Auckland

Rail renewal underway on Auckland network

12 kilometres of rail and 2,500 sleepers are being replaced at the centre of the rail network in Auckland.

Staff from KiwiRail are working at night and on weekends to renovate the track on the Eastern Line between Britomart and Otahuhu.

Chief operating officer of KiwiRail, Todd Moyle, said that the works would enable faster, more reliable services.

“Getting this work done will enable us to remove speed restrictions on the line and when finished, commuters will enjoy a quicker, smoother and quieter journey,” said Moyle.

“Replacing the rail and sleepers can only be done when no trains are running. We have worked closely with Auckland Transport to settle on a work programme that allows us to minimise disruption for commuters while enabling us to get the work done efficiently and safely.”

The team of 200 people will be repairing a line that is used by 3,500 commuter services and 246 freight trains each week. The amount of traffic has required limits on the line.

“That amount of rail traffic causes wear and tear on the rails over time, just as heavy traffic does to road surfaces, and in some cases we have to put speed restrictions in place. It is critical that we replace the rails so we can keep trains running efficiently and safely on the network for the thousands of rail commuters,” said Moyle.

Buses will replace trains during the evening and at weekends and noise and disturbances will be minimised to reduce disruption.

“We are working progressively across the entire network to replace the oldest and most worn sections of track, with 23km of new rail already in place across the network since March 2019. This period of work on the Eastern Line will take about eight weeks, with more work planned for late September,” said Moyle.

Auckland’s rail network has seen an increase in patronage, and with new lines being built, the rail network is expected to shoulder a greater capacity of the city’s transportation.

“The work forms part of an ongoing project to improve the Auckland network, lay a foundation for predicted growth in passenger and freight volumes, and ensure the benefits of the City Rail Link can be delivered,” said Moyle.

New Zealand limits capacity as public transport returns to schedule

Public transport is returning to normal in New Zealand, however capacity will be limited on services.

To maintain physical distancing when the country enters level 2 restrictions, rail operators are reducing and enforcing capacity limits.

Standing will not be allowed on Auckland and Wellington trains, with Auckland running at about 43 per cent of normal passenger capacity while operating normal schedules, while in Wellington trains will be carrying 30 per cent of their regular load.

Passengers are being advised that they may not be able to catch their regular service.

“Physical distancing and no standing means our fleets will still be operating below their maximum seated load and we thank passengers for their patience and understanding if they are unable to catch their first choice bus, train or ferry,” said Scott Gallacher, general manager of Metlink, Wellington’s public transport operator.

In Auckland, the AT Mobile app will inform passengers how many people are on a train, to know if there is space to board. People who must travel are also being encouraged to take public transport outside of peak hours, when possible, and employers are being asked to stagger their return to work plans.

Extra cleaning and hygiene practices are continuing across public transport as well as public communication practices to inform travellers of the new requirements.

“Please remember to keep up with physical distancing and the heightened hygiene focus which we have learned over recent months,” said Auckland Mayor Phil Goff.

“And we need, all of us, to avoid any behaviour which might increase the risk of transmitting COVID-19. The last thing we want is to have to return to Level 3 or Level 4 lockdown.”

Queensland institutes toughest fines yet for spitting on workers

Queensland is instituting some of the toughest fines yet for those who deliberately cough, sneeze or spit at public officials and workers.

The direction allows for fines of up to $13,345 for those who do so, and includes transport workers including train crews.

The move follows similar fines in NSW, where police can issue anyone who coughs or spits on workers a fine of up to $5,000.

Announcing the directive, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said that she wanted to protect workers.

“I was disturbed to hear stories of people threatening to deliberately infect frontline staff.

“It’s disgusting and I want police to throw the book at them.”

The directive covers a public official or any worker at work or travelling for work during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

There have been reports of spitting and attacks on transport staff in other jurisdictions in Australian and New Zealand. On April 20, Auckland Transport chief executive Shane Ellison said there were two incidents where essential workers have been spat at.

“A couple were joy-riding on our trains and were told to get off. As they were being escorted from the train, a female spat at three of our staff. Two men and a woman have had to be stood down as a result of this incident and have gone into isolation. This behaviour is totally unacceptable. The incident was caught on CCTV and the police now have that footage.”

Another incident occurred when a security guard was spat at while working for Auckland Transport.

“Our staff and contractors are out there in all weathers ensuring that essential workers can get to their jobs and we cannot tolerate this sort of behaviour. We are working with the police to ensure that our staff can do their job without being assaulted,” said Ellison.

In NSW, a teenage girl spat at a Sydney railway station staffer, and said, “I have COVID” according to reports.

David Babineau, secretary of the Tram and Bus Division of the Rail, Tram & Bus Union of NSW, said that all workers should be treated with respect.

“Frankly, it’s disgusting in any circumstance but in the middle of the current health crisis it cannot be tolerated. Everyone has the right to go home safely from work and not wonder if they are bringing a potentially fatal disease home to their loved ones.”

