Wellington Scoop

Daran Ponter wants hybrid trains for Kāpiti and Wairarapa commuters

Press Release – Greater Wellington Regional Council
Regional Council chair Daran Ponter says the $1.35bn infrastructure announcement by government today is a good boost for the region, a solid green light for getting regional passenger rail moving and that the next stop would be securing a funding package for hybrid trains.

“The $211mMillion rail package funds most of the track improvements put to government in a recent business case for regional rail from Greater Wellington and Horizons Regional Council. The next step is to sit down with government and secure urgent funding for new Wellington region hybrid trains to stop passengers being packed like sardines within the next five years,” says Chair Ponter.

Population growth in the Wellington region has accelerated much faster than forecast over the last five years according to census data which shows an increase of 35,000 people against an initial forecast of 24,000.

“The state of the art hybrid trains would run on electricity from overhead power wires, switching to alternative energy sources north of Waikanae and Upper Hutt – improving customer experience and increasing service frequency on the Wairarapa and Manawatu corridors,” says Chair Ponter.

Chair Ponter also welcomed news of the $817m four lane State Highway 1 upgrade from Otaki to north of Levin, safety improvements for State Highway 58, and the $258m green light for the Melling Interchange development.

“Riverlink and the Melling interchange is a huge flood protection project right on the door-step of the Lower Hutt CBD. This funding will ensure that the residents and businesses of the Lower Hutt valley can keep their feet dry for generations to come, while being a huge catalyst for transforming the CBD area and better integrating public transport, cycling and walking,” says Chair Ponter.

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  1. Clyde Mcleod, 29. January 2020, 19:05

    What’s a Hybrid Train?

  2. Cr Daran Ponter, 29. January 2020, 20:06

    Otherwise, and perhaps better described as “dual mode” trains.

    In Wellington this might mean they run on electric lines to Waikanae and Upper Hutt and then battery electric or diesel on to Palmerston North and Masterton.

  3. Guy M, 30. January 2020, 6:08

    Daran, great to hear that battery hybrids are being considered – sounds like a good idea (and presumably simple to charge the battery whilst running from Wellington to Waikanae). What plans are there for extending the electric lines themselves from Waikanae 15km northwards to Otaki and then another 66km onto Palmerston North?

  4. Kerry, 30. January 2020, 9:53

    Daran. Dual-mode trains are an interesting idea. A KiwiRail problem is that Wellington’s electric overhead system is 1500 Volts direct current, while Auckland, and the central North Island, use 25,000 Volts alternating current. Dual-voltage locomotives are generally simple enough, sometimes for up to 5 different voltages, but not so simple in Wellington. The combination of steep gradients and the lowest voltage used for overhead power on railways will need expensive upgrades if 1500VDC is retained.

    New dual-mode trains could be either Wairarapa-style locomotives and carriages, or Matangi-style multiple units. Initial power supply could be 1500 VDC to Upper Hutt or Waikanae, then diesel to Masterton or Palmerston North.
    There several options available for new dual-mode electric trains:
    — 25kVAC and 1500VDC, with the Matangis retained.
    — 25kVAC and 3000VDC, with the Matangis converted to the higher voltage (the Dutch have already done this, to manage power demand).
    — 25kVAC throughout, with the Matangis replaced.

    Effective through-running of electric locomotives will make rail freight more competitive, although I have no idea which of these will be cheapest, or even worthwhile. But dual-mode trains will be a good opportunity to explore options.

  5. Mike Mellor, 30. January 2020, 17:39

    Kerry, I’m not sure why you think 1500V DC is a “problem” for the hybrid trains that Daran is describing. Agreed that it would be good if Auckland and Wellington electrification systems were the same, but multi-voltage AC/DC rolling stock is becoming more and more common (some British rolling stock intended for use on DC networks also has AC capability, because it’s neither difficult nor expensive).

    But sadly the two electrification systems are unlikely to connect in the near future (it would be great if they did!), so DC hybrids for Wellington regional services look like a good option, and they would still be useful even if Auckland’s and Wellington’s overhead wires were to meet up. New stock is definitely needed: the Capital Connection and Wairarapa carriages are approaching their 50th birthdays.

