Extended shutdown period to allow for major repairs in Auckland

KiwiRail has extended a shutdown of the Eastern Line between Quay Park and Westfield for another two weeks to enable urgent upgrades to the Auckland railway network.

The Eastern Line will now remain closed until September 21.

KiwiRail is conducting repairs across the Auckland network after testing revealed that 100km of rail needs repairing or replacing. The entire Auckland network is restricted to speeds of 40km/h.

KiwiRail chief operating officer Todd Moyle said that significant work had already been done.

“We have made a good start on the Eastern Line with 1,000 sleepers replaced and close to 6km of new rail laid so far.”

To meet the targeted amount of work completed, teams are working at all times.

“Allowing KiwiRail around the clock access to the track over a four-week period is an efficient and productive way of working and enables our teams to keep momentum and get through a larger amount of work,” said Moyle.

The replacement of significant amounts of rail began in August after testing found that the rail was in a worse condition than previously thought.

However, New Zealand media have reported that a consultant’s report in December 2019 identified $200 million of work was required due to inadequate maintenance and underinvestment in rail infrastructure.

Up to a quarter of all rail on the 190km network will need to be replaced, with grinding required elsewhere.

A shortage of locally based track-welders has also contributed to the maintenance backlog.

While maintenance and repairs are conducted, Auckland Transport is providing commuters with replacement buses. Auckland Transport executive general manager integrated networks Mark Lambert said the repairs were essential.

“This work by KiwiRail is urgently needed and we will continue to support our customers with bus replacement services and other support for as long as we need to.”

The New Zealand government has made major commitments to rail, including a NZ$1bn upgrade package for the Auckland rail network. Prior to 2019, however, investment in the rail network nationally was limited to the minimum needed to keep the network operating. The investment that was made was reactive, rather than planning for the network’s future needs.

New Zealand using QR codes for contact tracing on public transport

Auckland and Wellington will use QR codes on public transport to assist with contact tracing.

The implementation of the QR codes in Auckland from September 4 comes as the city moves to alert level two after a week at level three.

Masks have been made mandatory for passengers across trains, buses, and ferries, and physical distancing guidelines have been implemented.

Auckland Transport is asking passengers to use the New Zealand Ministry of Health’s NZ COVID Tracer app to scan the codes.

The transport authority had previously been using data from the city’s transit payment card, AT HOP, to track close contacts, however after positive cases travelled on buses and had outdated information on their AT HOP card the added method of tracing has been brought in.

While transport is running at normal schedules, capacity is limited to about 43 per cent due to social distancing requirements. Passengers can check the Auckland Transport app to see how many passengers are on a train before boarding.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said that the local government and public should embrace the new measures.

“Health authorities now agree that it is safe to move to Alert Level 2, but we still need to ensure that we follow all of the safeguards necessary to constrain the spread of COVID-19. Following these rules will help ensure we beat COVID-19 again, just as we did last time.”

In Wellington, which is under alert level two, masks are also mandatory on public transport. Even before the rule was applied from Monday, August 31, more passengers had been wearing masks or face coverings, said Scott Gallacher, general manager of operator Metlink.

“We’ve seen thousands of people wearing masks on our buses, ferries and trains. Social media is awash with people wearing the most fantastic masks, scarves and bandanas and Wellingtonians have kicked off a national trend using the hashtag #OnBoardWithMasks to show their support,” he said.

Wellington’s trains are running at about 30 per cent of their normal capacity.

“We’ve got all the buses, ferries and trains out that we can but we’re asking for patience and understanding at this time. If people have the ability to work from home or travel outside of peak hours we welcome their help,” said Gallacher.

face masks

Face masks to be mandatory on public transport across New Zealand

Auckland Transport has welcomed the New Zealand government’s mandating of face masks on public transport.

From Monday, August 31, face coverings will be required on all public transport for regions of New Zealand in alert level 2 or higher. Currently, all of New Zealand is at alert level 2 and the Auckland region is at alert level 3 until Sunday August 30, where it will return to alert level 2.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said the measures would be effective in limiting the spread of the virus.

“Wearing a face covering is an effective measure to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Everything we can do in the fight against this disease makes a difference, and I believe the mandatory wearing of masks on public transport is sensible given our recent experience.”

