NZ announces new $1.1 billion rail investments

The New Zealand Government has announced a programme of new transport investments in six main growth areas across the country.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said $6.8 billion is being invested across road, rail, and public transport infrastructure across New Zealand.

$1.1 billion is part of targeted rail investments aiming to get trucks off the road in the six main growth areas of Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Wellington, Canterbury, and Queenstown.

The rail package will include completing the third main rail line will remove a key bottleneck for freight and passenger services, as well as provide additional capacity for the increased services once the City Rail Link is completed.

Two new railway stations in Drury Central and Drury West will be funded, as well as electrifying the railway track between Papakura to Pukekohe to speed up commutes to the CBD.

Twyford said additional Wellington rail upgrades, including in the Wairarapa, will make the lines north of the city more reliable to meet a growing demand for rail services.

“Our decision to fund these projects by taking advantage of historically low long-term interest rates means this programme will free up funding in the National Land Transport Fund and Auckland transport budgets.”

Twyford said this programme brings forward and funds significant projects, allowing them to be built sooner.

“Many of these projects have been talked about for a long time, but we are the first Government to fund them, we have also made important changes,”

The investment announcement follows recent plans to revitalise KiwiRail’s Hillside workshops with demolition of disused and dilapidated buildings on the site currently underway.

Last year the Government announced a $19.97 million investment through the Provincial Growth Fund that has allowed KiwiRail to begin redeveloping the Dunedin site.

Stephanie Campbell KiwiRail group general manager property said Hillside will become a vital part of KiwiRail’s South Island freight and tourism operations.

“Demolishing some of the existing buildings is the first step in doing this, and contractors have begun work on the site, taking down two vacant workshops. 

“The next step is to upgrade the main rail workshops on the site, including overhauling the aging heavy-lift crane and traverser.

 “The planned improvements for the site will allow us to maintain more locomotives and wagons, as well as undertaking new types of work, such as heavy maintenance and upgrades.”

Rail ready to carry logs to Napier Port

The opening of a new log yard in Wairoa will see regular log trains running between Wairoa and Napier Port, in New Zealand.

Chief operating officer of KiwiRail, Todd Moyle, said that trains will run on the weekend.

“Moving forwards, now that our logging yard consents are in place, we will usually run two trains a week, on Saturdays and Sundays,” he said.

Having the new facility in place will also reduce the use of road freight for the movement of logs, with benefits for the environment.

“Each train could take up to 50 long distance truck hauls off the road between Napier and Wairoa, with 66 per cent fewer emissions per tonne of freight carried by rail compared to trucks,” said Moyle.

Forecasts indicate that the demand for these freight rail services will grow.

“Growing this business will assist local businesses to harvest and transport large volumes of logs, help bring profitability to KiwiRail, benefit the East Cape region with less congestion and road wear and tear, and bring added benefits from lower emissions,” said Moyle.

Funding for the project was sourced from the NZ government, indicating the level of support for the rail industry in NZ, said Moyle.

“The Government’s allocation of $6.2 million to the project through the Provincial Growth Fund is a recognition of the proven benefits rail brings.”

According to general manager commercial at Napier Port, David Kriel, the rail line will grow the region financially.

“It’s great to be able to assist in offering our Wairoa customers a safe, direct, and sustainable alternative to trucking logs via State Highway 2, and it will really help to unlock the economic potential of the Wairoa region.”

New approach to level crossing safety wins award

A joint research paper on safety assessment for level crossings has won an international award.

The paper, prepared by KiwiRail senior level crossing engineer, Eddie Cook, and colleagues Shane Turner for Abley and Shaun Bosher from Stantec, documented a wider safety assessment process than what is used under the Australian Level Crossing Assessment Model (ALCAM).

The authors outlined the process that KiwiRail has used under its Level Crossing Safety Impact Assessment (LCSIA) process.

In contrast to ALCAM, LCSIA takes into account incident data, the opinion of locomotive engineers, as well as safety impacts created by the surrounding transport network.