    Japan, France and the Netherlands are extensive users of the same voltage as in Wellington for both passenger and freight trains, so there’s plenty of DC expertise and experience out there.

  6. Keith Flinders, 30. January 2020, 19:28

    If Wellington City commuters have no option but to use noisy polluting ex 15 years old Auckland buses on the east-west routes (Euro 3 together with a few Euro 4), then why do those who don’t pay rates in this region expect to have new trains on a relatively low passenger number sector?

    Sitting unused in the middle of the North Island are many disused DMUs ex Auckland “rotting” away. Why can’t a few of these be be fitted with new engines and be used Waikanae – Palmerston North, with passengers transferring to and from the Matangi units at the Waikanae train hub. It will be at a couple of decades, likely longer, before electrification north of Waikanae can be justified for freight train use once the power capacity issues Kerry points out are overcome. Another option for the old Auckland DMUs is to convert them to battery operation with solar powered charging facilities at both Waikanae and Palmerston North.

    In the UK, Vivarail Ltd are converting old D Stock London Underground passenger cars to battery operation, some as old as the Capital Connection carriages. Old doesn’t mean dead.

  7. Mike Mellor, 30. January 2020, 21:17

    Keith, the London Underground D stock is nearly 10 years younger than the Capital Connection and Wairarapa cars, and has the advantage of corrosion-free aluminium bodies. The Auckland diesel trains are a bit younger, but the passenger experience was pretty shocking in terms of noise and vibration before most of them were withdrawn a few years ago. I very much doubt that spending lots of money on them could be justified, and a combination of worse trains and changing at Waikanae (which would be time consuming since the layout there is not designed for that to happen) would probably mean that patronage would plummet. Daran’s hybrid solution, which has no power-capacity or operational issues, makes a lot of sense.

    The Capital Connection is supported by both GW and Horizons regional councils and the Wairarapa trains by GW, so people who use those trains will be paying rates in those regions.

    No denying that the old dungers on the east-west spine need replacing, though – it’s pretty shocking that over 18 months after the new network was introduced there’s still no sign of any new buses on this core route.

  8. Cr Daran Ponter, 30. January 2020, 23:08

    @ Guy M – extending the electric line to Otaki and Palmerston North is canvassed in the business case but hugely expensive.

    @ Keith Flinders – the bulk of the new train purchase will be for patronage growth on our current electric lines, which is sitting between 6-8% per annum in the peak. If we sit one our hands, then we will be stuff in 3-5 years. If we get to that point, we may then need to look at closing lower patronage lines (Eg Melling; Johnsonville) for the lines that do the heavy lifting (Eg Kapiti and Hutt).

    Announcement of more EV buses coming soon. Sale of NZ Bus to Next Capital has dramatically improved progress.

  9. Keith Flinders, 31. January 2020, 10:18

    Mike Mellor: Perhaps the Regional Council ought to be talking with Vivarail as to if converted D Stock units would be suitable for here, especially to Masterton. My last journey on an Auckland DMU, some years ago, was that I didn’t find it any noisier than one on a current east – west Wellington bus where one is on the verge of needing hearing protection. Even the new Auckland and Wellington buses are very noisy both inside and out.

    Why should users of the Capital Connection service not expect to have to change trains enroute on a 140 km journey ? Creating a passenger train hub at Waikanae would not appear to be a difficult project. For the passengers there will be a time penalty but they elect to live in one centre and work in another.

    My recent enquiries about the Capital Connection fares turned out to be long winded, as Metlink don’t have the details if one phones their 0800 number. From what I gather, a single trip along the entire route is $35.00 with a concession available at $25.50 and further reductions for monthly passes. Compare that cost with a single train journey from Leicester to north London in the UK, covering the same distance, where a standard fare is $120.00.

    Users of Capital Connection appear to be enjoying a massive subsidy at the expense of others who don’t use the service. The deployment of luxury coaches Waikanae to Palmerston would likely be more cost effective, take less time when the extended Kapiti bypass is operational, and contribute less pollution.

