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.

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.

CRL

CRL stepping-up after COVID-19 lockdown

Construction sites in central Auckland will be working double shifts to complete the City Rail Link (CRL) as quick as possible.

From Monday, May 18, working hours at the Mt Eden and Karangahape will be extended to up to 16 hours per day, from 7am to 10pm Monday to Friday and 7am to 7pm on Saturday.

Although essential back-office work was able to be completed while New Zealand’s level 4 restrictions prohibited site access, CRL chief executive Sean Sweeney said that the project has changed.

“I think we have come out of the lockdown pretty well – apparently faster than most projects – but one thing is certain, COVID-19’s legacy means CRL is now going to be a very different project than it was two months ago.”

The scale of the project, as the largest transport infrastructure project ever undertaken in New Zealand, has meant that the full restart of the project has a wider impact on the economy.

“This project plays a key role in the economic recovery post-COVID-19. The scale of CRL means there is so much we can do right now and into the future to create much needed jobs and to help get the economy pumping again,” said Sweeney.

“Operating two shifts on a site means more people working and more money in their pockets to go and spend locally.”

Currently, 40 key workers are stuck overseas and have been unable to travel to New Zealand, however the project is seeking to be classified as an essential service to enable the workers to come to New Zealand.

“If we able to persuade the Government to support our request, those CRL workers overseas together with their skills should find it easier to get to New Zealand,” said Sweeney.

While the project remains on track, some other delays have been caused by the arrival of the boring machine pushed back until late 2020, with tunnelling to begin in early 2021. The lockdown’s full effect on costs and project timings is being investigated.

“That work will take several months, and the outcome will depend on the health of the economy, how our suppliers here at home and overseas are faring, and on international efforts to curb COVID-19,” said Sweeney. “CRL is important for Auckland’s future and the measures announced today are an important first step to keep to our timetable and to our budget.”

Work resumes on all CRL sites

Construction on the City Rail Link (CRL) in Auckland has resumed.

On-site activity was temporarily halted for five weeks during the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown in New Zealand, however all six CRL sites are now operating. These sites are located in the middle of the Auckland CBD at Britomart, Albert Street, Karangahape, and Mt Eden, as well as at Ōtāhuhu.

Although construction may have been halted, off-site work could continue, enabling what CRL Ltd chief executive Sean Sweeney called a “strong and safe” return to construction.

“The prep work completed at our sites during the past week together with planning and design work done from home by our backroom teams during the lockdown will all contribute to a successful return to work.”

Other rail projects across New Zealand have also resumed, with KiwiRail workers returning to sites including the Kaikōura rebuild and the Wellington metro upgrades. Transport Minister Phil Twyford acknowledged the efforts of the rail and construction sectors.

“I’d like to thank the industry, Waka Kotahi, City Rail Link Ltd and KiwiRail for their efforts which will see well over 1,000 construction workers back on the job this week. For example, the Kaikōura rebuild will see around 450 road and rail workers back to work, City Rail Link expects 400 workers back this week, and Transmission Gully and Pūhoi to Warkworth will ramp back up to hundreds of workers at each.”

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said works would soften the economic impact of COVID-19.

“We’re putting our money where our mouth is and getting people back to work day one of Alert Level 3 so we can get money into the pockets of businesses and workers sooner.”

At CRL sites 200 workers are on site on the first day, Tuesday, April 28, and numbers will go up to 400 by the end of the week.

“Our priority is the safety of our construction teams and the wider community.  At morning start-up and toolbox meetings workers will be briefed about stringent new health and safety protocols before they make a successful start to their shifts. Those rules cover things like access to sites, safety and protection for themselves and their workmates, and sanitation and cleaning regimes. We’ll be applying the protocols diligently,” said Sweeney.

Rail has been targeted as a way for the New Zealand economy to recover after the lockdown, with multiple projects put forward by local governments and the NZ Greens pushing for further work on the country’s regional rail system. According to Sweeney, CRL has a role to play in this.

“Given the project’s size and the contribution it can make, getting back to work quickly will be a significant and important contribution to the revival of the New Zealand economy.”

Similar to other projects in Australia, CRL is looking to take advantage of lower traffic levels to get ahead of schedule.

“It is our priority to keep the community, and relevant organisation and stakeholders informed if there are any changes,” said Sweeney.