Auckland Transport has put out alerts for travellers on certain buses as passengers travelled while having COVID-19.

Auckland Transport has also taken other measures to ensure that public transport is still safe for travellers, including through cleaning, not taking cash, and keeping a two metre distance between travellers. Auckland Transport chief executive Shane Ellison said that AT HOP cards have also been used to track and contact close contacts of those who travelled with COVID-19.

“We have already stepped up the level of cleaning on all services with regular steam cleans now in place and now the Government’s decision to make face masks mandatory will only make public transport safer,” he said.

“Our customer research from the first weekend back in Alert Level 3 shows 88 per cent of people would support compulsory face masks on public transport.”

Goff said the wearing of face masks would benefit the community.

“We all have a responsibility to follow government health directives — for the good of ourselves, our families and older folk and our wider communities,” he said.

NZ rail continues during lockdown

Rail services have continued in New Zealand despite the reimposition of lockdown measures to control the spread of new cases of COVID-19.

Auckland is now in level 3 restrictions while the rest of the country is under level 2 restrictions after cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on Tuesday, August 11 with no known source of transmission.

In Auckland, rail services are continuing during the lockdown to their existing timetable for those who need to access local services and businesses and travel to work and school when that cannot be done at home. Physical distancing of two metres must be maintained on public transport.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff advised commuters to follow health guidelines.

“Maintain physical distancing, wear a mask when in public and follow good hygiene practices and we will get through this together.”

Auckland Transport will be cleaning trains regularly and will be making changes to timetables as needed.

KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller shared Goff’s advice to wear face masks when using public transport.

“The health and safety of our staff, and the public, is the company’s main priority as we maintain essential services, just as we did successfully earlier this year.”

KiwiRail has suspended the TranzAlpine service that was to run over the weekend of August 15-16. The Capital Connection service between Wellington and Palmerston North will run as normal.

Freight services will continue with appropriate precautions instituted.

In Wellington, which is under level 2 restrictions, public transport is also continuing as normal.

General manager of Wellington transport operator Metlink Scott Gallacher emphasised the need for passengers to take care when travelling.

“We’re asking passengers to keep a 1-metre distance on board trains, buses and ferries and keep a 2-metres distance while waiting at bus stops, train stations and ferry wharfs,” he said.

“The government has made it clear that people should wear face masks where physical distancing is difficult and we encourage passengers to follow this advice on public transport. These measures will help keep passengers safe across the whole network.”

Metlink will accept cash payment, however Auckland Transport is only accepting payments via the AT HOP card.

Rail track. Photo: Shutterstock

Urgent track upgrades lead to Auckland-wide speed restriction

Urgent upgrades to track around Auckland have led to KiwiRail imposing a 40km/h speed restriction across the entire network for the next six months.

Testing conducted on the network found that track wear was more widespread than previously understood, leading KiwiRail to bring forward repair work, said KiwiRail group chief executive Greg Miller.

“Following our testing we are accelerating our programme of replacing the most worn sections of rail and resurfacing less damaged sections.”

The speed restriction and need to access the track will disrupt commuter services, with services running every 20 minutes during the day instead of every 10 minutes during the morning and afternoon peak. Journey times will also increase, said Mark Lambert, executive general manager of integrated networks at Auckland Transport.

“We hope to add some extra services at peak times to ensure that we can meet passenger demand, but this speed restriction will unfortunately mean longer journey times for all our customers of up to 50 per cent for this temporary period.”

The works will involve replacing 100 kilometres of track and are expected to take six months. Miller said that KiwiRail had the local capacity to complete the upgrade.

“We are equipped and ready to resolve the issue with the necessary rail already in the country and staff available to lay it. Specialist rail grinding equipment, which will be used to remediate some of the rail, will arrive from Australia shortly.”

While the track upgrade work was anticipated, the move to level three restrictions in Auckland due to cases of COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for KiwiRail to begin sooner.

“We are working closely with Auckland Transport to arrange optimum access to the track so we can get to work as quickly as possible while managing operation of services,” said Miller.

“The faster this work can be completed, the sooner the network can be back to operating safely at full speed as we continue our work to deliver a resilient and reliable rail network for Auckland.”