Rail maintenance, upgrades getting ahead of schedule

Major rail projects are completing extra works while Australia and New Zealand are under lockdown measures.

In Sydney, a number of projects are taking advantage of lower commuter numbers and relaxed regulations around work hours to progress ahead of schedule.

In Parramatta, work on the light rail project is running seven days a week after the NSW government introduced changes to legislation to expand standard construction hours on weekends and public holidays. Works are being conducted from 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday, 7am to 6pm on Church St, and from 7am to 6pm on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays.

According to a Transport for NSW (TfNSW) spokesperson, all works are being done to minimise the impact on the local community.

“All reasonable measures to reduce noise impacts will continue to be implemented, including using the quietest equipment possible, placing machinery and vehicles as far away from properties as possible, conducting high noise generating activities during weekdays where possible, and implementing respite periods as required.”

In Parramatta, disruption is being minimised by scheduling utility works in non-peak periods, using sound blankets, directing lighting towers, and turning off equipment when not in use.

With the Sydney CBD experiencing extremely low traffic volumes during the lockdown period, work on the Sydney Metro City & Southwest has been able to increase. Lane closures previously only possible on weekends have been implemented on weekdays and extended work hours are in place at Central Station.

In Chullora, the construction of the new Digital Systems facility has extended hours over one weekend and will use extra hours where necessary.

Elsewhere in NSW work hours on the New Intercity Fleet maintenance facility have been extended to 7am to 6pm, seven days a week. Extended working hours are also being looked at for station accessibility upgrades at Fairy Meadow, Mittagong, Hawkesbury River, Wyee, and Waratah.

“All community members and stakeholders are thanked for their patience as work continues on important transport infrastructure across NSW,” said the TfNSW spokesperson.

Across the Tasman, KiwiRail has been conducting a significant maintenance program on the Auckland network. Lower commuter numbers during lockdown have allowed KiwiRail to lay over four kilometres of new rail on the Eastern line, said KiwiRail chief operating officer, Todd Moyle.

“We are able to use this time to carry out a great deal of work in a short timeframe. Normally this work would need to be completed during weekends across several months.”

Works will continue until Monday, April 27 and include replacement of worn rail between Glen Innes and Sylvia Park. The Eastern line not only serves commuters but freight rail services from the Port of Auckland.

“We’ve worked closely with Auckland Transport to arrange for this work to be done now so there will be a more reliable network for commuters once COVID-19 levels fall and businesses reopen,” said Moyle.

The slowdown in traffic on the commuter network allows a rare opportunity for continuous track work that would normally be done at weekends or overnight to minimise disruption.

“We’re doing this work now, while we have the opportunity, to avoid future disruptions to commuters and to ensure they get a great service once they return to work,” said Moyle.

Physical distancing measures are in place at all work sites.

Daytime freight services are being rerouted via Newmarket while commuter services are replaced by buses.

Real time data assisting social distancing

To enable commuters to continue travelling safely and to protect the health of staff, Auckland Transport (AT) has updated the AT Mobile app to allow train passengers to see if physical distancing will be possible before they board the train.

The app displays a live occupancy status, whether the train is likely empty, likely space available, likely near the limit of safe distancing, and likely not accepting passengers. The live data is drawn from tap on and off points, where travellers have used their AT HOP cards.

Across the AT network, 15,000 trips are being made per day, despite the New Zealand government’s Level 4 restrictions. These journeys are being made by essential workers, those needing to travel for medical reasons, or to access essential services.

According to Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, the solution was developed in a rapid time frame.

“It enables AT to ensure that it meets the rule of trains as well of buses running at no more than 20 per cent capacity to ensure passengers can maintain 2 metres of separation. This allows passengers travelling to essential work or to access essential services to know that they will be safe using public transport,” he said.

Once the lockdown period is over, users will continue to have access to the service, to avoid crowding and provide better customer information.

The service was previously available on buses, and was rolled out to trains this week, noted AT chief executive Shane Ellison.

“Those who are travelling on trains for essential trips are now able to make an informed decision about which service to take for their health and safety. I’m very proud of the team for making this update happen so quickly.”

Other updates are providing clearer information on updates to the transport network.

In Australia, while Transport for NSW (TfNSW) is not currently considering using real time data to assist passengers with social distancing, there are other ways for passengers to learn about train occupancy levels.

“TfNSW already provides passenger load data for bus and train services to apps such as TripView and NextThere which can assist customers with selecting the most suitable service to board,” said a TfNSW spokesperson.

Although patronage dropped by 75 to 85 per cent in the four weeks to March 31 across all modes in NSW, services are continuing to be maintained.

“TfNSW understands the important role public transport plays in the daily lives of commuters, especially in the regions, and there are currently no plans to reduce services of trains, buses and ferries across the vast network,” said the spokesperson.

“By maintaining the existing level of service on the NSW public transport network, customers are able to better practice social distancing when using the network for essential travel.”

Transport agencies respond to COVID-19 shutdown

On Sunday, March 22, NSW and Victoria announced shutdowns of non-essential services from midday, Monday, March 23.