NZ City Rail Link ready to re-start construction

The New Zealand government has approved Auckland’s $4.45 billion City Rail Link (CRL) to resume construction after the COVID-19 lockdown.

Sean Sweeney, CEO of New Zealand’s biggest infrastructure project said his team is champing at the bit for a rapid re-start.

“We’re already inspecting all CRL sites and making them ready for a safe return to work next week,” he said.

Work will resume on Tuesday, April 28 at all CRL sites including the C1 contract at Britomart and LowerQueen Street, C2 in Albert Street, C3 at Aotea in central Auckland, Karangahape Road and at MtEden, and C8 on the southern rail line at Ōtāhuhu.

“Because of our size we’re aware of the big role we have in quickly getting the economy moving again, supporting the contracting and infrastructure industries and seeing our workers safely back on the job,” Sweeney said.

He said the paramount priority will be keeping workers and the wider community safe.

“We had some pretty strict safety measures in place before the lockdown, but next Tuesday’s return to work will be different,” he said.

Sweeny said there will be additional constraints including restricted access to sites, physical distancing, protective clothing and sanitising and cleaning regimes.

“They will all contribute to a successful re-start in the new COVID-19 work environment, and, just as importantly, they will help ensure our workers get home to family and friends virus-free when they finish their shifts,” he said.

Sweeney said it is too early to measure if COVID-19 has impacted on project costs or construction timetables.

“It may be months before we know that once the economy has settled down a bit and we have a clearer picture on the availability of workers, and what sort of shape some of our suppliers both here and overseas are in,” he said.

“I know we have a small team of workers waiting in France because there are no flights here at the moment – that’s not a lockdown issue that‘s a wider international COVID-19 issue.

“A big plus for the project was ability of City Rail Link Ltd (CRL Ltd) and our Link Alliance contractors to be able to keep working on construction and design programmes during the lockdown – time wasn’t wasted and that’s been a big boost for our re-start.”

The project team is investigating opportunities to accelerate some work, including more shifts of work and the use of extra plant and machinery.

“Those ‘shovel ready’ ideas are still in the planning stages but our contractors will be working hard – and safely – to get CRL delivered as quickly as possible for Auckland,” Sweeney said.

Phil Goff, Auckland Mayor, has welcomed the government’s announcement to resume construction and CRL’s re-start news.

“As one of Auckland – and New Zealand’s – biggest and most important infrastructure projects, the City Rail Link will play an important role in the post-COVID-19 economic stimulus,”Goff said.

“It’s critical that CRL construction resumes quickly to help kick start the economy, get construction and infrastructure industry employees back into work and limit as much as is possible the lockdown’s impact on construction timeframes.”

In the meantime, City Rail Link is in the search for an inspiring woman’s name for the project’s Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM).

The TBM is due to arrive from China later this year in sections and reassembled at the Link Alliance construction site in Mt Eden.

The Link Alliance will start tunnelling with the newly named TBM early next year, excavating 1.6 kilometres from Mt Eden to the Aotea Station in central Auckland to connect with the tunnels already constructed from the Britomart Station.

“Tunnelling tradition dictates a TBM cannot start work until it has been given a female name, a sign of good luck and safety for the project ahead. Our search seeks to recognise the many amazing women New Zealand has produced,” Sweeney said.

Shortlisted names include Antarctic scientist Dr Margaret Hayward, transgender politician Georgina Beyer, and Maori welfare and lands champion Dame Whina Cooper.

NZ rail projects part of post-Covid-19 wishlist

New Zealand is looking for major infrastructure projects to get the country going once its lockdown phase ends.

After the NZ government announced on April 1 that it would be looking to fund infrastructure, including rail, worth over $10 million councils have now submitted proposals.

Although the projects come from a range of infrastructure sectors, both Auckland and Wellington have nominated rail projects as some of their priorities.

The City Rail Link in Auckland is one of the 73 projects the local authority has submitted to the national government. Although already mid-build, the City Rail Link has been put on hold due to the shutdown but is part of the city and the nation’s long-term vision, said Auckland councillor Chris Darby.

“Not only are these projects ‘shovel-ready’, they are also ‘future-ready’. This once in a generation investment will create jobs for Aucklanders who will build a transforming legacy for our city.”

Mayor Phil Goff said that the local authority would be looking to work with the construction industry to progress the projects.

