Answers to parliamentary written questions from Phil Tywford give a worrying view about the state of Auckland rail network. Over the past year there have been 454 signalling and 241 points faults across the network which is almost 2 per day. Now I am fully aware we are currently in the process of upgrading the network including installing a brand new, state of the art system however this number seems amazingly high. This is especially when you consider that the new system has already been installed across a large amount of the network but also when you compare the results to the same ones from a few years ago when we were also in the middle of duplicating the Western line. Here is the answer from the last time the question was asked:

Question: How does the number of points or signal failures on the Auckland rail system over the past year compare to previous years?

Answer Text: KiwiRail has advised the following:

Signal failures:
Apr 07 – Jan 08 (10 months) 144
Feb 08 – Jan 09 (12 months) 214
Feb 09 – Jan 10 (12 months) 172

Point failures:
Apr 07 – Jan 08 (10 months) 288
Feb 08 – Jan 09 (12 months) 267
Feb 09 – Jan 10 (12 months) 234

Somehow we have gone from having 406 signal faults a year in 2009-2010 to having 695 over the last year. What I want to know is why do things appear to be getting worse and what is being done to fix these issues permanently. It is also worth pointing out that our cousins to the South don’t fare much better, they have had 554 signal and 101 point faults in the last year.

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5 comments

  1. Is this just inherently fragile technology? by comparison Sydney have around 250 failures a month: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/track-signal-failures-hit-250-a-month-20120315-1v8av.html. I can’t find figures for London, but when I was a regular commuter there I’d be stranded or significantly delayed once a week. At least.

    It’s not a good look when a technology that is well over 100 years old is still not mature and reliable. I’d be interested to find out why it isn’t.

    1. I never suffered from points failures or any sorts of delays (except once when someone pulled the emergency cord) when living in Switzerland and catching trains daily, I think basing your opinion on two worn out systems in NZ and Australia isn’t really a valid one.

  2. @ bbc – This is NOT worn out gear. Virtually everything (ballast, track, sleepers, signals, points, etc) in Auckland’s rail network has been replaced in the last 5 years, so it’s actually near new! Which does mean Kiwirail have questions to answer – is it poor quality gear they are fitting, or bad workmanship? Or greater use?

    Expanding that last possibility, raw counts of points & signal failures is misleading. We really need to compare the points failures per points movement of a few years ago against that ratio today. That is, the increased services of today mean more points changes today than a few years back, so the points failure rate may not have increased; the greater number of points failures may just reflect the greater number of points movements today.

    Ditto for signals failures, though these are slightly harder to measure, as they are continuous operations rather than discrete operations like points movements. There are statistical distributions that can do that though. Perhaps measure number of trains passing through that signal since last failure, then greater frequencies will be reflected (Though, do increased services increase wear on signals? Perhaps if it involves lightbulbs switching…).

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