How to Fix a Transport Business Case for Rail – Part 4 Bait and Switch – Change the Decision for Rail Later

  • In 2006, the SKM Stage 3 Report recommended a Do Minimum “Base Case” based on replacing the old English Electric EMUs with refurbished Ganz-Mavag EMUs.
  • In 2010, the GWRC then announced that new Matangi EMUs would operate on the Johnsonville Line. This is actually an implementation of Scenario Enhanced Rail 1 which was the 2nd best performing Scenario.
  • But as early as 2005 TollRail told the GWRC that refurbished Ganz-Mavag EMUs would not get up the line and new EMUs were needed. The GWRC knew 2006 SKM Stage 3 Report recommendation would not work but was needed to hide that new rail EMUs could never be justified over bus options.

Picture of the "Find the Ball under the Cup" Game

This is the 5th and last in this series of posts on “How to Fix a Transport Business Case for Rail” and it is recommended that the introduction post, The North Wellington Public Transport Study (2006) and intermediate posts (2, 3, 4) are read first to provide context. This post will focus on how the Base Case option agreed by the GWRC did not proceed and instead they implemented Enhanced Rail Scenario 1 using new EMUs.

GWRC decided to use only Refubished Ganz-Mavags but new EMUs are running on the Line?

The NWPTS recommended that the Johnsonville Line would not be improved but be subject to a Do Minimum upgrade project consisting of:

  • replacing the English Electric EMUs with refurbished Ganz Mavag EMUs
  • enlarging the Johnsonville Line tunnels for fit the Ganz Mavag EMUs
  • re-aligning the station platforms to fit the Ganz Mavag EMUs.

Jville Line quietly changed from Ganz-Mavags to new EMUs

In February 2010, in a response to a newspaper article, the GRWC Chair of the GWRC Transport and Access Committee stated at the end of a press release on the Johnsonville Line:

… Peter Glensor said he also wanted to assure Johnsonville Line passengers that an entire fleet of the new Matangi trains is planned to run on the Johnsonville Line. “Indeed this line will be the only one on which only the new trains will run.”
[GWRC Press Release 11 February 2010]

When asked to explain why the Ganz-Mavag EMUs were replaced by new Matangi EMUs, the GWRC simply stated:

The information that forms the basis for the decision to run only Matangi trains on the Johnsonville Line is contained in reports which you have already requested and received from both Greater Wellington and KiwiRail.

These reports demonstrate the concerns about the Ganz Mavags, particularly in relation to braking, which make it far more preferable for the new Matangi trains to run on the Johnsonville Line.

There is no new information per se. The decision is an operational one. …
[GWRC General Manager Letter 20 April 2010]

Problem 6 – The GWRC and rail operator implement the 3rd best Option

There was never any formal announcement by the GWRC that the new Matangi EMUs would operate on the Johnsonville but, looking back, there were a number of clues that this was always the intention.

  • In 2007, when the then GWRC Transport Divisional Manager reported on the new Regional Rail Plan, he noted this included:

A number of network wide infrastructure upgrades are necessary to facilitate maximum performance and operational benefit and efficiency from the new EMUs. These associated works include:

      1. i) Johnsonville Tunnel realignments to enlarge tunnels to allow all rolling stock, including the new EMUs, to be used on the line. Works scheduled to start summer 2007/08.
        [Attachment to the Divisional Managers Report to the Passenger Transport Committee 24 July 2007, Bold added for emphasis]
  • The Transport Divisional Manager report to the Transport and Access Committee of November 2009 noted the following:

2.4 Johnsonville tunnels realignments
Funding has been approved by Land Transport NZ for the realignment of the Johnsonville tunnels to allow the safe passage of the Ganz Mavags and new EMUs on the line.

But, as outlined above, from February 2010 there was no more talk of refurbished Ganz-Mavags running on the Johnsonville Line, only the new Matangi EMUs would be used.

The problem is that implementing new EMUs on the Johnsonville Line was actually NWPTS Scenario Enhanced Rail 1 in the NWPTS … and this option was only the 3rd best performing Scenario behind the Bus-on-Street Scenario.  Scenario ER1 was also had the lowest benefits of any Scenario according the SKM Stage 3 Report. The GWRC had quietly implemented the option with the worst public transport performance to North Wellington City … a decision that directly led to no improvement in PT usage from these suburbs.

Problem 7 – Could G-M EMUs ever have operated on the Johnsonville Line?

