Wellington

Wellington trains return to regular timetable

Trains on the Wellington network have returned to a full timetable, as of Monday, May 4.

Trains on the five lines that stretch across the greater Wellington region had been reduced while New Zealand was under level 4 lockdown restrictions and were only available to essential workers and those accessing essential services. With some businesses, schools, and early learning centres now reopened, trains are operating on a full timetable.

Metlink general manager Scott Gallacher said that services resumed on a staggered basis up until May 4.

“Returning to full timetables on bus and rail is great news for passengers and the recovery of the region. We have hundreds of people working behind the scenes to update systems and help get all of our drivers, trains and buses back into action.”

Extra hygiene measures will still be in place, and Gallacher encouraged those travelling to abide by physical distancing guidelines.

“We’re asking passengers to help us during this time and abide by the physical distancing measures in place even if that means missing out on their first choice train or bus as demands start to pick back up. Metlink’s real time information will be up and running as soon as we enter alert level 3 to help people plan journeys, and we’ll continue to update passengers with any developments on the Metlink website and app.”

Due to the physical distancing requirements, fewer people will be let on each service.

On the Wairarapa line, trains were replaced with buses, and the services have resumed being conducted by trains. In addition, some restrictions such as access to the luggage area have been put in place.

“As with all of our public transport services, we will continue to ensure the safety of our staff and passengers. It is important for customers to be aware of physical distancing practices on all trains and while at stations,” said Gallacher.

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.”

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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.

KiwiRail chief executive calls on NZ government to boost the “rundown” network

Greg Miller, KiwiRail Group chief executive said there is far greater demand for rail services than the group is able to supply.

In his address to the Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee on the Land Transport (Rail) Legislation Bill on February 20, Miller explained why 92 per cent of freight in New Zealand does not travel by rail.

“The reason is simple. Our rail lines and our freight systems are so run down that it has taken a huge level of commitment from both the Government and from our team to start moving the company into a position where it can return to profit,” he said to the committee.

The NZ Ministry of Transport stated that the objective of the Land Transport (Rail) Legislation Bill is to implement a new planning and funding framework for the heavy rail track network owned by KiwiRail. 

Miller said the draft New Zealand Rail Plan plays an important role in KiwiRail’s turnaround plan.

“The draft NZ Rail Plan lays out a pathway for sustainable planning and funding that will allow rail to play the important role it should in the country’s transport system,” Miller said.

Miller said the group has failed to meet demand into growth due to historic short term decisions that have seen cost cutting resulting in lack of drivers, locomotives, wagons and fully usable track.

“We have had no capacity for market reclamation,” he said.

Miller said to the committee that KiwiRail’s strategy to return to profitability and deliver a good return to our shareholders is threefold. We aim to run more services, get the equipment we need to be able to grow capacity, and put in place the technology that will enable us to track freight, profit, and loss centres.

Miller also addressed road sector concerns, telling the committee the draft New Zealand Rail Plan is a way to return rail to complement road. 

“Freight moved by rail results in 66 per cent lower carbon emissions than freight moved by road. Rail freight is not just efficient long distance. Every one of our customers has a lens on the environmental impact and incorporates these benefits into every rail decision made,” he said.

“With increasing freight volumes, growing road congestion and maintenance costs and the need to meet emission reduction targets, rail is a critical part of our transport system.”

This follows Greater Wellington Regional Council’s Transport Committee agreement to reduce transport-generated regional carbon emissions and invest more funding for regional rail on February 20.

Roger Blakeley, transport committee chair said the committee agreed to strategic priorities for the 2019-22 triennium.

One of the key performance measures for these targets is the contribution to a 30 per cent reduction in regional transport-generated carbon emissions by 2030.

“Contributing to the regional target of a 40 per cent increase in regional mode share from public transport and active modes, [rail] will be the major contributor to a reduction in carbon emissions,” Blakeley said.

On Tuesday KiwiRail welcomed the NZ government decision to use the Provincial Growth Fund to invest $9.6 million in the Kawerau Container Terminal (KCT).

Miller said KiwiRail’s role will be to build the new rail siding and to run week-day train services beginning in 2021 between Kawerau and Port of Tauranga.

“The siding opens the way for containerised exports to travel directly to Port Tauranga from Kawerau,” he said.

 “Export containers from Norske Skog, Sequal Lumber, and Waiu Dairy will underpin the new train service as well as creating capacity for other exporters in the region.

“This is part of road and rail working together in a much more integrated way, improving efficiency and saving costs.”

The project is expected to take about 18 months to complete.

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.”

NZ National party proposes more transport authorities

New Zealand’s opposition party, National, is proposing a shake-up of transport governance, by establishing regional transport authorities for both Wellington and Canterbury as well as the accelerated rollout of integrated ticketing.

“It is unacceptable that people have been using bank cards and phones to pay for London’s Tube since 2004 but train users in Wellington still pay with coins and cardboard tickets,” the party’s transport spokesperson Chris Bishop said.

“National is proposing to accelerate the rollout of integrated ticketing nationwide.”

The proposal was made in the party’s Transport and Infrastructure discussion document, released on Monday.

“National is proposing new regional transport authorities in Wellington and Canterbury that will have sole-charge over public transport, as well as cycling, parking and roading.”

“We believe public transport governance is too fragmented in this country, with opaque accountability and no clear delineation of which agency is responsible for each part of the network. This is diluting the quality of service for commuters.”

“I think everyone would agree the current transport model is not perfect, it’s far from perfect, and we’ve seen that with the rollout of the bus changes over the course of the last year.”

“The bus fiasco in Wellington has indicated that the shared responsibility and the divided responsibility and accountability lines has not really worked.The city council blaming the regional council, the regional council blaming the city council and when that kind of expired they all put up their hands and blamed the New Zealand Transport Agency, and that’s just not tenable.”

The party says, if elected, they will introduce a revenue-neutral congestion charge in major cities to help manage the flow of traffic.

“By charging for travelling at certain times and/or on certain routes it encourages commuters to find alternatives, such as travelling earlier or later, taking a different route or getting out of the car and taking public transport,” the document says.

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.

Inquiry launched into Wellington train derailment

New Zealand’s Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has opened an inquiry over a July 2 freight train derailment that occurred in Wellington.

The TAIC has opened the inquiry to investigate whether or not the incident poses significant implications for transport safety. The TAIC will then make “findings or recommendations to help improve transport safety” based on the outcome of the inquiry.

The derailment occurred on July 2 at around 7:40pm NZ time at a junction between yard and North Island Main Trunk line. Four container wagons were derailed in the incident.

While no injuries were reported as a result of the incident, it did cause significant disruption for Wellington’s network, with all train services save the Johnsonville line temporarily cancelled while repairs and removal works were carried out by workers from KiwiRail. More than 20,000 commuters were reported to have been affected by the issues yesterday.

Night works are set to continue over the course of the week to fully restore the network, which suffered damage to eight sets of points and other sections of track. Metlink Wellington announced that late notice bus replacements for Hutt Valley line will be in operation tonight to compensate for the works.