The authors argue that the LCSIA process better reflects crash risks at level crossings, since its introduction in 2016.

The importance of taking into account the wider transport network was highlighted to the authors due to an increasing proportion of crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists. The authors attributed this to the construction of cycleways and shared paths alongside railway lines. In addition, when crashes with pedestrians and cyclists do occur, the severity is increased, even if overall injuries and deaths are low, as they are in New Zealand.

The paper won the Best Paper Award at the 2020 Transportation Research board Annual Meeting, attended by 14,000 transport professionals.

“It is gratifying to receive this recognition from our peers,” said Cook.

“Safety is our top priority, and we are always looking to improve the way we do things.”

New Zealand’s passenger network back in service

A work blitz which kept some of New Zealand’s major transport networks closed over the summer break is now over and passenger services have returned.

A 10-day shutdown, ending on the 5th of January, enabled a crew of more than 200 to perform maintenance work across 15 different sites in Wellington.

Foundations were installed for 80 new masts for overhead power lines, some of which are more than 80 years old and needed to be replaced.

“Under normal circumstances this work would take 20 weeks to complete, without the network being closed to trains,” a KiwiRail spokesperson said.

The crew, comprising KiwiRail staff and contractors, also began work on a new pedestrian underpass at Trentham Station.As part of the work, rail tracks were temporarily removed, signal and power systems disconnected, and major earthworks completed before the tracks and power were reinstated so trains could travel through the section of line.

“We successfully fitted months of essential maintenance activities into just 10 days. Our staff and contractors operating at these sites completed a huge amount of work and deserve a well-earned break after working through the holiday period,” KiwiRail’s chief operating officer of Capital Projects, David Gordon, said.

The work was a resounding success, according to Gordon.

“We completed rigorous inspections of the track and overhead equipment and ran test trains through critical sites to ensure the network was safe for trains to be back up and running.”

Meanwhile, in Auckland, for City Rail Link tunnel works to commence the track around Mt Eden Station had to be re-aligned. This will also allow for the future redevelopment of the station.

Work is still ongoing in Ōtāhuhu as KiwiRail continues to work on the rail infrastructure so that Ōtāhuhu Station can facilitate more frequent train services once the City Rail Link opens in 2024.

Auckland Transport says it is operating a special timetable to accommodate this work.

KiwiRail conducts major work blitz on Auckland, Wellington networks

KiwiRail is replacing sleepers, tracks and turnouts on the Auckland commuter network over the Christmas and New Year period, as part of a holiday work blitz, while further maintenance work will also go ahead across the Wellington passenger rail network.

In Wellington, the work includes installing the foundations for 60 new masts for the overhead power lines in the busiest part of the network – the approaches to Wellington Railway Station.

“Replacing the masts is not an easy task. Building new foundations for each of these requires a three-metre-deep hole. The masts date as far back as 1938, and need to be replaced,” KiwiRail’s chief operating officer capital projects David Gordon.

“It is just not possible to carry out that work while commuter services are running.”

“Already the network is delivering more than 14 million commuter trips a year to the 500,000 plus people who live in the region,” Gordon said.

“That is predicted to grow, and this work is needed to make that happen.”

“We’ll be taking advantage of the holiday lull, when passenger demand is down, to shut down big parts of the network and give our teams safe access to work on the line.”

KiwiRail is working on sites spread from the Wairarapa to the Hutt Valley and Porirua. Work includes building underpasses, upgrading level crossings and barriers, replacing rail and sleepers, and improving slope stability and drainage, along with the foundation work.

The work blitz is possible due to nearly $300 million that the government has slated to go towards modernisation and upgrades, alongside the usual annual maintenance.

Nearly 150 KiwiRail and NZTA staff and contractors will work on the Wellington line upgrades, while nearly 170 KiwiRail staff and contractors will take on the Auckland commuter network.

Auckland’s Western line will be closed to allow for works to replace sleepers, track and turnouts – which allow trains to change tracks – at several locations.