While both states have continued to determine that public transport is an essential service, Victoria has introduced extra guidelines to keep passengers and rail workers safe from coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Victorian government has encouraged commuters to stagger the times that they need to use public transport. With the recommended distance of four square metres per person in indoor gatherings often difficult to achieve on public transport, even with reduced patronage numbers, travelling outside of peak times could be safer.

On top of measures announced last week, extra cleaning will be carried out on Victorian public transport, including trains and trams. Similarly, in Auckland personal hand sanitisers have been given to frontline staff, and new public hand sanitiser stands have been installed. Health advice has been displayed on services and in stations and stops.

Transport for NSW reiterated the advice it has given to passengers and staff to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Operators are encouraging passengers to use cashless payments, including the myki and AT HOP cards. Auckland Transport will not be accepting cash fares on buses from Monday, March 23.

Outside of the major cities, the Australian and New Zealand governments have prohibited non-essential travel. This has led to operators suspending some interstate and regional passenger services.

In Australia, The Overland, The Ghan, and the Indian Pacific have been cancelled until May 31 after Western Australia and the Northern Territory closed their borders to non essential travel. South Australia has also restricted border crossings. This closure does not apply to freight rail.

In New Zealand, KiwiRail has suspended three tourist trains, until further notice, said chief executive Greg Miller.

“Tomorrow’s TranzAlpine, Northern Explorer and Coastal Pacific trains have been cancelled and the services will remain suspended until further notice,” he said. The Capital Connection service will continue.

Miller said that safety of staff, customers, and communities was the priority.

V/Line has advised that passengers using regional services should reconsider if their journeys are essential. Café bar services on V/Line trains will not be available.

A Transport for NSW spokesperson said that regional and urban trains will continue as normal.

“We understand the important role public transport plays in the daily lives of our commuters, especially in the regions, and there is currently no plan to reduce services of trains or buses across our network.”

Electrical fire on Auckland metro network

An electrical fire in a signal cabinet has damaged signalling to the south of Newmarket on the Auckland metro network at just after 5am on Monday morning.

The fire was sparked in a passenger train signalling cabinet.

Todd Moyle, KiwiRail Group chief operating officer, said the fire has been extinguished as of 8am Monday morning.

“KiwiRail staff are on site and will restore the system as quickly as possible,” Moyle said.

“We are working with TransDev to reroute Southern Line trains along the Eastern Line from Otahuhu. At this point, the heaviest impact is limited to trains running between Penrose and Newmarket. Western Line trains continue to operate.

“We apologise for the inconvenience to Auckland commuters but safety must be paramount. The cause will be investigated.”

The heaviest impact during the peak hour commute was stations between Newmarket and Penrose (Penrose, Ellerslie, Greenlane, Remuera) as trains couldn’t run on that section on the track.

TransDev re-routed Southern Line trains via Otahuhu along the Eastern Line to access Britomart and all Western Line trains continue to run following the incident.

Auckland Transport stated in an updated social media post that southern line services will continue via the eastern line and western line services are stopping at Newmarket as of 11.10am Monday morning.

Auckland metro rail seeking new operations contractor following network boom

As Transdev Auckland’s contract to provide metro rail services comes to an end, Auckland Transport (AT) is seeking industry participants to operate the city’s metro rail passenger network from 2021.

Mark Lambert, executive general manager of integrated networks, said AT is now undertaking a tendering process for a future rail franchise agreement, with Expressions of Interest (EOIs) now open.

 “We have the determination to reinvigorate the region’s rail services. With the City Rail Link to be completed in 2024 and the other recent rail upgrades just announced by central government, the future of Auckland rail is very bright,” he said.

AT are moving towards a more integrated operating environment for rail services, this will see the incoming rail operator having greater responsibility and control for service delivery for the next phase of rail public transport growth in Auckland.

Last year public transport patronage totalled 103.2 million passenger boardings.

“We have made great progress in reinvigorating passenger rail in Auckland with the system now carrying 22 million passengers per year, with growth of 5 per cent in the past year,” Lambert said.

An AT Metro train services spokesperson said that figure is the highest rate ever of train patronage.

The first three of Auckland’s new trains have arrived and are currently being tested and certified, allowing larger trains to run during the morning and afternoon peak times.

The remaining 12 new trains will arrive before the end of the year, bringing the fleet to a total of 72.

Peter Lensink, Transdev Auckland’s managing director, said the increasing passenger numbers are also a reflection of the work being put in by the company’s train crew, on behalf of AT.

“Aucklanders want to get to their destination safely, on time, and in the care of highly-trained and friendly staff,” Lensink said.

Mayor Phil Goff says investment in infrastructure and improvements to services are encouraging the strong growth.

“Our record investment in transport infrastructure and services has seen public transport patronage grow at more than five times the rate of population,” he said.

The current rail operating contract for Auckland metro train services has been in place since 2004.

Following the evaluation of EOI responses received, AT will shortlist participants, who will be invited to respond to the RFP process for the Auckland Rail Franchise.

The contract is expected to be awarded in February 2021.