Whether the Ganz Mavag EMUs could ever replace the English Electric EMUs on the Johnsonville Line has been an issue since before the NWPTS.  It was subject to earlier analysis by TollRail in late 2005 and early 2006. The TollRail Report that identified that the Johnsonville Tunnels needed several million dollars of work to enlarge them so the higher Ganz-Mavag EMUs could fit through.

From the beginning TollRail stated new EMUs would be needed on the Johnsonville Line:

Even at this early stage, the provisional conclusion that Toll has reached is that a new Wellington electric vehicle really needs to be configured to be able to operate on all Tranz Metro lines and that its design take into account the need to operate on the Johnsonville line, which in most respects presents the most demanding design constraint for a Wellington train.
[TollRail letter to GWRC 1 August 2005.]

TollRail also reported that Ganz-Mavag EMUs “would not operate” on the Johnsonville Line (EM+ET = Ganz Mavag and D+DM = English Electric):

The difficult issues are:

    • An EM + ET has a low power – weight ratio than a D +DM train
    • On the considerably less demanding existing Hutt Valley and Paraparaumu routes the EM suffers from significant wheelspin during acceleration in anything less than perfect adhesion conditions…

The result of the traction issues will be that an EM + ET will struggle to maintain uphill timetables in conditions of good adhesion and during poor adhesion may barely be able to operate uphill (with damage to traction motors due to overspeed), with braking distances significantly increased and unpredictable down hill.

The issues are difficult because improving the power-weight ratio will require a complete re-engineering of the traction package, which is unlikely to be viable for a vehicle of this type and … we believe it is unlikely that a power-weight ratio improvement will be viable.

While the EM + ET cars would theoretically fit on Johnsonville Branch they would not operate there due to their performance limitations and their inability to offer accessible boarding.[
[TollRail letter to GWRC 1 August 2005] (Bold added for emphasis)

In this same letter also TollRail suggested that Wellington needs new EMUs able to operate on the Johnsonville Line to replace the English Electrics and that the Ganz-Mavag EMUs would only operate “on Paraparaumu and Hutt routes only”:

Even at this early stage, the provisional conclusion that Toll has reached is that a new Wellington electric vehicle really needs to be configured to be able to operate on all Tranz Metro lines and that its design take into account the need to operate on the Johnsonville line, which in most respects presents the most demanding design constraint for a Wellington train.
The new trains would provide the core service on all Tranz Metro routes, with the EM + ET fleet cascaded to peak and shoulder use on Paraparaumu and Hutt routes only.
TollRail let to GWRC 1 August 2005 (Bold added for emphasis)

The unsuitability of the Ganz-Mavag EMUs to operate on the Johnsonville Line was confirmed by Toll Rail simulation analysis in early 2006:

    • Overall report on EM + ET performance on the simulation and discussion. This was the fundamental report on the subject and has been completed and submitted.  Conclusion was that on performance grounds the EM + ET are unsuitable for this route.
      [Email from TollRail to GWRC 20 March 2006.]

TollRail also found the Ganz Mavag EMUs could be used due to poor accessibility:

This train will not work at all on the Johnsonville Line. The tracks between the platforms at Khandallah and Ngaio are already as close together as they are allowed to be, so they cannot be pulled away from the platform to accommodate these wide steps.  Any train operating on Johnsonville will have to be fitted with narrow steps.
[TollRail Email 20 September 2006 to GWRC]

Based on the above and other information, TollRail told GWRC officers that refurbished Ganz-Mavag trains could not operate on the Johnsonville Line multiple times. Yet, in November 2006, GWRC officers presented the NWPTS Report recommending a Base Case using Ganz-Mavag trains!

In 2010, Johnsonville Line operator (now KiwiRail) again responded to the question of why Ganz Mavag EMUs were not used on the Johnsonville Line stating:

The traction and braking characteristics of the Ganz Mavag trains make them less suitable for service on the Johnsonville line than either the existing English Electric trains or a modern Electrical Multiple Unit (EMU), such as the Matangi.

I have enclosed an extract from an August 2005 letter from the privately-owned company Toll Rail. This extract is the only section of the letter which refers to vehicular capability on the Johnsonville Line. It should provide more detail in answer to your second question – the ability of Ganz Mavag units to operate on the Johnsonville Line.

Please note that the letter refers to the possibility of more detailed study into improvements to the existing fleet, however this was not produced as such a study was not considered to be of value, given other circumstances.

