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.

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.”

Puhinui

Contract awarded for Puhinui station interchange main works

A joint venture has been selected to complete the NZ$46.6 million ($43.4m) Puhinui station interchange.

McConnell Dowell and Built Environs will construct the bus and rail interchange.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said that the project, estimated for completion in 2021 is responding to the needs of the surrounding area.

“The Puhinui Station Interchange will guarantee reliable and convenient connections for bus and train commuters and help ease congestion,” he said.

“The project will also provide jobs and stimulate the economy to bring forward recovery from the recession caused by COVID-19.”

Early works including foundations, columns, and lift shafts have already been completed, and the next steps involve the installation of the concourse bridge deck, stairs, and the steel superstructure.

New Zealand Transport Minister Phil Twyford said that the interchange will enable better access to Auckland airport.

“When the upgrades to SH20B/Puhinui Road and the Interchange are complete, any Aucklander with access to the rail network will have a fast and convenient 10-minute bus connection to the airport.”

Aotea station ground breaking

A major step in the construction of Aotea station, underneath central Auckland, has taken place.

Twyford joined Goff turned on a 90-tonne ground cutting machine, known as a hydrophraise that will make way for the station’s walls.

The 15 metre deep station, part of the City Rail link project will change the way people get into Auckland, said Goff.A

“When it opens, CRL will double the number of people able to travel into and through the city centre, carrying up to 54,000 people an hour during peak times. The project will create a better Auckland, reducing traffic congestion and transforming our city centre into a vibrant place to spend time in.”

Twyford said that a milestone such as this was even more significant as construction had been impacted by the COVID-19 shutdown.

“Initiatives like extending working hours has allowed the project to quickly ramp up construction momentum after the Covid-19 lockdown and allows us to celebrate today’s milestone for a project that will deliver so much now and in the future.”

With the hydrofraise now turned on, excavation work to allow for diaphragm walls to be constructed can soon begin.

Once complete, Aotea is expected to be the busiest station in New Zealand, with trains arriving up to every 10 minutes. The station will be the connection point between tunnels to Britomart and Karangahape station, which will then link to Mt Eden and the wider rail network.

“CRL is a huge project helping to provide much needed stimulus to the economy and guaranteed jobs,” said Twyford.

Future of Auckland light rail back to drawing board

The New Zealand government has ended the current Auckland Light Rail process, Transport Minister Phil Twyford announced on June 24.

The process had seen two separate proposals delivered to the government, one from state-owned builder Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and one from NZ Infra, a joint venture between the New Zealand Super Fund and Canadian pension fund investment CDPQ Infra.

The project’s future will be decided by the government after New Zealand goes to the polls in September.

“The Ministry of Transport and the Treasury will report back after the general election on the best option for this project to be delivered by the public sector. The Ministry of Transport and the Treasury will also engage with NZ Infra and Waka Kotahi about how work done on this project can support the next phase,” said Twyford.

“Auckland Light Rail will be New Zealand’s most complex infrastructure project in decades and it’s vital we get it right for future generations.”

The proposed light rail, which would have connected Auckland’s CBD with the airport, had been a source of contention between the two minor parties in the New Zealand coalition government. While the Greens had supported Labour’s plan for the project, Deputy Prime Minister and NZ First leader Winston Peters was concerned the cost of the project would blow out and wanted to focus on heavy rail instead.

Twyford thanked the bidders for their work and proposals.

“Either would have created hundreds of jobs and resulted in an Auckland metro that offered Aucklanders a 30 minute trip from the CBD to the Airport.”

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said he was disappointed with the outcome.

“It is frustrating that after three years, disagreement within the coalition has held this process up. It’s now less than 90 days until the general election and we expect the incoming government to act quickly and decisively to outline its proposal to get light rail built.”

benefit

NZ rail projects benefit from fast-track legislation

Rail networks in Auckland and Wellington will benefit from faster approvals in a bill introduced to parliament in New Zealand.

The bill names 11 projects that will benefit, three of which are rail projects. The first is the upgrade to Britomart station in downtown Auckland which will enable City Rail Link to operate at full capacity once services begin.

The next project is the electrification of the Pukekohe line from Papakura and the construction of three rail platforms. Auckland Metro services will then be able to terminate at Pukekohe, decreasing emissions from transport and avoiding the need to change to diesel-hauled services.

The third project is a suite of small projects across the Wellington Metro network known as the Wellington Metro Upgrade programme. These projects include upgrading drainage and stations, new tracks and storage yards, as well as the creation and operation of a gravel extraction site. Once complete, the works will increase passenger and freight capacity between Masterton, Levin, and Wellington.

If passed, the projects will be assessed by Expert Consenting Panels, which will place appropriate conditions on the projects, allowing them to proceed.

“Accelerating these projects will create opportunities for more employment and a boost to local economies,” said Environment Minister David Parker.

The bill also includes the provision for KiwiRail to undertake repair, maintenance, and minor upgrade works on existing infrastructure within the rail corridor as a permitted activity. This would mean the state-owned enterprise would not need a resource consent.

The fast-track law will exist for a limited time and will self-repeal in two years.

Utility relocation works underway on CRL
Workers on Auckland’s City Rail Link are currently having to contend with what the project terms a “spiders’ web” of utility networks underneath city streets.

At the site of the upcoming Aotea station, a gas main threatened to disrupt construction works, said Link Alliance site engineer Abhi Amin.

“That pipe wasn’t in our scope – not buried below the service lane where we thought it would be. Its location was exactly where we didn’t want it to be – in the ceiling right in the way of our planned piling for a diaphragm wall to support the new station,” said Amin. “Shifting it quickly became a critical part of the construction programme.”