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.”

NZ rail continues during lockdown

Rail services have continued in New Zealand despite the reimposition of lockdown measures to control the spread of new cases of COVID-19.

Auckland is now in level 3 restrictions while the rest of the country is under level 2 restrictions after cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on Tuesday, August 11 with no known source of transmission.

In Auckland, rail services are continuing during the lockdown to their existing timetable for those who need to access local services and businesses and travel to work and school when that cannot be done at home. Physical distancing of two metres must be maintained on public transport.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff advised commuters to follow health guidelines.

“Maintain physical distancing, wear a mask when in public and follow good hygiene practices and we will get through this together.”

Auckland Transport will be cleaning trains regularly and will be making changes to timetables as needed.

KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller shared Goff’s advice to wear face masks when using public transport.

“The health and safety of our staff, and the public, is the company’s main priority as we maintain essential services, just as we did successfully earlier this year.”

KiwiRail has suspended the TranzAlpine service that was to run over the weekend of August 15-16. The Capital Connection service between Wellington and Palmerston North will run as normal.

Freight services will continue with appropriate precautions instituted.

In Wellington, which is under level 2 restrictions, public transport is also continuing as normal.

General manager of Wellington transport operator Metlink Scott Gallacher emphasised the need for passengers to take care when travelling.

“We’re asking passengers to keep a 1-metre distance on board trains, buses and ferries and keep a 2-metres distance while waiting at bus stops, train stations and ferry wharfs,” he said.

“The government has made it clear that people should wear face masks where physical distancing is difficult and we encourage passengers to follow this advice on public transport. These measures will help keep passengers safe across the whole network.”

Metlink will accept cash payment, however Auckland Transport is only accepting payments via the AT HOP card.

Funding assures new rail maintenance facility in Christchurch

Christchurch’s damaged rail maintenance facilities will be replaced with a newly built $39 million ($36m) site.

The funding comes from the New Zealand government’s $3 billion post-coronavirus (COVID-19) recovery fund, which allocated $708m for transport projects.

Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones said that the Christchurch facilities were in need of a major overhaul.

“KiwiRail’s maintenance facilities in Christchurch are tired, earthquake-damaged and spread across the city. This $39m investment will mean KiwiRail can complete the build of a new, modern, fit-for-purpose facility at Waltham which will be used to maintain the South Island’s locomotives and wagons,” said Jones.

Construction is already underway at the site and is expected to continue into 2023.

KiwiRail groups chief executive Greg Miller welcomed the government’s announcement.

“This funding announced by the government today enables us to proceed with confidence to complete the new South Island maintenance depot for locomotives and wagons,” he said.

“The project goes to the core resilience of the network and the continued strength of our South Island operations.”

Miller said that the future facilities would improve KiwiRail’s operations.

“This funding enables us to construct brand new facilities that are consolidated in one place, with all the advantages that brings in areas like energy efficiency and improved working conditions for staff,” he said.

“It ensures we have the capability we need to maintain a modern locomotive fleet and builds on the investment that is already underway in facilities to work on our scenic carriages.”

The upgraded facilities at Waltham will support KiwiRail’s Network Transformation Project which includes investments in large numbers of rollingstock such as locomotives and flat wagons.

300 people are expected to be employed during construction with priority given to local civil contractors and material suppliers in addition to KiwiRail’s own staff.

“Not only will the work at Waltham support hundreds of construction jobs, once finished the new facility will help us attract and retain the staff that we need for rail to play the part it should in New Zealand’s transport network,” said Miller.

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.”

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.

Northland Line

Upgrades begin to allow more freight on Northland Line

Major works on New Zealand’s Northland Line have begun to enable more freight to be carried by train and faster passenger services.

The $204.5 million worth of works include replacing bridges, improving tunnels, and upgrading the rail line to Whangarei. Once complete, hi-cube containers will be able to be pulled on the Northland Line, enabling more freight to be carried by rail.

Services have been halted between Swanson, west of Auckland and Whangarei to allow for track occupancy and major civil works. Over the route, five bridges will be replaced and tracks will be lowered in 13 tunnels.

KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller said that works are hoped to be completed by the end of the year.

“The work will be completed in stages, with the first objective being able to carry hi-cube containers through the tunnels between Whangarei and Auckland by Christmas.”

“Being able to carry hi-cube containers will also allow freight that can currently only come in and out of Northland by road, to instead go by rail. That additional transport option could help cut transport emissions and reduce the number of trucks on the roads,” said Miller.

Miller said that the delayed start was due to restrictions imposed by coronavirus (COVID-19).

“While our teams were able to continue design and planning work during the lockdown, COVID-19 halted most work on the ground. We’ve also been waiting on the arrival of specialist track laying equipment which has been held up by pandemic disruptions,” he said.

“This type of work can only be done while the line is shut. I regret the inconvenience for our freight customers and thank them for their patience. Once the line is upgraded, we will be able to offer more reliable train services to better meet their needs.”

Local businesses will be involved in the upgrade works, with Northland subcontractors tapped to provide supplies and carry out works.

“Local firm United Civil Construction has the contract to replace two of the bridges, all the ballast materials for the track upgrades are being supplied by Clements in Whangarei, and Busck, also in Whangarei, are supplying thousands of concrete sleepers,” said Miller.

In 2021, works on the Northland Line will continue, including the reopening of the line between Kauri and Otiria and the construction of a container exchange at Otiria.