For passengers to get most benefit from the improved features and amenities of a fleet of modern EMUs, the most sensible deployment of the fleet is considered to be the cascading of the 27 year-old Ganz Mavag units to peak and shoulder duties on lines other than Johnsonville, and to employ the new Matangi units on all base services and on all services on the Johnsonville Line.

Because the fleet will be deployed in this way to gain most benefit for the travelling public, no detailed work has been carried out to explore the options for and cost of adapting Ganz Mavag trains to enable them to match or exceed the performance of current English Electric trains used on the Johnsonville Line services.
[OIA Response – KiwiRail 24/3/2010]

Note the August 2005 letter referred to by KiwiRail is before the NWPTS commenced and over a year before the SKM Stage 3 Report and the GWRC Officers recommended refurbished Ganz-Mavag EMUs for the Johnsonville Line!

[It should be noted at this point that although GWRC officers clearly knew the Ganz-Mavag EMUs could not operate on the Johnsonville Line, it is not clear that this information was ever passed to NWPTS transport consultants SKM … although clearly it should have been.]

Also note that the rail operator report commissioned in 2005 to confirm the upgrade work needed to enable the Ganz-Mavag EMUs to operate on the Johnsonville Line but in 2010 the rail operator stated “no detailed work has been carried out to explore the options for and cost of adapting Ganz Mavag trains to enable them to match or exceed the performance of current English Electric trains used on the Johnsonville Line services”.

So, after the NWPTS decided the Johnsonville Line was to be operated by refurbished Ganz-Mavag EMUs:

  • no work was done to explore how the Ganz-Mavag EMUs could be adapted to operate on the Johnsonville Line was never finished
  • the tunnel and station changes were made to accommodate new EMUs
  • in 2010 the GWRC quietly changed the NWPTS decision to be new EMUs

This is clear evidence that the GWRC and the rail operator never had any intention of running Ganz-Mavag EMUs on the Johnsonville Line and the decision to accept this recommendation made in the SKM Stage 3 Report was a complete sham.

Did PT Services improve with saving the Johnsonville Line?

The whole point of the North Wellington Public Transport Study was to improve public transport to the Northern and Western Suburbs served by the Johnsonville Line.  These suburbs have the highest car usage in the city and are too far from the city for Active Modes to be a viable alternative to driving. It was (and is) vital that a high quality public transport alternative be provided to provide commuters with a non-car choice and to reduce road congestion.

Johnsonville to Wellington AM Peak in 2006

The NWPTS Scenarios report and the SKM Stage 3 report noted Johnsonville to Wellington peak morning travel times were 21 minutes by train and 22 minutes (on average) by bus:

Travel times will remain similar to existing travel times, with services taking 21 minutes to travel between Johnsonville and the Wellington railway station.
[NWPTS Scenarios Report ER1 Scenario Section Frequency of services and travel time]

GWRC recently undertook surveys of bus services between Johnsonville and Lambton Quay using the SH1 motorway down the Ngauranga Gorge and bus services from Khandallah to Lambton Interchange via the Ngaio Gorge and Onslow Road during the weeks of 19 and 26 July 2006. These surveys indicate that travel times in the AM peak from Johnsonville to the Lambton interchange are on average 6 minutes longer than those timetabled (22 minutes vs 16 minutes). This average reduces significantly down to 18 minutes when two days where incidents occurred resulting in very long travel times are excluded. There was a large degree of variability in the travel times on this route with individual travel times ranging between 11 minutes and 40 minutes.
SKM Stage 3 Report – Appendix D Section 6 (bold added for emphasis)

Johnsonville – Wellington AM Peak – Predicted by 2016

The SKM Stage 3 Report “analysed” four Scenarios to improve public transport services to North Wellington City and found none of them were worth doing instead just recommending:

  • the replacement of the existing English Electric Units with 4-car refurbished Ganz Mavag units operating the same 13-minute, 13-minute, 26-minute timetable and
  • Bus services are assumed to remain the same as they are at present

The SKM Stage 3 Report also stated:

Significant improvements to the road network are anticipated in the RLTS. This includes improvements such as additional lanes along the Aotea section of the motorway, the Petone – Grenada Link and tidal flow at the Terrace Tunnel. These improvements will reduce travel times and improve reliability on the road network and have been included in the networks used in the scenario modelling.
SKM Stage 3 Report – Appendix D Section 6 (bold added for emphasis)

So the SKM Stage 3 Report predicted its recommendation for the Base Case would have the following results:

  • the rail service would continue to have 21 minute travel time and
  • the bus service would have an improved travel time from the 22 minute average due to reduced “travel times and improve reliability on the road network

Johnsonville – Wellington Am Peak – Actual Today

Tables showing current Johnsonville to Wellington Travel Times during the AM Peak : Bus 23 - 30 minutes Rail: 23 Minutes
Data Source: Metlink Web Site April 2022

Unfortunately, the billions in road and PT improvements assumed in the NWPTS modelling have largely not occurred and the increased road congestion predicted in the NWPTS Scenarios report has occurred.

