Contracts awarded for track and systems works on CRL

Two contracts have been awarded for the delivery of works for Auckland’s City Rail Link.

Known as C5 and C7, the contracts have been awarded to delivery consortium Link Alliance and are within the existing project budget.

C5 primarily involves the connection between the new line from Britomart, via Aotea and Karangahape, to the existing line at Mt Eden. Where the CRL meets the North Auckland Line at Mt Eden, the twin track split into two branches, eastbound and westbound, said Francois Dudouit, project director for the Link Alliance.

“This requires changing the vertical alignment of the NAL tracks and partially the horizontal alignment, meaning replacement of tracks and overhead line equipment (OHLE) on more than 1km of the North Auckland line,” he said.

“It also requires retaining walls to transition from the existing NAL track level to the CRL line – a 3.5 per cent slope. More than 1,000 piles, diaphragm and sheet pile walls will be needed to build these retaining structures and the two cross-over structures to connect to the NAL upmain.”

Road and pedestrian bridges at a number of level crossings will also be built, including at Normanby Road, Fenton Street, and Porters Avenue, to improve cyclist and pedestrian safety.

The C7 contract covers the Systems Integration, Testing and Commissioning components of the CRL project. These include trackslab, track, overhead line, signalling, control systems, communications systems, control room fit-out and building work, and trackside auxiliaries. Work also includes integrating the new line and systems with the legacy systems on the Auckland rail network.

Dudouit said that work to connect the various components of the project is already occurring.

“Integration of the C5 and C7 teams into the Link Alliance is well underway across multiple workstreams including civils, programme and cost control. Early works such as utility relocations and establishing single-line running are already taking place as part of an integrated programme to deliver the City Rail Link to Aucklanders in 2024.”

As these elements of the project require involvement from various stakeholder from the current network, such as the transport authority, Auckland Transport, close working relationships have been established.

“KiwiRail and Auckland Transport, and their supply partners, are formally engaged for the City Rail Link project through stakeholder partnership agreements. On a day-to-day basis, staff from both Auckland Transport and KiwiRail work in the Link Alliance offices to maximise collaboration opportunities, as part of an established interface and relationship management programme,” said Dudoit.

Canberra COVID

Election results keep rail on track in ACT and NZ

Election results over the weekend have reconfirmed the pipeline of rail projects on both sides of the Tasman.

In the ACT, where the Labor-Greens coalition government was returned with a likely increased number of representatives in the legislative assembly, future progress on the Canberra light rail is confirmed.

Prior to the election the opposition Liberals had cast doubt over the second stage of the project, suggesting that a connection to Belconnen should be built instead of the currently planned extension to Woden. ACT Labor has said that once the extension to Woden is complete, work will begin on a line from Belconnen to the Airport.

Public Transport Association of Canberra chair Ryan Hemsley said that light rail was a key election issue in the capital.

“Saturday’s election results have re-confirmed the trends we saw four years ago, with strong swings towards the government in Murrumbidgee and Brindabella cementing light rail as a vote-winner,” said Hemsley.

“In contrast to the pro-light rail policies offered by Labor and the Greens, the Canberra Liberals offered half-hearted and at times inconsistent support for the extension of light rail to Woden.”

Light rail also made an appearance in the New Zealand election which saw the Labour Party returned with a parliamentary majority. The party, which had previously governed in a coalition with the Green Party and NZ First, has committed to progressing the Auckland light rail project from the city centre to Māngere and the Auckland Airport.

The party has committed to continue investing in KiwiRail, which has received large cash injections in recent budgets to improve New Zealand’s rail infrastructure and freight services. Upgrades to Wellington’s commuter rail network are also part of the party’s platform.

Under investment in Auckland’s rail network was revealed earlier this year and led to a city-wide restriction on services. The most recent works have seen a 10-minute frequency returned to the Eastern Line and improvements between Otahuhu and Newmarket on the Southern line. Further work on the Southern Line between Homai and Pukekohe will continue for the next three weeks.

KiwiRail chief operating officer Todd Moyle said works have been completed efficiently and on schedule.

“During the first closure on the Eastern Line the teams met their target of replacing 20 km of rail and more than 3500 sleepers on the 10km between Panmure and the city centre,” he said.

“We are continuing to work with Auckland Transport to review our progress and plan the way ahead. We have agreed a programme of rolling line closures across the network is the best and most efficient way to progress this work over the coming months. For the next month our focus will remain on the Southern Line.”

Further network closures are planned for the Christmas period when patronage decreases.

Wellington

Masks allow for full capacity on New Zealand trains

Auckland and Wellington are removing caps on capacity levels designed to enable physical distancing on trains, buses, and ferries.

Wellington’s transport operator Metlink said that face coverings have been an effective way to limit the risk of COVID-19 spreading and that capacity could return to normal.

“This change comes on the back of the hard work of Metlink staff and passengers who have shown fantastic support for face coverings, giving the Government confidence to relax physical distancing on public transport,” said Metlink general manager Scott Gallacher.