  10. Keith Flinders, 31. January 2020, 10:38

    Daran: To give your argument some context can you provide daily passenger numbers for those who travel from Wellington but beyond Waikanae and beyond Upper Hutt, please. Are you expecting the same degree of passenger numbers uplift for the Manawatu and Wairarapa services also ? I am not questioning the need for capacity increases on the services to/from Waikanae and Upper Hutt, requirements that are far more complex and expensive than simply adding more Matangis.

    Before Christmas, was the Regional Council’s announcement that the number of EV buses would increase to 80 by the end of 2020? We currently have 10 in the Tranzurban fleet. Transurban were expected to add another 10 this year. So can we assume that NZ Bus under new owners will add 60 EV buses this year, and will both companies add even more in 2021 ?

  11. Mike Mellor, 31. January 2020, 13:51

    Keith: Leicester’s actually 20km further from London that Palmerston North is from Wellington, and their trains are much faster and much, much more frequent, so comparisons are a bit fraught.

    All Metlink and Horizons public transport users enjoy a subsidy at the expense of non-users, because non-users benefit substantially from their provision – why should the Capital Connection be any different?

    No argument that the service you envisage could be provided, but at a cost (rail infrastructure modifications are neither cheap nor simple!) and with a time and convenience penalty such that the patronage loss would probably mean that the service would be withdrawn, with the passengers clogging up the roads instead (And history shows that when trains are replaced by buses, patronage generally drops significantly). I don’t see that as a good outcome.

  12. Casey, 31. January 2020, 16:32

    Living at the city end of Karori, one pays 75 cents/km to travel into the CBD during the peak period with the concession offered using a Snapper card. Usually one has to stand during the entire journey. 75 cents/km is almost the same as the train example in the UK Keith mentioned.

    Travelling from Palmerston North on the Capital Connection the cost is around 18 cents/km with the concession rate of $25. Why the vast difference when NZTA subsidise the Karori journey, and apparently don’t, or at least didn’t, subsidise the Palmerston North one because it ran between different regional authorities? Interestingly the train to Waikanae costs 18 cents/km and the train to Upper Hutt 22 cents/km, both based on peak times using adult concession rates. Rail users are getting an absolute bargain, bus users are not.

    Mike you may be correct that changing the train at Waikanae may see some electing to drive, but not a major number. However what will be interesting to observe will be the traffic gridlock when Transmission Gully opens and the predicted number, 25%, of Kapiti commuters using their cars instead of the train. Time for peak hour congestion charging to be introduced on roads, perhaps.

  13. Dave B, 31. January 2020, 18:22

    @ Cr Daran Ponter:
    “… we may then need to look at closing lower patronage lines (Eg Melling; Johnsonville) for the lines that do the heavy lifting (Eg Kapiti and Hutt).” Dangerous words, even if meant merely as a prod to the Govt to get on and fund those new hybrid trains. But loose words can cost lives. Next we will be buying more old diesel buses from Auckland to replace the electrified rail lines GWRC have just closed!

    Much better to take steps to boost patronage on these lesser-used lines (something our transport authorities tend to be fairly passive about), and strengthen the case for more trains overall, rather than make threats to play one rail line off against another. Meanwhile find a better way to twist the Govt’s arm over funding for more trains.

  14. Cr Daran Ponter, 31. January 2020, 20:30

    @DaveB – double edged sword. I agree with increasing patronage but the primary mode shift mechanism is reducing fares, and I didn’t see a change to the Funding Assistance Rates (FAR rate) in the Government’s infrastructure announcements.

    Don’t want to remove services on any line but if it comes to that the Melling and Johnsonville lines are the likely two candidates as they can be more easily replaced by buses for a period.

  15. Cr Daran Ponter, 31. January 2020, 20:44

    @Casey – You can currently fly 12 cents a kilometre Wellington to London – point being that generally the longer the distance the lower the per kilometre fare. On the Metlink Network fares per kilometre are generally lower the more fare zones you travel through.

    Note that the Capital Connection service is subsidised.

  16. Cr Daran Ponter, 31. January 2020, 20:51

    @ Keith Flinders – Final negotiations are in progress with Tranzurban and NZ Bus for additional 100% EVs for Wellington City. Details likely in February/March.