The works form part of the NZ$1 billion upgrade package for Auckland’s rail network, which includes electrification from Papakura to Pukekohe.

“This is part of the critical upgrade of the rail track infrastructure in Auckland as we plan and prepare for significant increase in services when the City Rail Link is open, and dramatically reducing travel times across the region,” said Lambert. “We are working closely with KiwiRail to ensure the track infrastructure is ready for the future demands that will be placed on it that will continue the transformational journey of rail in Auckland with the opening of the City Rail Link.”

public transport

Construction underway across Auckland public transport network

The New Zealand government is investing in building and renewing public transport infrastructure in Auckland to boost the local economy and improve rail services.

The Puhinui Interchange is one of four projects that will receive funding as part of the national government’s transport infrastructure package. Transport Minister Phil Twyford said the upgrades would ensure the projects are finalised on time.

“By investing in the under construction Puhinui Interchange and Stage One of the Ferry Basin Redevelopment project, we are protecting jobs and making sure these important projects can continue. Both are expected to be completed next year.”

Other projects include upgrades to improve bus services and active transport links said Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter.

“By investing in public transport and walking and cycling infrastructure, not only are we helping people leave the car at home, we are reducing emissions and tackling climate change,” said Genter.

In addition to working on the Puhinui Interchange, Auckland Transport is also upgrading Papakura Station to rectify water leaking into the lift shafts which caused the lifts to often be out of service.

Works at the southern Auckland station will include new roofs and canopies, and a small concrete wall at ground level. Construction is expected to begin before the end of July and completed by mid-October.

At the Karangahape station site in central Auckland, construction has begun on the City Rail Link station, the deepest in New Zealand.

The first of 28 panels for the diaphragm walls are being constructed, which are the first permanent sections of the station.

Once finalised, the station will be 30 metres deep, the deepest of the underground stations built as part of the City Rail Link project.

Once the walls are complete, a roof and supporting columns will be built, and then the station’s platforms and concourse will be built.

Dale Burtenshaw, deputy project director for the Link Alliance, said that the construction process has been designed to minimise disruption.

“Working top-down like this will reduce the impact of construction at street level in a busy part of the city like K Road,” he said. “At the same time, using a hydrofraise allows us to operate close to other buildings without disturbing those buildings. We’ve also fitted mufflers to the machine to reduce noise levels for our neighbours.”

COVID

The digital pandemic: How COVID-19 has accelerated digital rail

COVID-19 has upended many aspects of rail transport, however there are aspects of the disruption that provide an opportunity for digital transformation.

By March 23, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had hit New Zealand.

Already, the country had closed its borders to anyone who was not a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident and those who could return had to isolate for two weeks. But in late March, the way that New Zealanders would get around their cities decidedly changed.

On March 25, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the country had moved to alert level four. This meant that New Zealanders could not leave their homes unless for essential services and in Auckland, the public transport network reduced to weekend level services.

Callum McLeod, who is in charge of Auckland Transport’s web presence, mobile app and journey planner, could see that there were still passengers making use of the network.

“There were still Aucklanders that needed to travel for essential purposes, be that workers in health care, people travelling to the doctor or the pharmacy, or even just getting their groceries in areas that had limited other options for transportation. We knew that these customers were wondering, ‘How do I travel and get to where I need to go while still being safe?’”

Physical distancing measures applied by that point required people to keep a distance of at least two metres between themselves and others, and this applied to public transport as well. McLeod understood that passengers wanted to know whether there was enough room on the buses, trains, and ferries that were still operating before they got on. Luckily, McLeod and his team had a solution.

“We had bus occupancy information available internally, as an operational tool, for about the last year or so, and we’d been using that to manage patronage and understand where certain routes might be getting a little busy.”

Up until then, however, that information was not available to passengers. Seeing how critical this information was, the team of software developers at Auckland Transport got to work.

“We’d been doing some design exploration, but we hadn’t intended to launch it as quickly as we did. Given the situation we pulled the team together and over the course of about a week implemented the capability to display occupancy data that from our real time streams and then present that in a way to the customer that made sense,” said McLeod.

