Auckland's new electric trains will have almost twice the acceleration of the old diesel clunkers they are replacing - and a third the thrust of jumbo jets on takeoff.
But they will be a lot quieter and their extra promised grunt has Auckland Mayor Len Brown looking forward to shaving 10 minutes off his rail commuting trips from Manukau to Britomart. "They will be a huge advance on the second-hand trains Aucklanders have had to put up for years," he said at Britomart yesterday, at the signing of about $500 million of supply and maintenance contracts with Spanish rail giant CAF.
He said the contracts, which will be supported by a $100 million maintenance depot to be built for CAF at Wiri by Auckland Transport, would lay a foundation for extending Auckland's rail network such as into a tunnel out of the western end of the Britomart
"This is the next step towards giving Auckland a 21st century rail network," Mr Brown told guests, including Transport Minister Steven Joyce.
"Without electric trains, the extension of that network is not possible."
Auckland Council transport chairman Mike Lee, who battled long and hard for the new trains, indicated relief that the deal had survived last year's restructuring of local government.
The deal follows a laborious procurement process which began almost two years ago, when the Government announced it had agreed to raise a $500 million loan to buy 38 new trains and build the maintenance depot.
That would have left the network's spinal southern line with existing carriages, although to be hauled by electric locomotives.
But a subsequent Government agreement to add a $90 million grant to the loan, half of which will have to be covered over 35 years by Auckland ratepayers, has enabled the region to order 57 three-car trains.
That will allow it to replace most of its noisy and increasingly unreliable diesel fleet, apart from some trains which will still be needed for runs beyond Papakura and Swanson, the limits of the network which the Government is electrifying for an additional $500 million.
The updated agreement will allow Auckland Transport to take ownership of the trains when they arrive between September 2013 and the end of the following year. That gives CAF - which stands for Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles - less than two years to supply the first train, which will be tested for three months before carrying its first fare-paying passengers at the end of 2013.
But the company's general manager, Jesus Esnaola, assured the Herald that working to such a tight timetable was well within its capabilities even though it has almost $8 billion in international orders on its books for trains, trams and other light rail vehicles.
Although it will build the trains in Spain, to the disappointment of unionists seeking manufacturing work in New Zealand, he said it would consider using locally made components.
It also intended employing New Zealanders at the Wiri depot under a local subsidiary it had formed for a 12-year maintenance contract, although it was too early to say how many.
Preparations for the new depot will begin over summer, when KiwiRail will alter its tracks to make room for it.
Despite having customers in large cities in 24 countries, including London, Washington DC, Hong Kong, New Delhi, Rome and Buenos Aires, Mr Esnaola said the company was proud to have won a contract which would provide a foothold in Oceania.
Auckland Transport chairman Mark Ford said the firm would design Auckland's trains based on those it supplied for the Heathrow Express, on which he had enjoyed high-quality travel. "CAF has demonstrated that its trains will meet and exceed the requirements and that they have the team and track record to provide ongoing support for the 40-years plus life of the trains," he said.
"The difference between them and the current trains will be dramatic."