Even worse, the new Matangi EMUs purchased specifically to replace the old English Electric EMUs failed to match the performance of these old units.

So instead of peak PT services to North Wellington being faster than in 2006, both bus and train services are slower:

  • Johnsonville Line train travel time has gone from 21 minutes to 23 minutes
  • Johnsonville to Wellington has gone from 22 minutes average to 30 minutes


To reiterate, the decision to keep the Johnsonville Rail Line was really a central government political decision made by the Labour-led coalition government at the insistence of their coalition partner, Peter Dunne MP, the Green Party and TollRail.  They halted the North Wellington Public Transport Study before it had completed its final public consultation because the study would likely find converting the line to a Busway was the best option.

However, NZTA funding rules did require that government funding was dependent on any review showing the recommended solution was the best of the options considered.  This meant the NWPTS Stage 3 Report had to show that a rail based option was the best solution under the rules outlined in the NZTA Economic Manual.

Let’s review the steps the GWRC and consultants SKM did to implement Enhanced Rail Scenario 1 even though the Busway was better:

  1. Invent a new “Base Case” option as the rail-based “Do Minimum” option against which the other Scenarios would be measured.
  2. Fix the NWPTS Transport Model to negate the benefits of the Busway Scenario and make Bus-on-Street Scenario come first
  3. Fix the cost and benefit figures in the preferred Base Case and Bus-on-Street Scenario to make the Base Case BCR come first so as to meet NZTA Transport rules to fund rail
  4. A few years after the decision to implement the Base Case based on Ganz-Mavag EMUs, quietly switch the line to use new Matangi EMUs that was Enhance Rail Scenario 1 even though this Scenario came 3rd.

The GWRC and transport consultants SKM obviously worked very hard to fix the outcome of the SKM Stage 3 Report against the Busway Scenario.  Surely they would have first tried fixing the figures to make the Enhanced Rail Scenario come first but likely they simply couldn’t keep either the Busway or the Bus-on-Street Scenario from beating them … which is why the rail Base Case had to be invented. Having to fix the transport model in favour of the Bus-on-Street and then applying four fixes to the BCR figures so the recommendation to keep the rail line could be made shows this outcome was not by accident … it was planned.

In the end the whole North Wellington Public Transport Study became a Bait & Switch sales job on the Wellington public … and it worked!

The NWPTS also showed how difficult it is to justify rail-based solutions in a direct and detailed comparison to a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) alternative.  More recent New Zealand passenger rail business cases get around this by eliminating BRT before it gets onto the option short-list (Auckland Light Rail and new trains for the Capital Connection) or simply keeping the detailed analysis secret if BRT is on the Shortlist (LGWM Mass Transit).

Lessons Learned

  • Council officers and transport consultants will fix cost figures, benefit figures and even their transport models to hide the best transport option from the public and instead make the rail option preferred by their political masters meet NZTA Economic Manual funding rules.
  • The public is unlikely to ever discover they have been lied to and cheated at the time of these big transport decisions when the detailed information on the PT options being considered transport projects is kept secret.
  • The North Wellington Public Transport Study SKM Stage 3 Report in 2006 did not show the option to “Convert Johnsonville Line to BRT” had been “Previously studied and found uneconomic”. It only showed that fixing figures in a business case can make even a poorly performing and expensive rail line appear to be the best option.
  • Let’s Get Wellington Moving should perform an honest review of the Johnsonville Line to put the Johnsonville Busway Option back into consideration so the public can see what option really is the best PT solution to serve North Wellington City.

Lastly, and most importantly, while fixing the 2006 North Wellington Public Transport Study successfully protected the egos of MPs and other political leaders as well as securing the river of GWRC subsidies to KiwiRail, the real victims of this study were the residents of North Wellington City.

Tens of millions of our rates and taxes have been spent since 2006 propping up a rail service that is infrequent and even slower than the old trains that were replaced.  Meanwhile tens of thousands of Wellingtonians have been denied access to a real Mass Rapid Transit service through the CBD and so the opportunity to switch away from having to drive to work.


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