While the Auckland Transport app had previously categorised capacity in terms of many seats, few seats, and standing room only, this needed to change for the COVID-19 reality, said McLeod.

“In the context of COVID-19, this function became even more important and it became less about needing a seat and more, ‘Can I travel while keeping enough distance between myself and others?’”

The system, initially rolled out for buses, was based upon passengers tagging on and off with their Hop travel cards. Every nine seconds, that information is transmitted back to Auckland Transport, along with the bus’s location, determined by GPS. With the system up and running for buses, the time came for it to be deployed for trains as well, however a different method of collecting data had to be used.

“With our trains the tag on, tag off point is at the station level, it’s not on the train itself, so we weren’t able to use that information. But what we do have on our trains is automatic passenger counters in each of the doors and we’ve been using that historically for boarding and unboarding patronage,” said McLeod.

Similar to the deployment of the bus information in the AT App, a development cycle that was expected to take many months was compressed down to a week.

“We worked with CAF, who build and maintain our trains, to build and install that software update across all of the train units over the course of a week. Then we used the same model on the backend to turn that boarding and off counts into the appropriate category – empty, few seats available – and that fed in automatically to AT Mobile.”

With the programming now in place, Auckland Transport have updated display boards at stations and stops and expect the solution to be one of a number of permanent upgrades to service delivery.

Thales is working on a suite of measures that are designed to help operators overcome the disruptions of COVID-19.

A DIGITAL SANDBOX
While transport authorities the world over have had to make rapid responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and associated lockdown and distancing measures, it has also been an opportunity for experiments. In particular, as Elias Barakat, general manager, ground transportation systems at Thales outlines, operators are looking for ways to get passengers safely back on public transportation systems.

“As the restrictions are eased off slowly, operators need to be putting measures in place to actually try and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmissions.”

Barakat highlights that data will be a key resource for operators.

“The data that they need to manage patronage and provide a safe transport environment are things like crowding on trains, crowding on platforms, adherence to distancing rules and hygiene requirements.”

Just as important as the data itself, however, is how it can be used to manage the perceptions that commuters will have of how safe the service is.

Being able to source data from multiple different points is also important. Sources of this data include ticketing gates and CCTV systems.

“When passengers arrive at a station and they find overcrowding, they’re not going to feel safe and they’re going to avoid using public transport,” said Barakat. “Passenger crowding and passenger flow analytics are becoming more important in terms of the data that public transport authorities need to gather and use to try and control crowding on platforms and trains.”

“We have had positive reviews and social posts. One of them was ‘The latest feature on how full the bus is helps me with physical distancing. Thank you, AT.’ Another was, ‘Finally Auckland Transport added capacity checking for their buses. No more waiting at the stop only to have a full bus pass you by.’”

Already public transport operators in Australasia are having to deal with patronage levels that are at the upper end of what is permissible under physical distancing regimes. Using data to enable customers to make choices about when to travel is one area that McLeod is looking to explore.

“We’ve been looking at how we can use the occupancy information in broad ways. We are trying to work out how we do it at an agency level or route level, and show the occupancy levels across the day, particularly in our peak service periods. If we can break that down into 15 minute buckets and show that before 6.30am there’s plenty of room, it starts to ramp up and then ramp back down after the peak, that can help people make decisions about when they can travel, and allow them to shift their behaviours to maintain their safe distance.”

In other contexts where the wearing of masks is mandatory on public transport, Thales has deployed its facial recognition technology using CCTV feeds.

“We have systems that perfom data analytics to do facial recognition and detect whether some people are not wearing mask and highlight that to the operator in the operations control centre. Thales has solutions where we can do video analytics to measure the separation between crowds on the platforms and similarly on the trains themselves, to make sure that people are not sitting in seats next to each other and not standing next to each other in breach of social distancing rules” said Barakat.

These data feeds can then be configured to trigger an automated response.

“As soon as a facial recognition algorithm does the facial analysis and they discover someone is not wearing a mask, that would come up as an alarm in the control centre and you can automatically contact that person through an automated warning communicated via the PA system,” said Barakat.

Barakat highlights that as much as these technologies enforce physical distancing at an individual level, the deployment of such technologies can assure other passengers that the service is safe.

