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Frequently asked questions - Electrification of Auckland's network

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What should I do in case of an emergency?

In the event of an emergency at a level crossing or anywhere else on the rail network call the KiwiRail emergency number 0800 808 400

Can people get electrocuted by the wires?

As with all power lines, the system is designed so people doing ordinary things won’t get hurt. And as with all power lines, you must treat the overhead wires and the fittings that carry them as live and dangerous at all times.

The electric wires carry 25,000 volts, which is 100 times more powerful than that used in homes. This makes the wires extremely dangerous and potentially deadly to anyone who contacts them or comes too close to them, as electricity can arc (jump) across gaps and can also travel through water or other liquids.

It is important to keep right away from these wires and to make sure anything you may be carrying is also well clear.

The masts carrying the electrified overhead wires will be 6-7m tall and the wires will be directly over the rail tracks. Screening will be in place to prevent any accidental contact at bridges or alongside walkways.

Why don’t you just fence off the whole rail network?

It is not practical or cost-effective to fence off the whole rail corridor. Given the number of level crossings it would also be prohibitively expensive for the Auckland Council to grade separate all existing level crossings.

What happens at level crossings?

The overhead wires mean height restrictions are now in place at all level crossings in Auckland. The safe height restriction is clearly signposted at each level crossing. It is set at 5 metres at most level crossings with a few at 4.25metres.

This restriction will not affect ordinary motorists or pedestrians – always check the height of what you are carrying/ towing (e.g. fishing rods on boats/ ladders).

Motorists in vehicles or towing loads that exceed these restrictions should choose an alternative route or will need to gain prior permission to use the level crossing. Ring KiwiRail on 04 474 2323 for more information and to make the arrangements.

I use trains all the time - will I need to do anything different at stations?

Generally no, but the new electric trains will look and sound different to current trains so you will need to familiarise yourself with how the new trains operate. For example, door operations may be slightly different, there will be a different layout inside the trains compared to what you get today (including steps), and because they are longer than today's trains they will stop at different points on the platform.

If you follow the usual safety precautions needed at a train station you will be safe.
‧ It is even more important to stand behind the yellow tactiles because the new trains will be quieter and faster and may not stop at all stations
‧ Always use dedicated pedestrian footpaths to access railway stations
‧ If you have children make sure they are aware of the dangers of the electrical wires. Make sure they know not to play or walk near the train tracks
‧ Keep clear of the tracks, only cross at level crossings
‧ Don’t take shortcuts along or across the railway tracks


Will electric trains be quieter than diesel trains?

Electric trains are quieter than diesel trains. This means there is even more reason for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to take care when using level crossings and to ‘Stop, look and listen for trains.

A safety awareness programme will be launched prior to the introduction of electrified services to educate the community on the dangers of electrification, quieter trains and general rail safety.

Will diesel trains still be able to operate on the electrified lines?

Diesel trains will be able to operate on the electrified network; however only a small number of diesel trains will including existing freight services.

How long will it take to electrify the entire network?

KiwiRail is working to a deadline of 2013 to complete the infrastructure for electrification. The first masts started appearing on the Western Line in 2011 and the work is being completed in phases.

Will the electric network be tested before taking passengers?

The electric network and trains will undertake extensive testing and commissioning prior to commencing regular passenger services.

Where will these wires go and how will they look?

Electrification will cover all train lines between Papakura and Swanson, including the Manukau and Onehunga branch lines.

The overhead wires carrying 25,000 volts of electricity will run immediately above the rail tracks, held up by masts that will run either between or alongside the tracks. Each mast will be 3m from the centre of each track.

How will the wires work?

A structure on the top of the new trains called a pantograph maintains contact with these wires at all times so the electricity can power the train’s engine.

How does the power supply compare to the power lines outside my house?

The power lines supplying your house are at a much lower voltage 400 V and 230 V and insulated between the pole and the house. The power lines along the road are insulated and either low voltage (400 V) or high voltage (11,000 V and 33,000 V). The traction wires are bare conductors and operate at 25,000 V. This power supply configuration is very different as the systems conform to different electrical regulations and legislation.

What if Auckland has a power cut?

The traction network is supplied from two separate Transpower substations which feed to separate but interlinked rail substations. The traction system supplying the trains is fed from substations that have a redundancy built in to reduce the likelihood of a ‘blackout’ occurring. The rail network’s substations are fed from two dedicated cables from the Transpower substations which further reduces the risk of any local blackout impacting the network.

Why do you have to do the electrification work at night?

There is a lot of work on and immediately next to the tracks which can’t be done safely or effectively while trains are running. More frequent train services are great for commuters, but they also mean we have less opportunity during daylight hours to get all our work done. It is often safer, quicker and easier for us to do the work at night when there are few or no trains, and on some weekends and public holidays when the tracks are closed. This also means we can get the work done a lot more quickly, instead of dragging the disruption out over weeks or months.

We know our work can be disruptive at times and we do our best to provide plenty of advance warning about our night and weekend activities. We also work with our contractors to minimise disruption and noise wherever possible.

Will the power required by the electrified network increase the chance of ‘blackouts’?

Auckland’s electrified rail network will be powered through direct connection to the national high voltage 220 kV power transmission network. It will add about 1 per cent to the demand of the Auckland power supply system. There is therefore no increased risk of blackouts from the installation of this system.