In Auckland, while physical distancing is still recommended, restrictions have also been lifted.

“The relaxation of physical distancing requirements on public transport is good news for Aucklanders and will allow more people to use our trains, buses and ferries to get around the city,” said Auckland Mayor Phil Goff.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that physical distancing on public transport was no longer required, and the wearing of face masks made the lifting of capacity limits possible.

“Mask use will continue to be compulsory, and has been key in the recommendation by the Director General that this change is safe to occur.”

To assist in the event of an outbreak, in Auckland and Wellington passengers are still encouraged to scan QR codes, and maintain hygiene practices on public transport.

“It’s important that everyone continues to wear a face covering on public transport to limit spread of COVID-19. Please also keep track of your movements with the NZ COVID Tracer app and continue good hygiene practices like handwashing and covering coughs or sneezes,” said Goff.

While COVID-19 alert levels are remaining where they are at the moment, level 2.5 in Auckland and level 2 in the rest of the country, they are expected to come down further next week.

Gallacher welcomed the efforts of staff and the community.

“Thank you for your ongoing cooperation and patience, as we work together to keep our community safe and healthy.”

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.

Wellington

Certainty needed on transport funding: LGNZ

Local governments in New Zealand have called for more protection and certainty for public transport funding in the New Zealand government’s post COVID-19 recovery planning.

The push was led by the Greater Wellington Regional Council, which runs train services through operator Metlink.

Chair of Greater Wellington’s Transport Committee Roger Blakeley said the council’s motion, known as a remit, adopted by Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) on August 21, is highlighting ongoing uncertainty as to how commuters will return to public transport.

“In New Zealand, Wellington in particular, recovery of patronage on public transport has been relatively fast compared to overseas but that’s still only a partial recovery. Our experience over the last few weeks, where the threat of COVID-19 has re-emerged, has highlighted the need for ongoing vigilance and that full recovery will take time,” said Blakeley.

During the pandemic, the New Zealand government has addressed the shortfall in farebox revenue by providing public transport funding through Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency. This extra transport funding also covered additional costs such as cleaning, stickers, and advertising that directed commuters how to travel safely during COVID-19.

With New Zealand experiencing a mild second wave of the virus, particularly near Auckland, leading to newly imposed restrictions, councils are concerned about what future arrangements will need to be put in place, said Blakeley.

“While the government, through Waka Kotahi, had signalled a degree of financial certainty for the current financial year, the last week has started to raise questions on the sustainability of this funding. This remit calls for the government to continue to work in partnership with councils to ensure the ongoing viability of public transport in the regions, cities, towns and communities across New Zealand,” said Blakeley.

“Put bluntly, if patronage levels fail to rise to pre-Covid-19 levels the financial viability of providing public transport networks will come into question. We’re calling on the government to continue to support councils to deliver the benefits of public transport to our communities and those that rely on it the most.”

The remit now calls on the president of LGNZ to work with the Minister of Transport and Local Government to develop a work programme between government and councils to maintain the financial viability of public transport.

In New Zealand, public transport is largely the remit of local governments. Auckland runs train services through council-controlled organisation Auckland Transport and Wellington provides public transport through Metlink. Both Metlink and Auckland Transport subcontract the operation of services to Transdev.

During the pandemic when the country was under alert level 4, services in Wellington were free. Auckland discontinued cash fares however continued to charge passengers through the AT Hop payment card.

TBM handed over for work on Auckland CRL

The City Rail Link (CRL) project in Auckland, New Zealand, has officially accepted ownership of its tunnel boring machine (TBM).

The machine has been assembled in Guangzhou, China and after a number of tests is ready to be shipped to New Zealand, said Francois Dudouit, project director for CRL’s tunnels and stations delivery consortium Link Alliance.

“The TBM successfully underwent more than 500 tests to make sure everything works as it should. There is now great excitement that we are ready for the next step – to bring the TBM to Auckland.”

The TBM has been designed to meet the unique challenges of tunnelling under Auckland, where it will dig the tunnels, transport the excavated spoil, and install the concrete panels that will line the tunnels.

“It is a unique, world class machine – an underground factory – purpose built to carve its way through Auckland’s sticky soil,” said Dudouit. “Just about everything that moves was tested to make sure it can do the transformational job it’s been designed for.”

While the CRL project has been slightly hampered by restrictions on travel for key personnel, and the delivery of the TBM was delayed due to the factory closing in China, the successful handing over of the TBM demonstrates that the project can continue during COVID-19, said Sean Sweeney, chief executive of CRL.

“The successful factory assessment tests and the handover of the TBM to the Link Alliance is a very clear and strong indication that the CRL project can meet critical milestones in a Covid-19 world.”

The TBM will carve out the twin, 1.6km-long tunnels between Mt Eden and central Auckland where it will connect with tunnels from Britomart. Delivery is expected in October and it will begin tunnelling in April. Each tunnel is expected to take nine months to complete.

The TBM will be named in honour of Māori rights champion Dame Whina Cooper.