DATA DEPLOYMENT IN OPERATIONS AND MANUFACTURING
Just as important as keeping passengers safe is ensuring that the public transport workforce is safe as well. Reducing the number of hours on site via predictive intelligent asset management and maintenance can reduce the risk of staff infections and subsequent disruptions to the workforce. One tool that is enabling operators as well as equipment manufacturers to be able to flexibly respond to these requirements are virtual twins. Prashanth Mysore global strategic business development and industry marketing director at Dassault Systèmes, highlights how virtual twins are being adopted.

“We’re seeing a surge in an adoption of technologies such as virtual twin experience to automate factories and operations, so they can be more flexible and agile.”

With much of the workforce encouraged to continue working from home, cloud-based platforms are providing businesses continuity.

“Virtual twin experience provides a way to interact, collaborate, and control the real-world operation while remotely working,” said Mysore.

In product design, digital twins can be used to recalibrate designs to accommodate physical distancing measures, while also virtually testing the spread of diseases within confined environments such as a rail carriage.

“There is an increasing adoption of simulations of design for safety, for example railcoach designs and cabin designs are using this widest propagation simulation technology to better design for safety,” said Mysore.

Working with a model-based design on a virtual platform can allow for the rapid altering of existing products.

“Model-based design will really give a lot of flexibility in implementing concepts such as scientific simulation models that really helps with adopting those safety principles,” said Mysore.

Dassault Systèmes SIMULIA technology shows how particles are distributed during a simulation of a sneeze in order to design and create better personal protection equipment.

UPDATING DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION
While it is too early to definitively state what aspects of our lives have been permanently changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Barakat sees a shift in how willing passengers may be to have their movements captured as data, and how disposed operators will be to apply the collected data.

“What we are finding now with COVID-19 is that, because it’s about the personal safety of each passenger, including their own, commuters seem to be more accepting of CCTV data being captured and analysed to detect safety breaches,” he said.

One area where passenger data could be used more, highlighted Mysore, is in workforce planning and schedule optimisation.

“For the transportation sector more frequent workforce planning is needed in order to have your business continue amid the developing norms of social distancing and minimal workforce availability. Platforms have the capability to focus on scheduling agility. To accommodate disruptions, you need to have workforce planning agility and the scheduling agility, both on the production side and the operations side.”

In order to reduce crowding at the station and on carriages, Barakat foresees an appetite for more integrated transport management.

“What could be improved is interconnectivity between multimodal transport and ensuring that the timetables are coherent so that when a ferry or a bus arrives at a hub there’s a train ready within a few minutes so that you reduce the dwell time of the passengers.

With reduced patronage during this period of COVID, operators need to maintain a reasonable level of train and public transport operations, so by having an intelligence train management system you can have time table management in real time to deal with passenger flow unpredictability as commuters stagger their working hours and balance work from home and work from the office.”

pets

Auckland allows pets to travel on trains

Pets can now travel on trains in Auckland.

The move follows two trials and a survey of passengers. Only 12 per cent of people opposed having pets on trains.

Pets can travel outside of the peaks on weekdays, from 9am to 3pm and after 6.30pm. On weekends and public holidays pets can travel all day. Dogs must wear a muzzle and lead or travel in an approved pet carrier.

Stacey van der Putter, group manager of Metro Services said the decision was based on customer sentiment.

“Our customers have really enjoyed being able to take their fur companions on the trains. Pet owners have been very supportive of the protocols that have been put in place to allow this initiative to happen.”

Auckland councillor Cathy Casey has been advocating for the change.

“This is another fantastic step towards making Auckland a more dog friendly city. We are finally catching up with the great cities of Europe where pets are welcomed on all forms of public transport.”

In Europe, many cities allow animals on public transport, with varying restrictions. Pets are often charged a concession or child price. In Zurich, dog owners can purchase an annual travel pass.

In contrast, most cities in the US do not allow pets to travel on public transport.

In Australia, pet owners are sometimes allowed to bring their companions with them on public transport. In Victoria, dogs can travel on trains but must be on a lead and wear a muzzle, and smaller animals can travel in an animal container.

In NSW, no pets are allowed on trains or metro services, however pets are allowed on light rail with the permission of light rail staff. The pet must be confined in a box, basket, or container.