The Southern line and Eastern line will be closed south of Westfield for Otahuhu third platform work and the Puhinui interchange, track work and sleeper replacement between Papakura and Pukekohe. This includes four level crossings along the Western line and one on the Southern line.

“Working at level crossings also causes disruption to road networks, so it makes sense to take advantage of the holidays when both rail and road networks are quieter. This way we can carry out a lot of work with minimal disruption to commuters and road users,” KiwiRail executive general manager operations Siva Sivapakkiam said.

“Auckland is a busy network, with nearly 200,000 commuter services a year, and 246 freight services a week. That means a lot of wear and tear on the network. The maintenance we do now will help reduce delays and increase reliability in the future.”

KiwiRail tackling major bottlenecks

Construction is underway on a number of passenger rail upgrades in Wellington, New Zealand’s transport minister Phil Twyford announced on Monday.

Upgrades include the conversion of the Trentham to Upper Hutt 2.7km single track section to a double track, a new signalling system, building second platforms and shelters at Trentham and Wallaceville stations, additional rail lines at Upper Hutt to stable freight services, making improvements to level crossings and building a pedestrian underpass.

The Trentham and Upper Hutt track is a major bottle neck at point where passenger and freight trains interact. The upgrades will help keep freight services running to schedule in light of increased passenger services.

“This is an important step in upgrading Wellington’s rail network and will help make the metro and Wairarapa commuter trains more reliable,” KiwiRail’s chief operating officer of capital projects and asset development David Gordon said.

“Double tracking effectively removes a congestion point in the network and will create more flexibility when the two commuter services interact with each other and with our freight trains coming to and from the Wairarapa.”

“Sorting out this pinch point in the network is also crucial to support Greater Wellington Regional Council’s plans for more commuter trains in the decades ahead.”

The Hutt Valley rail line will be closed over Christmas so that an underpass can be built at Trentham Station.

“Our $196 million Wellington rail package also includes important upgrades for the Wairarapa line, without them, the line would have deteriorated with more and more disruptions to services,” Twyford said.

The Transport Agency is providing $193 million towards the Wellington Metro Rail Network upgrades and the Wellington Regional Council the other $3 million. The investment was announced by the government in late 2018, and is expected to be undertaken progressively until 2026.

KiwiRail says it is also making good progress with an earlier Budget 2017 investment to replace Wellington’s overhead traction system and network power supply. So far nearly 700 of the 860 (80 per cent) mast foundations in the Hutt Valley have been replaced and more than 300 new poles installed.

Kiwirail unveils intermodal freight hub plans

A three-kilometre-long intermodal freight hub will combine a container terminal, warehousing for road transport operators, and bulk goods and forestry loading operations with KiwiRail’s train operations and maintenance facilities.

Palmerston North, in New Zealand’s North Island, is a critical freight distribution point. Goods travel through it from the upper North Island, Taranaki, Hawke’s Bay, Wellington and the South Island.

The New Zealand government’s Provincial Growth Fund has invested $40 million towards developing the hub, which allowed KiwiRail to design it and purchase the land. The hub is intended to make rail a more attractive option to help manage the numbers of trucks on regional roads.

“A purposely designed facility to link rail and road together like this hasn’t been seen in New Zealand. We are creating something world-class, which will support the growth of Manawatu’s logistics industry well into the future,” KiwiRail’s group chief executive Greg Miller said.

“It brings road and rail freight together in a much more integrated and seamless way, improving efficiency and saving in costs. The design allows for consumer imports and bulk exports to be managed at one place, and there is plenty of room to co-locate freight partners and meet their warehousing needs.

“With freight volumes expected to increase in the decades ahead, this intermodal hub will be a crucial freight centre for the lower North Island.”

The hub is designed to accommodate longer, more economical 1,500 metre trains – a 60 per cent increase in length and capacity – which will increase capacity.

