Posted by: senjmito | December 15, 2010

Where To With Our Trains

Greater Wellington (GW) is now debating what to do with our old Ganz Mavag electric trains. Those are the ones that run on the Hutt and Kapiti lines and constantly break down. They are old, and haven’t had any major mechanical upgrade since they came into service in the early 1980s. And they weren’t the most marvellous trains when bought – they were a trains for butter deal done by Muldoon.

There are essentially three choices: upgrade them enough to keep them running and reduce the breakdowns; upgrade them to provide a similar level of passenger service to the new Matangi units; scrap them and buy new units.

So far, everyone agrees that the ideal solution is new trains. No matter what upgrade option you choose, you won’t get level boarding (an important consideration for wheelchairs, pushchairs, people with heavy luggage, etc), you will still have old trains that won’t last as long as the Matangi will, and you’ll be running a mixed fleet with different operating characteristics and parts.

But the ideal solution will cost a lot of money up-front, and the Government is wanting to spend all its money on motorways. That leaves GW with a bit of a problem.

In earlier debates, GW indicated that the choice was between full upgrade and new trains. Now the debate is between the partial upgrade and new trains. As far as I can ascertain from the limited information we are getting, that makes sense, because the full upgrade would have the same funding problems as the new trains.

So there are two key questions that should be discussed openly, with facts and figures to support the discussion:

  • If the ideal solution – new trains – will have similar costs over the life of the units, why should we opt for a less satisfactory approach. Surely there is some way to spread the costs so that the up-front burden isn’t significantly different?
  • Where does light rail fit into this decision? Most people agree that Wellington needs light rail, and the main argument is over when and how much. But knowledgeable commentators are saying that it will be here within 10 years. Given that it would take at least 4 years to upgrade the old units or purchase new trains, the argument for buying light rail vehicles now looks strong. We could buy light rail vehicles now, and use them on the Johnsonville line in the short term until the city route is ready. That would free up Matangi to be used on the other lines, with the Ganz only needed in the peak. So there is a strong argument to say that we should sort out that question before spending a lot of money on either upgrading or replacing the Ganz units.

The facts that we need and aren’t getting include:

  • How many units do we need, over the next 20 years, to deal with increased patronage, more frequent timetables, and extensions of electric rail? Tranz Metro had one figure a few years ago, public transport advocates another (higher because it factored in timetable changes), and GW hasn’t published a clear figure for what they are planning for.
  • What is the cost of a partial upgrade of the Ganz units, and how does that cost really compare to the cost of new units over the long term?
  • What are the operational and maintenance risks of keeping the old units going, given that many of their parts are no longer used in any other trains?
  • What is the economic benefit of having new, modern trains, with level boarding and other modern features? And of having a uniform fleet?

This is a vital decision, and shouldn’t be taken in a hurray without full disclosure of the facts and a rational public debate.

– Paula Warren



  1. Some of those questions are answered in this:

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