In Queensland and Western Australia dogs are not allowed on trains.

Guide dogs are allowed to travel in all jurisdictions.

Wellington

Passenger services begin to return to normal operations

As the threat of coronavirus (COVID-19) eases, passenger rail operations are beginning to return to normal levels of service, however with some changes.

In New Zealand, where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the country was COVID free on Monday June 8, rail passenger operators in Auckland and Wellington have returned to normal service.

This has meant that in both cities, there is no longer any need for physical distancing on trains and the wider transport network.

Both cities, however, have made changes to how fares are collected.

In Wellington, where fares were suspended, fares will be reintroduced on July 1, said operator Metlink general manager Scott Gallacher.

“Reintroducing fares in July makes sense following New Zealand’s excellent response to COVID-19 and the recent removal of physical distancing measures under alert level 1. Our passengers, drivers, staff on trains and at station kiosks can now safely and confidently interact again.”

Hygiene practices will continue, and passengers are still being encouraged to use contactless payments wherever possible, instead of cash.

Chair of Greater Wellington’s transport committee Roger Blakeley thanked public transport workers for their service during COVID-19.

“As a public transport user myself, it’s been fantastic to see cleaners, engineers, mechanics, drivers, ambassadors, communications and operations staff, union reps and many more people behind the scenes coming together to keep public transport running as an essential service.”

In Auckland, a 30 per cent fare discount is available to encourage passengers to travel outside of peak hours. The discount runs from 9am to 3pm and after 6.30pm on weekday. The discount is available to those using the AT HOP card.

In Queensland, discounts of up to 60 per cent are available for long-distance train travel.

Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey encouraged Queenslanders to use rail to explore the state.

“To celebrate long-distance services being reinstated, the Queensland Escape sale means Queenslanders are good to go with huge price discounts to support them to get out of the house, jump on a train and explore our great state,” he said.

Social distancing on these services would continue, as will heightened cleaning regimes. Extra services will start from June 13, with another increase for the school holidays on June 26.

Scissor crossing and new trains in preparation for City Rail Link

A new scissor crossing has been installed at Mt Eden, in Auckland, to allow trains continue running while work on the City Rail Link continues.

The crossing was installed in an around-the-clock operation over the New Zealand Queen’s Birthday long weekend to minimise disruption to commuters, said KiwiRail COO Todd Moyle.

“To complete this job we needed over 80 hours of train-free track access to install the new track system.”

The scissor crossing was built offsite and then installed over the weekend.

“It took seven days to build and had to be craned into position. Sitting on 6m long concrete sleepers that span two tracks the new track was installed in 11 different sections – the heaviest being over 25 tonnes or the equivalent of two single decker buses,” said Moyle.

With the crossing now in place, the City Rail Link builder, Link Alliance, can progress work at Mt Eden where the new tunnel will connect with the existing rail network and the Western Link. The work is crucial for the success of New Zealand’s largest infrastructure project, said Dale Burtenshaw, deputy project director for Link Alliance.

“It means that a single line can run through Mt Eden while we undertake construction in the rail corridor for the new rail trenches and redeveloped station. We’ll be able to complete our construction safely while train users continue their journeys past Mt Eden.”

Moyle described how the new crossing would work.

“It is part of preparing Auckland’s network for the City Rail Link opening in 2024. By removing a pinch point and creating more flexible track use, the scissor crossover will allow trains to switch tracks when travelling in either direction and is critical to improving reliability as train frequency increases.”

New trains for Auckland
Auckland Transport has welcomed the arrival of the first of 15 new trains.

Built by CAF, the new trains are largely similar to those already in operation, with changes to door operation to reduce station wait times and new internal detailing.

Following the COVID-19 lockdown, Auckland is seeing a return to public transport with patronage back up to 50 per cent of normal levels, and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said the new trains will respond to increased demand.

“It’s great to see the new trains in service, they will help with increasing demand as we return to business as usual across the city.

Chief executive of Auckland Transport Shane Ellison said that the trains will add capacity alongside the City Rail Link project.

“We know that patronage on the rail network keeps growing, thanks to the success of the original fleet. These trains will help with added capacity as the network grows until the City Rail Link is completed.”