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.

Parties set out election transport plans for New Zealand

The New Zealand Green Party has set out its plan for major investment in rail ahead of the New Zealand general election.

The party’s co-leader James Shaw said the plan would connect the country via rail.

“We will connect our major cities through a major new investment in inter-city passenger rail. This new network will transform how people move throughout our country, making getting out to the regions faster, easier, and better for the planet,” he said.

“Rail will carry thousands of people a day from Auckland to Hamilton, from Wellington to Masterton and Palmerston North, and from Christchurch to Rangiora and Ashburton, eventually including Dunedin and Timaru.”

The part would also invest $6.5 billion in rapid transit networks in the major cities of Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.

“This includes pushing ahead with a much-needed rail crossing to Auckland’s North Shore, which we’ve now seen is desperately overdue,” said Shaw.

Specific projects in the plan include two new light rail lines in Auckland from the CBD to Māngere and Westgate, light rail in Wellington from the train station to Newtown and subsequently to the airport, and passenger rail between the Christchurch CBD and Rangiora, Ashburton, Rolleston, and Hornby.

As part of the current coalition government, the Green Party had pushed for a light rail line linking Auckland airport and the CBD, however despite receiving proposals, the government declined to pursue the project. The Ministry of Transport and Treasury will provide a report to the government on the potential of the project after the election.

The opposition New Zealand National party has also released its transport plan, which includes heavy rail to the airport and a new road-rail harbour crossing. The party also committed to building the third and fourth main line and investigating a new line from Southdown to Avondale.

In Wellington, the National party plans to purchase new trains as part of upgrades to the metro network.

Wellington

Wellington to investigate Snapper smart card on trains

Wellington will investigate allowing rail commuters to use Snapper cards to pay for their journeys.

Currently, passengers using trains in Wellington must pay either with cash on board or with pre-purchased paper tickets. Bus passengers can use the Snapper smart card.

According to Greater Wellington Council transport committee chair Roger Blakeley, the move to investigate Snapper payments on trains has arisen due to the experience of COVID-19 and the ability of smart cards to be used for contact tracing on public transport.

“As we saw with the alert levels we need to have safe contactless methods of payment available across the region’s network sooner rather than later. Enhancing fare collection efficiency also aligns with the future of national ticketing and the Council’s longstanding vision for a world-class integrated public transport network with high levels of accessibility, quality, reliability and flexibility,” said Blakeley.

Wellington is also looking to prevent revenue loss through the adoption of smarter ticketing.

Customers have also indicated a preference for payments with smart card technology, with satisfaction with payment services higher on buses, where Snapper can be used, than trains, said Metlink general manager Scott Gallacher.

“Our focus is on providing better services to passengers and, in our regular customer satisfaction survey, passengers tell us that convenience of paying is an area we can improve on with 68 per cent of rail passengers currently satisfied compared to 78 per cent with our bus passengers. Clearly there’s room for improvement here and Snapper on rail could have a profound impact,” said Gallacher.

Customer benefits such as fare discounts, faster boarding, and greater convenience and tracking of spend would flow from a smart card system.

A national ticketing solution (NTS) is currently being developed for New Zealand by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) Waka Kotahi and implementing Snapper infrastructure for trains would also allow for the transition to a national ticketing system once it is completed.

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.

face masks

Face masks to be mandatory on public transport across New Zealand

Auckland Transport has welcomed the New Zealand government’s mandating of face masks on public transport.

From Monday, August 31, face coverings will be required on all public transport for regions of New Zealand in alert level 2 or higher. Currently, all of New Zealand is at alert level 2 and the Auckland region is at alert level 3 until Sunday August 30, where it will return to alert level 2.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said the measures would be effective in limiting the spread of the virus.

“Wearing a face covering is an effective measure to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Everything we can do in the fight against this disease makes a difference, and I believe the mandatory wearing of masks on public transport is sensible given our recent experience.”

Auckland Transport has put out alerts for travellers on certain buses as passengers travelled while having COVID-19.

Auckland Transport has also taken other measures to ensure that public transport is still safe for travellers, including through cleaning, not taking cash, and keeping a two metre distance between travellers. Auckland Transport chief executive Shane Ellison said that AT HOP cards have also been used to track and contact close contacts of those who travelled with COVID-19.

“We have already stepped up the level of cleaning on all services with regular steam cleans now in place and now the Government’s decision to make face masks mandatory will only make public transport safer,” he said.

“Our customer research from the first weekend back in Alert Level 3 shows 88 per cent of people would support compulsory face masks on public transport.”

Goff said the wearing of face masks would benefit the community.

“We all have a responsibility to follow government health directives — for the good of ourselves, our families and older folk and our wider communities,” he said.

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.

Rangitīkei

Freight hub funded in Rangitīkei district

A new rail hub for the shipment and processing of logs will be built in the Rangitīkei district, near the town of Marton.

The facility will be supported with NZ$9.1 million ($8.3m) from the government’s $3 billion COVID-19 response and recovery fund.

Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones said that the hub would get more freight onto rail.

“This rail hub will not only attract more commercial developments to the immediate area, it will also take freight trucks off the roads.”

The local council expects the hub, which will include a debarker facility, will create roughly 83 jobs during construction and 22 full time jobs once operational.

Improved efficiencies created by the Marton facility, located in an existing freight centre, will combine logistics efficiencies.

“Marton is central to significant forests in Rangitīkei, Manawatū and Horowhenua regions that are mature and will continue to produce mature trees and increased volumes for the next 15 years. It is also a key service town for agriculture in the area, making it a good location for a freight hub,” said Jones.

“Parts of this region are deprived, with few options for economic development. This construction project will benefit the building and associated industries, boosting the local economy and keeping people in jobs. It also provides potential for the region to diversify and boost the local economy.”