  17. Dave B, 1. February 2020, 5:10

    Daran, a significant reason for the loss of patronage on the Johnsonville Line, at least from J’ville itself, is the much longer journey time compared with the new high-frequency bus, which does Jville-Wgtn Station in 13-15min (longer during peaks), compared to 23min by train (which can often stretch out to 25+ mins). For many decades the train took 21 mins, but for various reasons concerning the Matangis, the timetable was slackened. Some of these reasons no longer apply, so every opportunity should be taken to speed the service back up.

    Melling has also suffered journey-time increases, mainly I understand due to track-condition on the branch, so this needs to be fixed.

    Of course the other reason for depressed patronage is the lack of penetration by the rail system further into the CBD and beyond. This obviously detracts from all the lines, but potentially affects the shorter lines more as the motoring alternative is less-onerous over these stretches. The clear message since the 1950’s has been that the rail system needs extending, but we have closed our collective minds to this need for the last 50 years. While this cannot be achieved at the snap of anyone’s fingers, it would certainly be good if GW would at least recognize the need and get it firmly lodged in regional plans.

    And a simple thing that can be done to encourage patronage is off-peak fares. Sure, we have these now, but they have become difficult to access since they are no longer sold on the train, and are no longer available for single journeys. This is an incredibly retrograde step and a mean-spirited snub to discretionary users. Why on earth was the easy-availability of these fares discontinued? This could very-easily be fixed.

  18. Brendan, 1. February 2020, 9:09

    Weird how much rail is subsidised, but the Regional Council still subsidises a faster bus service! Ratepayers footing half the doubled subsidy!

  19. GrahamCA, 1. February 2020, 12:24

    Brendan there is a logic as each peak hour train can carry the equivalent of 7 or 8 buses so replacing a 15 minute train service would probably require another 30+ buses (and drivers) adding to the congestion in Ngauranga Gorge and the CBD. Plus the Johnsonville line serves a significant catchment without a bus service so more buses would be required to provide a service for these commuters.

    Not forgetting that the bus timetable assumes no unforeseen delays on SH1 or the Hutt Road!!

  20. Mike Mellor, 1. February 2020, 13:44

    Brendan, that’s not weird at all. GWRC’s Metlink runs a public transport network, including half-a-dozen or so routes (including the train) that run between central Wellington and Johnsonville, by a variety of routes with different journey times. These routes serve different catchments, and they are all supported by ratepayers (and taxpayers) for the benefits they bring to non-users as well as users.

  21. Brendan, 1. February 2020, 18:24

    Subsidising one service (say rail) is fine but if another company (say Mana bus) runs a ‘duplicate’ faster service then let them do it commercially with no subsidy from me the ratepayer.

  22. D.W., 1. February 2020, 18:30

    Why don’t buses ‘hub’ into Jville? Why do Jville diesel buses run largely empty through the CBD noisily polluting our air?

  23. John Rankin, 1. February 2020, 18:52

    @CrDaranPonter said: “the primary mode shift mechanism is reducing fares” but @DaveB’s comment that “a significant reason for the loss of patronage on the Johnsonville Line … is the much longer journey time compared with the new high-frequency bus” is more in line with the evidence. According to the research, journey time is the primary driver for mode shift.

    The head of the research group at Tampere University’s Transport Research Centre, Heikki Liimatainen, said making public transport free is not a solution in itself without broader urban development goals and business plans.

    “Free public transportation increases the number of passengers … but the shift is mainly from pedestrians and cyclists, and hardly takes drivers from their cars,” Liimatainen said. According to Liimatainen, research in various cities has found that car traffic is not necessarily reduced once public transport fees are waived, but rather when parking costs are increased.

    “If a door-to-door journey on public transport takes as long as it does by car, half of commuters will take public transport and half will drive their cars. If the same trip by bus or train is one-and-a-half times longer, public transport use drops by 25 percent. If the journey is twice as long as in a car, then no one other than those who have no other means will use public transport,” Liimatainen said.

    To grow rail and bus patronage and encourage a shift from the private car, start by reducing the journey times for public transport users.

