22 Oct 2014

Auckland commuters catch capital

8:59 am on 22 October 2014

Auckland has replaced Wellington for the first time as the country's capital for rail commuting.

Auckland's fast-rising use of trains has hit 12 million trips in a year, passing Wellingtons 11.9 million for the year to September and is another milestone for a city where the suburban rail network was at death's door a little over 20 years ago.

Commuters wait to board a south-bound train. A new timetable at the end of the year is expected to boost weekend services.

Commuters wait to board a south-bound train. A new timetable at the end of the year is expected to boost weekend services. Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

It has taken Auckland just seven months to move from a rolling annual tally of 11 million in March to 12 million in September, helped by the progressive rollout of new electric trains.

Wellington's patronage is also rising, but at a far slower rate. The capital's manager of rail operations Angus Gabara, expects the city to reach the 12 million annual target by the end of this year.

Auckland Transport's chair Lester Levy expects the rising patronage to continue, with a new timetable commencing at the end of the year, boosting weekend services.

The rise of the rail in Auckland is due to a multi-billion investment in the network over the past decade, building new stations, electrifying the network and buying a new fleet of trains.

New branch lines have been added to Onehunga and Manukau - the first to be served by the Spanish-built electric trains - which will extend to the main lines next year.

Auckland's 12 million milestone and new status as the rail capital comes at an opportune time for mayor Len Brown, who this morning is in Wellington for his first meeting with Prime Minister John Key and senior ministers in the new Government.

Mr Brown is trying to persuade the Government to advance it's commitment to co-fund the city's downtown rail tunnel from 2020.

He said there had been a million and a half more trips this year alone, and the next target is 15 million trips next year.

Mr Brown said patronage would increase even more when all the lines are fully electrified.

But he said that Wellington was still doing better than Auckland when populations were taken into account.

One of the Government's conditions for an earlier to funding date is that the city's rail patronage should reach 20 million trips in a year.

The council's most recent report suggests that target might be reached before 2020, but not early enough to trigger funding for its proposed start date of 2016 for the $2.4 billion project.

Wellington Matangi trains have been pulled from service for an urgent inspection.

Wellington is expected to reach the 12 million trips mark by the end of the year. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

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