KiwiRail is now working with local councils and stakeholders to identify sites near Palmerston North where the hub could be built.

KiwiRail seeks construction contractors for North Auckland Line rejuvenation

Kiwirail has begun surveying the rail corridor for Northland line upgrades, and says it is seeking local contractors to conduct the work.

Survey teams have commenced gathering detailed ground and asset information towards designing bridge replacements and planning essential tunnel maintenance. This stage is expected to take five weeks and likely be completed at the end of November, according to a statement from the operator.

Kiwirail intends to hire consultant for the bridge replacement and tunnel works in early December.

“Northland’s railway lines are underused at the moment because of their condition. The NAL is around 100 years old, is currently mothballed north of Kauri (above Whangarei) and the whole line has been in a state of ‘managed decline’ until its future was determined. The survey work is a major step in turning that around,” said KiwiRail Chief Operating Officer Capital Projects David Gordon.

With the government having invested $94.8 million towards the North Auckland Line, from the Provincial Growth Fund, this year much needed maintenance can now commence.

“Where possible, we want to use local firms for the work. There will be a mix of larger and smaller jobs making up the overall programme of works, so we wanted to ensure the local industry was aware of the opportunities not just for large companies, but also for smaller scale contractors,” said Gordon.

“We have ensured that where possible the work is broken into bite-sized pieces suitable for smaller contractors.”

As such, KiwiRail provided an industry briefing for Northland contracting and construction companies about future work opportunities last week. The briefing session in Whangarei was attended by more than 40 people.

“Working in the rail corridor brings with it special safety requirements that are different from working on roads and other civil construction activity. At yesterday’s session we provided information about those requirements and the support we can provide to ensure contractors qualify,” said Gordon.

Critical upgrades delivered to Auckland’s Southern Line

KiwiRail has this week completed work on a critical stage of its upgrades to Auckland’s Southern Line as part of the City Rail Link (CRL) project.

The first section of a crossover junction, which would enable trains to safely switch between the existing main line and a new track being built into Ōtāhuhu station, has been installed. Construction towards the entire 1.3-kilometre-long track began in April.

“There will be four crossovers in total, and with more than 20 million commuter train trips on Auckland’s network each year they will help support a new era of services for people when CRL is completed in 2024,” said KiwiRail’s Group Chief Operating Officer Todd Moyle.

Further work will see the completion of the track and the crossovers, the new line electrified and the installation of communication and signal systems. Ōtāhuhu station will also be expanded to three platforms to handle extra services when CRL is completed.

“There’s a lot more to a successful project than the construction of the tunnels and stations below the central city – work at Otahuhu and other places across the rail network are necessary to deliver a project that will have a huge impact on the way Aucklanders travel,” said City Rail Link’s Chief Executive, Dr Sean Sweeney says the Ōtāhuhu work demonstrates the scope of the City Rail Link project.

Construction of the new line will be finished early next year.

Safety upgrades for North Island level crossings

NZ Transport Agency and KiwiRail are conducting safety upgrades to railway level crossings in the north of New Zealand’s North Island.

A total of $26 million is being spent to make New Zealand’s crossings safer, using lower cost improvements.

Upgrades include the installation of half-arm barriers, flashing lights and bells to road signs and markings, road shoulder widening and improvements to crossing surfaces.

Twelve sites are up for upgrades across the Waikato and Bay of Plenty are currently undergoing improvements.

“Work has already been completed at four sites. Safety improvements at another four locations are underway in the coming months, with upgrades to all twelve locations expected to be completed by mid-2020,” said the Transport Agency’s Acting Director of Regional Relationships Ross I’Anson.

“On average five people die, five people are seriously injured, and there are 238 reported near-miss incidents at railway level crossings across New Zealand each year,” said l’Anson.

The upgrades target crossings on or near state highways where there is a higher risk of death or serious injury occurring, according to a NZ Transport Agency statement.

The works are not expected to result in delays to traffic, but motorists are encouraged to allow more time for their journeys.