KiwiRail equipment failure holds North Island rail network hostage and leaves Metlink passengers in the lurch

  • Published Date 28 Apr 2023
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A KiwiRail equipment failure in Auckland is forcing Metlink to run fewer passenger rail services across the Wellington region during May.

KiwiRail’s one-and-only specialist rail track evaluation car, which measures tracks so trains can operate safely, is broken and inspections due on the Kāpiti, Hutt Valley and Wairarapa lines are overdue - making them non-compliant. Without compliance, KiwiRail has introduced temporary speed restrictions.

Greater Wellington Chair Daran Ponter says KiwiRail’s safety equipment failure shows an abysmal lack of accountability and management.

“To be clear, this is a monumental failure by KiwiRail. The poor maintenance of this essential piece of equipment is holding the entire North Island’s rail network hostage. If ever there was a perfect example of a lack of prudent management and accountability for critical rail infrastructure in this country, here is exhibit A. 

“This is going to impact hundreds of thousands of rail passengers in Wellington alone; it’s going to harm tourism, and it’s going to put a strangle-hold on the freight industry using rail and ferry connections. It’s simply not good enough”.

Greater Wellington and Metlink learned of the equipment failure late on Thursday (27 April).

“It’s not clear how long KiwiRail have known about this but to only give Wellington three or four days’ notice before the restrictions are in place is simply ludicrous. It’s put significant pressure on Metlink staff to roll out new timetables, our operator Transdev to re-roster staff, and our rail and connecting bus passengers - whose lives will be tipped upside down,” says Cr Ponter.

Speed restrictions mean fewer trains can go up and down the lines, forcing Metlink to put reduced timetables in place for the majority of its rail network, with Wairarapa services running as normal. Shuttles will replace trains between Petone and Melling. It also means buses scheduled to connect with rail services will be impacted.

“Greater Wellington, Metlink and Transdev are doing all we can to run as many services as possible under these unexpected speed restrictions. Hopefully, KiwiRail can get their equipment fixed sooner so normal services can resume. It doesn’t bear thinking about what impact this will have on the rest of the North Island if they can’t get it fixed, with Auckland and Hawkes’ Bay tracks also in line for inspections. I expect the Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee will be keeping a watching brief for an investigation into the cause of this failure and the response.”

Passenger communications about the reduced services are now in effect on Metlink’s website and app, as well as on social media, radio and other channels. Metlink and its operator Transdev will be reviewing timetables and services over the course of next week (1 – 5 May) and keeping passengers informed. 

Despite this setback providing more services with greater reliability across the Metlink rail network remains a key strategic goal for Greater Wellington.

“Over the past few years, Greater Wellington and Horizons Regional Council have been advocating for Government to fund critically needed new passenger trains in the lower North Island as the aged locomotive-hauled units of the Wairarapa and Manawatū lines reach the end of their service lives. We shouldn’t need to advocate for safe tracks and functioning inspection equipment as well,” adds Cr Ponter. 

Updated April 28, 2023 at 4:04 PM

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