  24. Mike Mellor, 1. February 2020, 21:45

    Brendan: the various services complement rather than duplicate each other. None of the Johnsonville services operate commercially and they’re all part of a network from which you as a ratepayer benefit, so why shouldn’t you contribute?

    DW: buses do hub at Johnsonville, with some nice quiet non-polluting electric buses into the CBD, reasonably well loaded when I use them.

  25. Casey, 2. February 2020, 11:35

    Daran: 12 cents/km and a guaranteed seat too, what luxury, so should we be turning to the airlines for advice on how to run a cost effective, efficient, and non subsidised transport system? I jest of course.

    Looking at the Metlink fare zones map, then Karori/Northland ought to be in Zone 2, being half the distance that Petone is from Wellington railway station, or about the same distance the Zoo is from the Station. The Zoo is in Zone 2. The northern reaches of Wadestown in Zone 2 are as far as Karori is from the CBD. Balance and fairness are my concerns, not the fares levied, as relatively bus fares are a lot less expensive now than they were in the 1970s and 1980s.

    Karori has suffered from an inadequate and over crowded peak hour bus service for several years, even before the disastrous 2018 changes. Before November 2017 we did at least have the choice to travel in quiet non polluting buses, and hope that this option will return in 2020.

  26. John C., 2. February 2020, 11:47

    Why run electric buses from J’ville when there is an electric train? I bet a lot of passengers are free Gold Card users too. Pity us rate-payers I say!

  27. Cr Daran Ponter, 2. February 2020, 20:14

    @ John Rankin – Yes working on journey times re buses, with a major push this year on bus priority (lanes, lights, removal of car parking). And greater emphasis will need to be placed on synchronising between mode (bus / train). But resetting fares is equally important, given the significant bureaucratic hurdles to getting a new fare schema in place.

  28. Concerned Wellingtonian, 3. February 2020, 5:59

    I think it is wonderful that Daran Ponter is answering so many of our concerns.
    Many thanks!

  29. Guntao Stem, 3. February 2020, 9:47

    Bureaucratic hurdles? GWRC creates 90% of the bureaucracy … Bus and train services would run better without GWRC as they did before 1990.

  30. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 3. February 2020, 13:27

    Guntao. The 1990/1 review resulted in significant better services at lower overall cost than previously. Before 1991, the various public transport providers (NZ Rail/Road Services, WCC, EBC, Newlands Coach, Mana Coach etc) had no regional coordination and their own timetables, information systems, fare structures, ticketing etc. Granted, GWRC still haven’t provided a fully integrated ticketing system, but at least there is a common fare & discount structure. Oh, and under the old system, city workers and shoppers had to walk to Stout St or Bunny St to access buses to Newlands, Khandallah and J’Ville.
    With Daran Ponter now at the helm and other progressive GWRC councillors, we will see a resurgence in innovation and improvement to greater Wellington’s public transport network.
    CCF (Manager, PT, GWRC 1990-1993)

  31. Brendan, 3. February 2020, 15:42

    I bet the system before 1990 was a lot cheaper as my GWRC rates bill keeps increasing for services I never use.

  32. GrahamCA, 3. February 2020, 16:54

    What has to be remembered Brendan is that prior to 1990 the taxpayer provided bus services to Khandallah & Ngaio, most of the Hutt Valley and Wainuiomata and Titahi Bay; the Eastbourne Council provided the only profitable council-owned service in New Zealand; Newlands was serviced by a private company as were some suburbs in Porirua; and Wellington ratepayers picked up the substantial losses on the Wellington City routes. No services, apart from the services run by NZRRS which were timetabled to link with trains, had transfer facilities.

  33. Mike Mellor, 3. February 2020, 19:07

    Brendan: you might never use bus services, but you almost certainly benefit from their existence.

  34. Northland, 3. February 2020, 23:15

    @Cr Daran Ponter – can you please get every bus fitted and enabled with GPS so that the real time bus timetable boards show the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth all the time every time. Currently the Mairangi 13 and 22 services are abysmal in this respect with mostly a guessing game as to whether your bus will be turning up or not

  35. Brendan, 4. February 2020, 10:01

    @Mike Mellor – my ears, lungs and health don’t benefit from the old noisy diesel buses chugging through the city centre. GWRC should advise people to wear face masks and earphones.