Why are you putting the wires overhead instead of electrifying the tracks as they do in London?

There are many level crossings around Auckland’s rail network, and a number of points where the tracks are easily accessible, so there are important safety considerations. The traction system will also be compatible with the system used on the North Island Main Trunk. All new electrified networks throughout the world are installed using 25 kV AC systems.

Third rail systems are used with low voltage DC systems, These systems are only used in fully enclosed environments such as the London Underground and are generally where the original rail network was constructed at a time when only DC systems were available.

What about EMF?

Electromagnetic fields (EMF) are created by electricity. The EMF strength is directly related to the size of the voltage and current and the distance from the conductor. They are generated by any conductor (e.g. overhead wires) that has a current and is above the ground.

EMF is associated with power transmission (this refers to the bulk transfer of electrical power from one place to another, generally from power stations to substations) and a power distribution system (transferring power from the substation to users). Power transmission has higher EMF levels because of the greater magnitude of the voltages and currents.

Are the electro-magnetic fields from the traction system harmful to my health?

The electrified system to be installed in Auckland is the same safe system as that constructed in Brisbane and Perth, and many other locations around the world. The system complies with all the requirements of the guidelines developed by the National Radiation Laboratory and therefore the levels of EMFs are no greater than those produced by the local power distribution network and generally much less than the Transpower transmission network.

KiwiRail engaged specialists consultants to review the levels of EMF to be expected on and adjacent to the rail corridor. They advised that electric and magnetic fields (EMF) levels will comply with the levels set by the International Commission on Non-ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), which are accepted for use in NZ by the National Radiation Laboratory (NRL).

Testing will be carried out once the system is energised and the new electric trains are running to determine actual levels of EMF against those predicted in the Consultant’s report.

Will the EMFs interfere with the electronics in my house or office?

The electrification infrastructure and trains will be required to meet strict international standards regarding electromagnetic compatibility.
Given the significant variation in electronic devices available, it is not possible to say that no devices will be impacted, however it is very unlikely, based on experiences associated with the recent construction and electrification in Australia.
Safety is the paramount consideration both during construction of the electrified network and throughout its operation.


Will there be the same type of masts across the network?

No, there will be a few different styles of masts around the Auckland rail network.

Why will there be different types of masts? What are the different options?

Different masts are needed to maintain the wires in the right place to ensure power reaches the train.
The governing factors include geographical location and ground conditions, track alignment and clearance restrictions from the masts to the trains and adjacent properties. To allow for this three types of foundation and mast installations have been developed.
The first, and preferred, is the single track cantilever (STC) installed on each side of the double track network. The second is a twin track cantilever (TTC) which spans two tracks but installed on one side only. The third is a portal frame which spans multiple tracks used mainly in complex operational areas where the two previous methods can't be used.

Why are you putting up these wires instead of electrifying the tracks as they do in London?

Auckland has many level crossings, and there are a number of points where railway tracks are easily accessible. As such, there are important safety considerations. The traction system will also be compatible with the system used on the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT). All new electrified networks throughout the world are installed using 25 kV AC systems.

Some rail systems use low voltage DC systems. These systems are only used in fully enclosed environments such as the London Underground, and are generally where the rail network was constructed at a time when only DC systems were available.

What have you done to consider the visual aspects of the masts and wires?

KiwiRail engaged a landscape architect to conduct a visual sensitivity report prior to choosing the mast type for Auckland’s future electrified network.

The landscape architect considered many options keeping in mind three key parameters – 1. visual impact, 2. engineering limitations, and 3. cost.

Based on this, the report recommended steel single track cantilevers (STCs) as the “most cost-effective” and “the least visually intrusive” electrification structures, which could be installed in most parts of the network while still meeting engineering specifications.

What about impact in visually sensitive areas, such as the waterfront and residential areas?

The majority of the line passes through a low quality of visual environment on either side of the line, such as industrial and commercial structures. The masts and overhead wires are unlikely to generate adverse visual effects in such areas.

In residential areas and publically visual areas such as Hobson Bay, the STCs are considered to have the least visual impact since these are the thinnest of the various options considered, and have the least profile. Wherever engineering constraints permit, the design provides for installation of these less intrusive structures in visually sensitive areas.

In most cases, the STC structures will gradually weather and blend into the environment, similar to street light and power poles in the road corridor.

What will be the visual impact on heritage stations?

The overhead wires network has been designed to reduce the number of masts near heritage stations. However, some masts will be required and all masts within station precincts will be painted to match the existing station infrastructure.


How will electrification benefit me?

Electrification will deliver a more modern, comfortable and efficient network for train commuters, along with environmental benefits such as reduced noise, vibration and local air pollution .
As well as providing benefits to rail passengers, there may be less congestion on Auckland’s roads as more people leave their cars at home.

Is electrification good for the environment?

The environmental benefits of electrification include reduced noise, vibration and local air pollution through lack of exhaust fumes and lower CO2 emmissions.

Why do we need electrification?

Electrification will support the development of a modern, sustainable public transport system for Auckland. Along with the delivery of quieter, cleaner new rolling stock, the electrified system will provide a platform for a more modern and efficient train service for commuters. Electric trains are cheaper to purchase and have lower operational and maintenance costs.

How much will the project cost?

The Government has provided funding of $500 million for the infrastructure for electrification.