“Prior to COVID-19, Auckland Council was on track to deliver a capital works programme exceeding $2 billion for the financial year,” said Goff.

Other rail projects to be nominated to the Infrastructure Industry Reference Group (IIRG) include the Puhinui rail and bus interchange.

Councillors from the Wellington region have also nominated upgrades to rail stations and improved long-distance rolling stock as essential for the region.

Andy Foster, Mayor of Wellington City Council, said that the package was submitted collaboratively with councils across the region.

“Wellington region already had very significant infrastructure needs before COVID-19 – coping with growth, resilience and connectivity. COVID 19’s impact on our economy and on Councils themselves makes Government’s willingness to assist even more critical than it already was.”

Announcing the IIRG, which includes KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller and NZ Transport Administration chairman Brian Roche, Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones said that projects will be looked at based on their impact.

“These projects will help address the country’s infrastructure deficit as well as create jobs and buoy the economy.”

Transport Minister Phil Twyford outlined what types of projects could receive funding.

“The types of projects the Government would consider funding include water, transport, clean energy and buildings. They would also have a public or regional benefit, create jobs and be able to get underway in short order.”

CRL links Auckland to its volcanic past

Construction of the City Rail Link (CRL) in Auckland has uncovered a link to the region’s pre-historic past.

A tree fragment uncovered during tunnel boring has been dated to 28,000 years ago.

The fragment was found when CRL’s small tunnel boring machine, Jeffie, was excavating for a stormwater drain under Mt Eden. The machine was tunnelling through an ancient lava field 15 metres below ground.

After being extracted from the site, the tree fragments were sent to volcanologists for radiocarbon dating. This confirmed that Maungawhau/Mt Eden erupted roughly 28,000 years ago, said Elaine Smid volcanologist at DEVORA.

“We have used other techniques to date this eruption, with similar findings. This new radiocarbon result removes any lingering doubts about the age of Maungawhau/Mt Eden.”

The finding allows for scientists to confirm that Mt Eden erupted during the Ice Age, and connects the current rail tunnelling program to similarly significant geological events in Auckland’s past, said Gabriel Kirkwood Kaitiaki for Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki – Taiaomaurikura.

“Both events in their own way are creating dramatic changes to the landscape of Tāmaki Makaurau and the way we interact with it for generations to come,” said Kirkwood.

The tunnelling is part of excavations to connect CRL tunnels with Auckland’s existing rail network at Mt Eden. While the CRL will enable Aucklanders to travel around their city without the need to get into cars, the excavation has helped in other ways to keep Auckland safe, said Smid.

“DEVORA scientists use volcano ages to identify eruption patterns and to better understand how the Auckland Volcanic Field has behaved in the past – it’d like a big puzzle,” she said.

“This age is another piece in that puzzle, now slotted firmly into place. Every piece we add tells us a little more about how the volcanic field may behave in the future, making Auckland a safer place.”

Continuation of passenger rail services a priority

While official advice in Australia and New Zealand is to now limit all non-essential travel, authorities across both countries have prioritised keeping passenger rail services running to ensure that front-line health workers and other critical staff can get to work.

Queensland has now limited long-haul train services, however the state will maintain capacity on some routes, said Transport and Main Roads Minister, Mark Bailey.

“People will still have access to long distance passenger services for essential reasons on all key corridors, but the frequency of those services will be reduced, and we’ll manage passenger numbers on board to separate passengers from each other.”

Services which largely cater to tourists have been cancelled, including the Spirit of the Outback (Brisbane to Longreach), Westlander (Brisbane to Charleville), and Inlander (Townsville to Mount Isa). Additionally, The Savannahlander, Gulflander, and Kuranda Scenic Railway have also been suspended.

There will be no impact on freight services that use these lines.

Passenger services along Queensland’s east coast from Brisbane to Cairns will be reduced by 50 per cent.

Bailey noted that these measures will be temporary.

“These are temporary measures, but they are critical to curbing the spread of COVID-19 into our rural and regional communities.”

In South East Queensland, passenger services are continuing, however Queensland Rail is going cashless. EFTPOS transactions, online top ups or pre-purchased paper tickets are encouraged.

These measures have followed a fall in patronage of up to 60 per cent in Queensland.

