Metropolitan (metro) passenger rail services operate in two cities: Auckland and Wellington.

Auckland Metro Rail

Rail plays an important role in Auckland’s transport system, particularly in providing for travel to and from the CBD. Since Britomart (Auckland’s downtown station) opened in 2003, Auckland’s rail patronage has increased rapidly from 2.5 million trips per year to 13.9 million trips per year as at the end of June 2015.

Key players in Auckland metro rail

Key projects

The Auckland metro rail upgrade

The Government is funding a major $1.7 billion upgrade of the Auckland metro rail network and trains. The upgrade has three components:

Project DART

The Government is investing $600 million of projects to improve the capacity, reliability and reach of Auckland’s rail network, collectively known as Project DART (Developing Auckland’s Rail Transport). These projects are being managed by KiwiRail and are now largely complete.

The key components are:

  • Duplication of the Western Line (complete)
  • Newmarket rail upgrade (complete)
  • Re-opening of the Onehunga branch line (complete)
  • Construction of a new rail link at Manukau (complete)
  • Network-wide improvements to safety and reliability (on-going).

Auckland Electrification Project

The Government is investing $500 million to electrify Auckland’s rail network from Swanson to Papakura , complemented with a state-of-the-art signalling and train control system. The project is called the Auckland Electrification Project (AEP).

Project DART spearheaded a step change in the infrastructure of Auckland’s rail network, culminating with the electrification of all passenger lines with a 25kVac traction system.

The new signalling system will provide traction immunity, headways of up to 24 trains per hour and safety improvements with the introduction of modern equipment and Automatic Train Protection (ATP).

The AEP has enabled the introduction of new electric trains on the Auckland rail services.

Electric trains

In September 2011 a funding and ownership agreement was reached between the Government and the Auckland Council to purchase 57 three-car electric trains for the Auckland network.

The funding and ownership package comprises the following:

  • A $500 million Crown loan to purchase electric trains will be made to Auckland Council.
  • Funding assistance from the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA)(external link) to help Auckland Council repay the loan.
  • A $90 million Crown grant to assist in funding the additional trains.
  • Auckland Council will meet any additional purchase costs incurred above the Crown funding.
  • Auckland Transport will take ownership of a new depot and 57 new three-car trains, along with existing non-electrified rolling stock, and will become responsible for all rolling stock maintenance.
  • The Crown (through KiwiRail) will retain ownership of below ground assets including track, signals and power supply. The current infrastructure upgrade and electrification programmes will be completed to bring the network to a more functional and reliable standard.
  • Auckland Transport will pay a track access charge to KiwiRail, partly subsidised by NZTA, reflecting the fair and actual cost of maintaining the tracks and other assets.

The funding package will give the Auckland region more independence and flexibility around how they run services, while passengers can look forward to faster and more reliable electric trains.

The first of the electric trains began operating in Auckland on 28 April 2014, and are expected to be operating on all lines by mid to late 2015.

Auckland City Rail Link

The Auckland City Rail Link (CRL) is a 3.4 km double-track underground rail line running beneath the central business district from Britomart to the Western (North Auckland) Line near the existing Mount Eden Station, with two underground stations in the CBD.

The CRL is one of Auckland’s top transport priorities, and the Government is working with Auckland Council to bring forward funding for the project.

Wellington Metro Rail

Wellington’s first electrified suburban rail service was introduced on the Johnsonville Line in July 1938. Further electrification of lines continued up until the early 1980s.
Today the Wellington metro trains form part of Metlink, which is the network of bus, train and harbour ferry services planned and controlled by the Greater Wellington Regional Council(external link).

The metro trains are operated under contract by TranzMetro, a KiwiRail subsidiary, utilising a five-line 154-kilometre network.

Around 101 kilometres of the network is electrified with 1500 V direct current overhead lines. The only part of the network not electrified is the Wairarapa Line between Upper Hutt and Masterton, and the Wairarapa Connection trains are diesel-hauled.

Rail patronage has increased from 10 million a year in 2001 to 11.8 million a year in 2013.

