Canberra COVID

Election results keep rail on track in ACT and NZ

Election results over the weekend have reconfirmed the pipeline of rail projects on both sides of the Tasman.

In the ACT, where the Labor-Greens coalition government was returned with a likely increased number of representatives in the legislative assembly, future progress on the Canberra light rail is confirmed.

Prior to the election the opposition Liberals had cast doubt over the second stage of the project, suggesting that a connection to Belconnen should be built instead of the currently planned extension to Woden. ACT Labor has said that once the extension to Woden is complete, work will begin on a line from Belconnen to the Airport.

Public Transport Association of Canberra chair Ryan Hemsley said that light rail was a key election issue in the capital.

“Saturday’s election results have re-confirmed the trends we saw four years ago, with strong swings towards the government in Murrumbidgee and Brindabella cementing light rail as a vote-winner,” said Hemsley.

“In contrast to the pro-light rail policies offered by Labor and the Greens, the Canberra Liberals offered half-hearted and at times inconsistent support for the extension of light rail to Woden.”

Light rail also made an appearance in the New Zealand election which saw the Labour Party returned with a parliamentary majority. The party, which had previously governed in a coalition with the Green Party and NZ First, has committed to progressing the Auckland light rail project from the city centre to Māngere and the Auckland Airport.

The party has committed to continue investing in KiwiRail, which has received large cash injections in recent budgets to improve New Zealand’s rail infrastructure and freight services. Upgrades to Wellington’s commuter rail network are also part of the party’s platform.

Under investment in Auckland’s rail network was revealed earlier this year and led to a city-wide restriction on services. The most recent works have seen a 10-minute frequency returned to the Eastern Line and improvements between Otahuhu and Newmarket on the Southern line. Further work on the Southern Line between Homai and Pukekohe will continue for the next three weeks.

KiwiRail chief operating officer Todd Moyle said works have been completed efficiently and on schedule.

“During the first closure on the Eastern Line the teams met their target of replacing 20 km of rail and more than 3500 sleepers on the 10km between Panmure and the city centre,” he said.

“We are continuing to work with Auckland Transport to review our progress and plan the way ahead. We have agreed a programme of rolling line closures across the network is the best and most efficient way to progress this work over the coming months. For the next month our focus will remain on the Southern Line.”

Further network closures are planned for the Christmas period when patronage decreases.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

Metlink train in Wellington. Photo: Creative Commons / Simons27

Wellington begins procurement process for new regional trains

The Greater Wellington and Horizons Regional Councils have locked in $5 million in funding for a business case for new regional passenger trains.

The funding comes from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and begins the procurement process for regional trains that are expected to cost $300m.

The two councils, which cover cities including Wellington, Whanganui, and Palmerston North, are seeking to increase rail capacity to serve their growing populations, said chair of Greater Wellington Regional Council Daran Ponter.

“Earlier this year the Government announced $211m for track improvements and this is another important piece of the puzzle. While the new trains will stop passengers being packed in like sardines in the next five years, we expect them to provide a resilient and reliable service that not only meets the needs of customers but also aids population and economic growth over the next 10-15 years.”

Lines in the regional network have seen increases in patronage. On the Wairarapa Line, patronage grew from 680,000 boardings in 2009 to 780,000 in 2019, with a 24 per cent increase in peak patronage. On the Manawatū line, average growth over the past four years has been 3.1 per cent.

With the $5m in funding, the councils will conduct a market assessment, investigate risks and costs, and complete the detailed business case. Kapiti Coast councillor and environment chair Penny Gaylor said that new trains would greatly benefit the region.

“We’ve long championed electric or dual mode fleets to replace older diesel trains to lower carbon emissions and this funding brings us a step closer to that reality. Investing in a modern rail fleet also enables us to use the trains across the whole network, bringing extra capacity to Kapiti passengers and encouraging more people to make the shift from cars to public transport.”

The Wellington network currently operates a mixed fleet of 83 Matangi EMUs, manufactured by a consortium of Hyundai Rotem and Mitsui, and three diesel locomotives which haul 24 passenger carriages. Although the EMUs were introduced in the last decade, the diesel locomotives and carriages have been in service since the 1970s.

Wairarapa councillor and deputy chair of Greater Wellington Adrienne Staples said that new units would improve services.

“Getting new trains would be a great win for regional rail passengers and the economy. Passengers will benefit from more capacity and increased frequency and more connections between Manawatu, Horowhenua, Wairarapa and Wellington will provide economic benefits at a time when we need to look to smarter ways of working and connecting people.”

New Zealand limits capacity as public transport returns to schedule

Public transport is returning to normal in New Zealand, however capacity will be limited on services.

To maintain physical distancing when the country enters level 2 restrictions, rail operators are reducing and enforcing capacity limits.

Standing will not be allowed on Auckland and Wellington trains, with Auckland running at about 43 per cent of normal passenger capacity while operating normal schedules, while in Wellington trains will be carrying 30 per cent of their regular load.

Passengers are being advised that they may not be able to catch their regular service.

“Physical distancing and no standing means our fleets will still be operating below their maximum seated load and we thank passengers for their patience and understanding if they are unable to catch their first choice bus, train or ferry,” said Scott Gallacher, general manager of Metlink, Wellington’s public transport operator.

In Auckland, the AT Mobile app will inform passengers how many people are on a train, to know if there is space to board. People who must travel are also being encouraged to take public transport outside of peak hours, when possible, and employers are being asked to stagger their return to work plans.

Extra cleaning and hygiene practices are continuing across public transport as well as public communication practices to inform travellers of the new requirements.

“Please remember to keep up with physical distancing and the heightened hygiene focus which we have learned over recent months,” said Auckland Mayor Phil Goff.

“And we need, all of us, to avoid any behaviour which might increase the risk of transmitting COVID-19. The last thing we want is to have to return to Level 3 or Level 4 lockdown.”