Other jurisdictions have also seen large falls in passenger numbers, with a 40-45 per cent decline in NSW in the past two weeks. This drop has in some ways allowed for services to continue, as social distancing can be practiced.

“It is no surprise to anyone that customer numbers are down across our trains, buses, ferries and light rail due to the Coronavirus outbreak, however importantly this has created sufficient space on all modes to allow our customers to socially distance themselves in the majority of cases,” said Transport for NSW secretary, Rodd Staples.

Regional rail services in NSW remain running with booking measures in place to allow for social distancing.

$54b will be invested in New Zealand transport

The New Zealand government will invest a record $54 billion (AUD$53.5) in land transport.

Part of the government’s Draft Government Policy Statement (GPS) 2021, over the next decade billions of dollars will be committed to improve transport infrastructure.

The GPS is how the government guides Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency to invest more than $4.5 billion a year raised through the National Land Transport Fund. It guides the agency to allocate funding towards rail and public transport.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said this transport investment will make a real difference to New Zealand’s economic recovery.

“The Draft GPS 2021 signals that we will make a record investment in transport of $48 billion on top of our $6.8 billion from the NZ Upgrade Programme, which will help give the transport construction industry certainty during the current global economic headwinds,” he said.

“Given how both rail and coastal shipping help take pressure off our roads and produce less emissions, we are looking to fund both in GPS 2021.”

Twyford said building alternative transport options for people and freight is a vital part of achieving the Government’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

The announcement follows the new Hamilton to Auckland passenger train service that has received funding through the NZ Transport Agency for five years.

From August 3 this year, the Te Huia service will consist of two morning trains from Hamilton, with two return evening trains each week day and a single return train on Saturday.

Twyford said the new service is part of a wider government vision to enable development along the Hamilton-Auckland growth corridor.

“Our government is already investing $618 million to electrify the rail lines in South Auckland out to Pukekohe and build railway stations in Drury, which will support a whole new future town there,” he said.

The Ministry of Transport also has work underway to investigate options for rapid rail between Hamilton and Auckland.

The federal budget 2019 provided a $1 billion funding boost to support a long overdue revitalisation of rail and work has already started on the $196 million Wellington commuter rail upgrades. 

The Government is now seeking feedback from local government, the transport sector, community groups and the wider public on the draft GPS 2021.

Engagement on the draft GPS closes 27 April 2020.

scenic

KiwiRail grows revenue amid modal shift

KiwiRail has increased its revenue for the half year ending on 31 December 2019, despite what group chief executive Greg Miller called a “difficult environment”.

“We are pleased we have held the revenue line in a difficult environment that included an economic downturn in multiple markets, along with natural events that damaged the network. Despite these challenges, we saw our import/export business grow by 5 per cent compared to the previous half year,” said Miller.

The reported revenue for HY20 was NZ$333.6 million ($319.3m), a 3 per cent improvement for this period.

Miller highlighted that rail in New Zealand, and KiwiRail in particular, was going through changes.

“KiwiRail is in a transitional phase that will allow it to play a critical part in an integrated transport system that will deliver long term benefits for New Zealand,” he said.

New Zealand has made large funding commitments to rail infrastructure in the country, to increase rail’s share of both passenger and freight movements. In February, the government announced over $100 million in investment in Northland rail freight, this followed more than $200 million in funding for services in Wellington and Auckland.

“This is a watershed year for KiwiRail, as we start the transformation of our business. The Government has made a huge commitment to rail, and the investment that is being made in our network and in our rolling stock will position us well to meet the current and future demand of our customers,” said Miller.

Additionally, in the last year safety figures also improved, with the lowest number of collisions between vehicles and trains on record.

Work carried out in HY20 included the launch of the design for an intermodal freight hub in Palmerston North, work on double tracking the Hutt Valley Link, the arrival of 450 wagons as part of the rollingstock replacement project, and revitalisation of the Hillside workshops. KiwiRail has adopted the use of building information modelling (BIM) for horizontal construction for the first time, in the construction of the Trentham Underpass.

At the end of HY20, KiwiRail recorded a loss of $33.7m. Freight made up the bulk of the revenue, with $200.4m in revenue, while expenses included salaries and wages, materials and supplies, fuel and traction electricity, and incidents and insurance. Downturns in volumes were driven by market conditions in forestry and domestic markets, as well as flooding at Rangitata and a landslide causing a line closure at Omoto.