Why Wellington Trains Perform Better Than Ours


One of the puzzling questions for Auckland rail commuters is why there is - perceived at least - to be so many delays and breakdowns and monthly performance figures are not as good as those for Wellington.

Last time I was brave enough to do a post comparing the latest Auckland and Wellington performance figures, Veolia blew a fuse and said you could not compare the two systems.

Now Auckland Transport officers have done a paper comparing the two cities’ train performances and has come to Veolia’s conclusion that the two can not be fairly compared.

The report says the Wellington system is operationally less complex than Auckland’s.

Rail service punctuality has varied in Auckland over the last two years (November 2009 to October 2011) between 65% and 85% of services arriving at the destination station within 5 minutes.

On average 20.1% of scheduled trains were delayed by five minutes or more over the two year period.

The report says that on the basis of the delay minutes attribution, this can be apportioned as follows:

  • People 8.6%: Passenger factors 6.8% Staff 1.6%
  • Network 8.6%: Network control 1.1%, Track & signal faults 2.7%, speed restrictions 2%, track protection 2.8%
  • Train faults 2.2%: Engine faults 1%, door faults 0.4%, others 0.8%
  • Other causes: 0.8%

The period that this analysis covers includes two Christmas/New Year periods during which the network was closed for major upgrades following which there was a significant increase in network-related failures. Specifically these included the Newmarket station works, that caused disruptions for an extended period from January 2010 through to March 2010, and the electrification clearance works that caused disruptions from December 2010 and January 2011. Train delays caused by network issues are highly variable and are a direct consequence of the network upgrades to complete the DART Project and preparations for electrification that have been on-going since 2004.

The delays from train faults is described as being relatively small and does not vary significantly by month. However the highest proportion of service cancellations are caused by train faults (53% of the cancellations in the sample period).

Over this period, 2.2% of scheduled services were cancelled in part or in full. This includes services that commenced their scheduled trip but did not reach their scheduled destination because of a fault that developed during the course of the trip.

The following shows an apportionment of train cancellations:

  • Operations Actual 0.3% Proportion 12.4% (Mainly as a result of staff error or crew unavailability due to a previous delay)
  • Network Actual 0.5% Proportion 22.9% (Mainly as a result of track or signal faults
  • Train Faults Actual 1.2% Proportion 53.9% (Faults with trains that result in their removal from service)
  • All Other Causes 0.2% 10.9%

WELLINGTON TRAINS: Report argues reasons why their performance is better

The report argues that while Wellington currently operates a higher number of scheduled services per week than Auckland, the track infrastructure provided in Wellington has fewer network pinch-points and provides for greater resilience to recover from delays.

There are four (soon to be five) major junctions on the Auckland network where conflicts can occur between train movements on different lines – Quay Park, Newmarket, Penrose, Westfield, Wiri - compared to two junctions on the Wellington network – Kaiwharawhara and Petone.

Critically for the Auckland network, the major junction (Quay Park) is less than 1 kilometre from the main station Britomart and has two tracks in a tunnel linking five platforms. Due to emergency evacuation requirements, the approach tunnel limits the number of trains that can be “stacked” between Quay Park Junction and the Britomart platforms.

In Wellington, the main junction at Kaiwharawhara where the Kapiti and Wairarapa lines converge is 2.6 kilometres from the main Wellington Station and provides three tracks linking nine platforms (the Johnsonville Line operates in and out of Wellington Station on its own dedicated track). Train movements through the junctions on the Wellington network also minimise the requirement for trains to cross tracks ahead of another train travelling in the opposite direction.

In addition, in the Wellington operation the maintenance depot and the main daytime stabling facility are both in close proximity to Wellington Station which means empty stock movements that increase the total number of train movements on the network are limited.

The report says that Wellington has a mature and stable system with low patronage growth. That allows the operator to make better informed decisions about the allocation of rolling stock to meet the demand based on known historic loading profiles.

The mixed fleet operated in Auckland can also lead to delays as the different train types have different operating characteristics and door configurations. The diesel-multiple units accelerate and brake quicker than the locomotive-hauled trains, and there are operational performance differences between various configurations of locomotive-hauled trains. All of these factors can lead to a variation in the station dwell times and/or sectional run times.

There are differences in timetabling concepts between the two operations reflecting the geographical and travel demand differences: The Wellington rail network was designed for the operation of a high frequency suburban service while Auckland’s network was designed primarily to meet the needs of the freight operations.

A freight network does not require the same signalling or track crossings and the locations of these can constrain commuter operation flexibility.

Wellington has a lower frequency of operation at the extremities of the network compared to Auckland.

During peak travel, Wellington trains operate a layered stopping pattern meaning that the longer trains originating from the stations furthest from the CBD operate as express over the inner part of the network leaving these stations to be serviced by short running services.

This type of operation leads to uneven headways (intervals between services) at intermediate stations and at the terminal stations. With the constraints at Britomart, arrivals need to be evenly spaced in order to maximise the use of the tracks and platforms which is best managed by having even headway services with standardised stopping (all stations)

The Auckland rail performance measurement is calculated as the proportion of services that were not cancelled (reliability measure) that arrived at their destination station within five minutes of the time shown in the published timetable (punctuality). The measures are made irrespective of the cause of any cancellation or delay and represent the experience of customers. The five-minute threshold was selected as it represented the baseline used in the measurement of on-time performance for many international suburban railway systems, for example, Melbourne.