In 2011/12 the Wellington Regional Rail Programme was completed. This programme included:

  • the upgrade of the rail network to power the new Matangi fleet
  • improvements to the Kaiwharawhara throat which had been a major cause of service delays
  • extension of the electrified network to include the new Waikanae station and
  • the completion of the new Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) maintenance depot.

A further rail upgrade package was announced in 2011 when Greater Wellington Regional Council acquired ownership of the rolling stock and most of the stations and related assets used for metro rail services. The Government provided $88.4 million to renew the rest of the signalling and traction assets on the network.

Since 2008, the Government has provided a total of $485 million for the upgrade of the metro rail service. This has provided the bulk of funding for rail network infrastructure and new electric Matangi trains.

In November 2012 the last of Wellington’s new 48 2-car Matangi trains completed testing and all the new trains became available for passenger service.

In the same month the Greater Wellington Regional Council decided to purchase 35 additional Matangi trains. Previously it had been intended to refurbish some of the Ganz-Mavag fleet for peak period service over another ten years working life.

Purchasing additional Matangi will mean extended warranties, smaller spare parts inventories, simpler driver training and the entire fleet will have a working life of 30 years. The second batch of Matangi is likely to start arriving in Wellington in 2015.

The Metropolitan Rail Operating Model

In September 2009 the Cabinet Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee agreed that the key public policy transport objectives for the metro rail transport system should be:

  • to increase economic growth and productivity by reducing congestion on urban roads and by more efficient utilisation of the transport network
  • to provide transport choice for users
  • to integrate rail with other modes of transport
  • to reduce the environmental impact of the transport system. [EGI Min (09) 21/8 refers]

The Committee agreed that the roles of the parties involved in the purchase and delivery of metro rail services should be as clear as possible.

The metropolitan rail operating model should apply similarly in Auckland and Wellington metro rail services.

Since the date of the Committee’s decision a number of significant metro rail project decisions have taken place which have in some cases reinforced, and in some cases varied, the Committee’s decision. These projects have been approved by the Cabinet. They include the purchase of the new electric multiple units for Auckland, the further upgrade of the Wellington rail network, decisions on the ownership of rolling stock and metro rail stations and on the funding of metro rail capital and operations.

The following material sets out the elements of the metropolitan rail operating model, as they are currently applied.

Roles of the parties

Planning, specifying and purchasing metro rail services

The Auckland and Wellington regions are responsible for planning, specifying and purchasing metro rail services. For Auckland the regional authorities are the Auckland Council and Auckland Transport. For Wellington the regional authority is the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

Ownership of metro rail rolling stock and stations

The regions own the metro rail rolling stock and stations (with a few exceptions).

The maintenance and stabling of the rolling stock is a regional responsibility.

Provision of rail network infrastructure

KiwiRail is responsible for providing the rail network infrastructure (ie track, overhead power supply, signals and platforms).

Contractual arrangements relating to access to the rail network and use

Contractual arrangements are agreed between KiwiRail and the regions relating to access to the rail network and use. The access agreements include track access charges and conditions of access. The track access charges provide funds for the operation and maintenance and renewal of the rail network infrastructure.

Funding of metro rail operating costs

Metro rail services are funded from a mixture of fare box revenue, and subsidies from the regions and the NZ Transport Agency.

The Financial Assistance Rate (FAR), which is paid by the NZ Transport Agency for metro rail subsidies was 60 percent of the eligible costs in 2011/12 and will move to 50 percent on an annual one percent glide path starting at 59 percent from 2012/13.

Capital Upgrades

The most recent purchases of metro rail trains have been loan financed. The Auckland electric trains were largely financed by a $500 million dollar loan from the Crown. The additional Matangi trains for Wellington will be loan financed by the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

The repayment of the loans (interest and principal) has been operationalised and will be jointly funded by the region and the NZ Transport Agency at the appropriate Financial Assistance Rate.

For upgrades of the rail infrastructure network the responsibility to undertake the upgrade lies with KiwiRail. The funding for the recent upgrades has been provided by the Crown. This is the case for the Auckland upgrade projects (DART and AEP) and for the Wellington network upgrades.

Major new upgrade projects such as the City Rail Link in Auckland are being treated as stand-alone projects. The decision to proceed with such projects requires negotiation between the Crown and the region, as does the method of financing and funding such projects.