMU classes running around. The PA systems in the SA/SD sets are located in the actual SA Carriages which are extremely hard to access under crush loading situations - call it a flaw of the fleet if you like. So the driver couldn’t if she or he wanted to communicate they were going “express.” Also there was an extremely high chance the Train Manager could not access the PA system anyway due to crush loadings so a case of just about catch-22. Any-case a Black Friday later that issue was corrected on all Eden Park Match Day services.
    (If your sister was on a DMU then I stand corrected - but the point is still valid)

    A question though, if she was told by the Train Manager as soon as they (the on-board) knew they were expressing to Britomart and that platform staff would of guided them onto a returning service back to Panmure, would of it made a difference or would of that big red button still have been pushed?

    @Julie Fairey - I suppose we will never know short of a Royal Commission of Enquiry. And trust me I would love to know too.

  10. Gareth says:

    @Ben, of course if she’d been told that she’d be put on a bus back to Panmure she wouldn’t have hit the button. The point was that there was no communication either on the platforms or the train. She suffers severe panic attacks too. It’s very worrying that the driver can’t talk to the passengers in an emergency. I mean how hard would it be to hook that up?

    I remember being on the tube in London, stuck in an underground tunnel on a packed train in Summer. The driver told us the reason for the hold up and then amused the whole train by painting us a scene of lying on a beach in the Seychelles. It’s the little things sometimes…

  11. Tim says:

    From the event summary, it seemed that the actual delays were caused by people on the tracks, which delayed services, causing a massive downstream effect on the train service.
    Any sort of behavior on other transport corridors, i.e. motorway and airport would have promptly been dealt with by the police/security - I have only read the summary here, so assume trespassers are not in the report - surely corridor protection or violation should have been mentioned?


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