The Greater Wellington Regional Council measures performance against departures from the originating station within 3 minutes of the advertised time, or arrivals at Wellington Station within 3 minutes of the same. Failures that are attributed to non-operator causes such as network faults are not included in this measure.

AT concludes these two measures are not comparable as, using the Wellington measure, a train that departs Wellington station “on-time” but is subsequently delayed en-route is not recorded as being delayed. Trains that are delayed because of a non-operator fault such as a network infrastructure fault or rolling stock maintenance are excluded. The proportion of trains that are cancelled also appear not to be reported.

The report’s conclusion: “ Due to the above differences in performance measurement methodology and exclusion of non-operator faults, and other differences including the age and performance of infrastructure and rolling stock, network stability and upgrade activities, timetable stability and change, passenger volume change and network configuration and characteristics it is difficult to compare Auckland and Wellington performancestatistically.”

But things will improve when we get the new EMUs.




  1. ingolfson says:

    “In addition, in the Wellington operation the maintenance depot and the main daytime stabling facility are both in close proximity to Wellington Station which means empty stock movements that increase the total number of train movements on the network are limited.”

    Mmmh, our new EMU depot will be at WIRI, for Pete’s sake. Was that really such a good choice? I know there are lots of factors involved in chosing a depot (just think of the backdraft AT got when they proposed using Parnell for a much smaller bus depot), but I hope we are not going to rue having our replacement trains half a city away…

  2. Matt says:

    ingolfson, the EMUs will have quite a few years of operation before they start to get to a point where age-related failures become common. As contrasted with our current rolling stock, which is prone to age-related failure. That’s why having the depot close to the principal station is so beneficial for Wellington: there’s only a very small track window in which a train failure closes down a track. Auckland has a huge distance from principal station to depot, much of which is not able to be bypassed with any convenience.

  3. ingolfson says:

    Not quite sure what you are saying - you are saying it’s less of a concern for NOW as our trains are going to be new - BUT it’s still a bad idea to have it at Wiri?

  4. Matt says:

    It’s not ideal to have it at Wiri, but once the CRL and Avondale-Southdown are completed it won’t be so serious because a breakdown on any part of the tracks will be easier to bypass. We’ll also have at least a decade, probably more like two, to improve the track network to make bypasses easier still before we get to the point of age-related reliability issues starting to occur in the way they do now.
    Longer term, I don’t think having it at Wiri is a huge problem. The EMUs will be absolutely more reliable than the diesels, even as they age, and it’s the reliability which makes having the depot a long way from the principal station a big risk to service reliability.

  5. Mike says:

    Sir Humphrey Appleby would be proud of this wonderful piece of bureaucratic “why-not” wool pulling by Auckland Transport. Just wait two or three years and she’ll be right. I doubt that this is the attitude that the Japanese adopted to make their trains run on time, all the time.

  6. dj says:

    I think the cost of land in the city now it would be crazy tobuild EMU depot. Where as if they going to build it where they are leveling it by the old Wiri station, Kiwi Rail proably already own it as it used to be a ballast pit for the old NZR.

  7. Geoff Houtman says:

    Hey they’re both better than Tauranga’s…


  8. Matt L says:

    I don’t think it is the actually maintenance depot that makes the big difference but having stabling so close to the main station. Currently when we get to the off peak we have to send a whole heap of trains back out on a 20-30 minute journey back to the suburbs. There has been talk about putting a stabling facility at the strand to help with this but for some reason it never seems to get done (I have seen reports of it happening soon from more than 4 years ago).

  9. Geoff says:

    Jville trains stay on the Jville line, Kapiti trains stay on the Kapiti line, and Hutt trains stay on the Hutt line. Simple.

    Auckland’s trains change routes, meaning delays on one line affect all other lines.

    Auckland needs to decouple the lines, and keep trains on fixed routes all day. It’s so much simpler.

  10. ingolfson says:

    “I don’t think it is the actually maintenance depot that makes the big difference but having stabling so close to the main station”

    Matt L - the Wiri depot will be a stabling AND maintenance facility, as I understand it. But hey, checking helps - I just realised that they only intend to stable 28 EMU’s there.


    So the rest will obviously be elsewhere…

  11. Matt L says:

    Ingolfson - yes the rest will be spread around which is the intention of the distributed stabling project that ARTA started. Henderson has just been expanded and can hold up to 18 EMU’s (9 trains), there is stabling at Papakura and also plans for one in town.

  12. Tim says:

    There are actually three major junctions in Welly - the one on the end of the platforms where the units come from stables, the carriages and locos come from their depots, trains arrive and depart for all lines.
    Still, that leaves AK with 2 more than welly but really, with their fancy new signalling system only Newmarket and Quay Park should be complex, owing to the density or movements.
    Also, the benefits of electric vs. network appear to be underplayed, and could be the main basis as to why you really can’t compare the two systems!

  13. wellington commuter says:

    I would like to point out that yes although alot of the problems on the Auckland rail network is to do with mechanical faults and breakdowns and out of date rolling stock, may I remind you that here in wellington, we’re still riding round on trains from as early as 1948 (English electric EMU’s) and the Ganz Mavag’s from the late 70′s, and we’re are only just starting to see the implementation of the Matangi EMU’s.


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