  36. Karori Pete, 4. February 2020, 10:04

    Rail users should pay for rail station car parking like overseas cities have been doing for decades. Why promote people to drive half the way and get free all-day car parking at rate-payer expense?

  37. steve doole, 4. February 2020, 11:13

    Northland, GPS is already fitted to buses that have GWRC Snapper ticketing – up to 5 GPS units on each. 1 is in the Real Time Information system. 2 are for Snapper – the sensors are not in the driver console.
    Errors in Bus RTI display information are multiple. My understanding is that when a timetabled bus ‘trip’ is not started within 10 minutes of departure time, RTI uses the timetable information to progress the ‘trip’. On the displays at major stops this is indicated by the letters ‘sched’. No bus may actually be moving for a ‘sched’ trip. The common name for this situation is ‘ghost bus’. Ten minutes after scheduled departure from each stop, usually with the trip shown near the top of a sign, the trip is no longer displayed.
    RTI tracking is initiated by Snapper ticket machine on the bus sending a signal to bus RTI equipment at the start of a bus ‘trip’. If a driver is unable to select the correct timetabled trip on the bus ticket machine for any reason – there are several – RTI display will not be accurate. If the driver selects a trip that is timed later, the bus will be tracked on RTI screens ok but the intended service will show on RTI signs as Sched as well as the later timed service. Of course, if the driver sets off as soon as able using a later trip, the later trip will then be recorded as running early!
    Also on some bus types, Snapper GPS was known to drop out – the location of the aerial devices was suspected 18 months ago. Do you know whether routes 13 and 22 are generally by the same bus type? And how often are trips shown as sched ?
    These problems were apparent before bustastrophe began. I suspect councillors haven’t have enough influence to fix them.

  38. Cr Daran Ponter, 4. February 2020, 13:24

    It was a positive announcement from the Government for $211 million of track upgrades, passing loops, signalling and stabling/maintenance facilities for new trains. Now, we just need the final commitment for $300 Million for new dual mode trains to cater for significant growth on the metropolitan rail network and to replace end of life carriages on the Wairarapa and Palmerston North lines. The lobbying continues! Here is the link to the Business Case for Regional Trains. You will see that the Business Case canvases a number of options including full electrification of the network.

  39. Dave B, 4. February 2020, 15:27

    Cr Daran Ponter: Thanks Daran. I had not thought to look on the GW website for this. This will be very interesting to peruse.

  40. Keith Flinders, 4. February 2020, 16:27

    Daran: Hopefully we will see the bus report soon also.

    The Manawatu line last year had an average 258 passengers per business day in each direction. 134,000 users total. At the concession rate of $25 per journey (quoted by KiwiRail), average, this brings in a fare box recovery of $3.354 million. What is the difference between fare box recovery and what KiwiRail charge to run the service ?

    The two regional councils pick up the tab for the difference, so what does it cost the Wellington region ratepayers alone ?

  41. Cr Daran Ponter, 4. February 2020, 20:09

    Here is the link to the Business Case for Regional Trains. You will see that the Business Case canvases a number of options including full electrification of the network.


  42. Andy Mellon, 5. February 2020, 12:42

    Interesting business case. I would probably like to understand the balanced scorecard a bit more. Environmental concerns could be weighted a bit higher, and to rule out option 6 because of high capital cost when the low end investment isn’t much higher than the high end investment of option 5 seems a bit off. Similarly, the overall cost of option 6 when compared to some of the recently announced road investment is reasonably favourable. Option 6 also ignores the ancillary benefits of full electrification to PN with respect to non-commuter services. I think it would be reasonable to have included non-commuter benefits in the BCR assessment. Which then raises the question of there being a 7th scenario of ‘full electrification to PN and option 5 equivalent for the Wairarapa’

    As with all of these sort of assessments (from a cynical standpoint and experience) you can usually get the answer you want be manipulating the scorecard and BCR calculations in small ways. Not saying that’s definitely the case here, but the devil is always in the detail.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing the link. An interesting read.