Last week we broke the story that electrification is running late and that the wires won’t be installed by the time the first trains arrive as previously promised. My post raised the attention of the Herald who have since run a few articles regarding it (one of which isn’t online). As a result of the extra attention Kiwirail provided quite a bit more information about what was happening.  Here is their email.

This is an international scale project with many complexities. There have been challenges getting enough access onto the rail corridor amongst the increasing number of passenger and freight services operating in Auckland to build the traction system, which has meant it has taken longer to complete this part of the project than initially envisaged – there are many more trains running now than when the project was confirmed and finish dates set. This is a tension that we always need to manage.

Having said that we are working closely with Auckland Transport and this will not affect the introduction of the new trains into service.

When the first two trains arrive in September they will be able to run immediately beneath tested and powered up wires to begin their commissioning process. You have found the map I was referring to yesterday on our website which shows where the wires are already in place.

We expect to have traction infrastructure in place across the bulk of the network by Xmas, with the rest being completed over the summer block of line in January.

During the first three months of 2014 the focus will then move to finishing works and testing – so the network will be ready for AT’s planned introduction of the new trains into service in April.

Testing and tuning of the infrastructure will need to continue through until 2015 as it will need to have full length trains running beneath it frequently – this is after all brand new infrastructure.

The project is also on course to complete within budget – $500 million.

To confirm what we have already told you, signalling and clearance work is completed, and the Onehunga branch and the NAL between Westfield and Newmarket have been tested and commissioned. Wiring is already in place around the network as per the map on our website.

The next section to be commissioned will be Westfield to Wiri, which is where the EMU maintenance depot is, which is scheduled for early September, in time for the new trains. Beyond that we’ll continue to liaise with Auckland Transport so commissioning of further of sections of OLE lines up with their commissioning schedule.

As part of this part of the project we are also systematically putting up screens on bridges and other structures to prevent accidental contact with the overhead wires, and carrying out other necessary safety measures such as earthing and bonding.

We’d appreciate some mention of the safety aspects of the project too please – these wires carry 25,000 volts, so the public need to be treat the overhead wires and the fittings that carry them as live and dangerous at all times. The system is designed so that people doing ordinary things will not be affected – only reckless or mischievous behaviour could be dangerous. KiwiRail and Auckland Transport are working on a public safety campaign with regard to this.

There are now height restrictions at level crossings in the Auckland area – these are signposted at each crossing. These restrictions don’t affect ordinary motorists or pedestrians but those in vehicles or towing loads that exceed these restrictions must choose an alternative route or will need to gain permission to use the crossing – information on how to do that is on our website.

Unfortunately it sounds like the need to get the wiring finished is likely to mean another extensive rail shut down this Christmas. This is despite Kiwirail saying in an internal staff newsletter in December that shutdown at Christmas last year would be the last big one.

Almost certainly as a result of these delays, there are now going to be impacts on some evening train services starting next week. MAXX is now advising:

Buses replace trains weeknights from Monday 27 May
Dates: From Monday 27 May until further notice.

Times: From 8pm until the start of service the next morning, Sunday to Thursday

Buses will replace trains south of Otahuhu on the Southern and Eastern lines

These closures are required to enable KiwiRail to carry out major works associated with the ongoing upgrade and electrification of Auckland’s rail network.

Click here for the rail bus timetable

Please check timetable very carefully.

For further information on Rail Bus services (including rail bus stop locations),
please click here

Buses will be marked RAIL BUS. All valid tickets and passes currently accepted on trains will be accepted on Rail Bus replacements.

Buses cannot accommodate bikes, scooters or large personal items.

We apologise for any inconvenience caused

I certainly can’t wait for this project to be finished. Having a network that isn’t shut down at nights, weekends and at Christmas along with having faster, reliable and more frequent trains is going to have massive impacts on people’s perceptions of trains as well as patronage.

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  1. If the project is under budget, then they can afford to run some extra shifts to ensure the work is finished sooner. Why risk delays?

    1. Not just a matter of extra shifts, though, Sacha, it’s also the straightforward matter of corridor access. The more access they demand the more disruptive it is to other users of the corridor; we’re about to lose weekday evening services for the foreseeable future, for example.

        1. They’re already working nights, AFAIK, but there’s only an eight-hour window when there are no trains. Having to clear the tracks at the end of each shift means there’s lost time at both ends with setting up and cleaning up, too.

    1. Legal standard maximum is 4.25m. I believe the wires are always 5m above the tracks. Are the signs at the crossing yellow diamonds, or white circles with a black electricity iconography?

  2. Interesting it seems Orakei Basin will be the last to be done, mast bases along there, but masts still. Sure to be some complaints when this is done, although electrification will make things much quieter in this area. The ADKs especially make a fair bit of noise roaring across the basin.

    1. On Saturday work was being done on the tracks near Orakei station.

      KR previously said they would be doing track grinding work (smoothing the rails) on the Eastern line – advertised this back in March in the local rag, so this may be part of that, or prep work for the electrification.
      Mast bases have been in place for some time now along that stretch so don’t know what the hold up has been to getting the masts up for string wires.

      re: noisy ADKs well that issue won’t be gone for some years yet I expect. And even then the noisy freight trains will still be thundering through even once the electrics are all done.

    2. They know they are going to get grief from the locals regarding the look of anything they put up through the basin and Hobson bay, So I suspect they are hoping to be able to be able to point to the new quieter trains quite quickly, rather than having the masts up with old trains for years,…

      Heck., there were nimbys in Wellington who didn’t like the new steel masts that replaced the hodpotch of wooden poles dating back to the 40s around Pukera Bay

      1. Linda Taylor makes a valid and important observation, the poles could easily have been designed to be unobtrusive. In fact they can be blended into the environment with some camouflage paint. It is this same lack of aesthetic sensitivity by architects and engineers that has created such a strong objection to high density housing plans in Auckland.

        One disturbing trend that emerged on this site is the abuse of the term Nimby to denigrate and invalidate opposing views. It is only appropriate to use Nimby to describe people who object to changes to their own neighbourhood “for the greater good” while expecting every other neighbourhood to make those same sacrifices. Banana is a more appropriate and accurate term for anybody who has a blanket objection to any particular type of development occurring anywhere at all. Nobody should ever be denigrated for merely objecting to bad design, in fact that’s something that needs to be encouraged if we want to avoid the ugliness that comes with cost cutting and/or engineer-driven design.

          1. No it’s not – they are hot-dip galvanised steel and when new the zinc coating is bright and reflective. It rapidly oxidises to a dull non-reflective grey.They could be painted but functionally it’s a much poorer form of corrosion resistance and repainting is either extemely disruptive to the network or very unsafe for those doing the job.

            Early catenary system masts and towers (such as those in Germany) were painted a grey-green colour but even there modern practice is to use galvanised steel.

          2. Aesthetically, black would definitely have been better than white, maybe somebody skilled with photoshop could illustrate the difference. But, IMHO, the traditional green used for cast iron lampposts would have been excellent camouflage.

            Perhaps Kiwirail could borrow NZTAs EIA checklist so they don’t overlook these obvious problems during the design stage.

            Getting back to the Orakei Nimby problem, if the earliest paln to run the Southern Motorway over the Remuera Saddle had been implemented these Nimbys would never have moved into the area 😉

          3. MFD is correct, the same thing occurs with galvanised steel road lighting poles, and also with concrete power poles that are white when new but weather to grey over time. Any form of painting is counter-productive for both cost and safety reasons. Even powder-coating has a limited life until oxidation destroys its appearance.

          4. We have had the RMA for more than two decades. The old mindset that a landowner can disregard the landscape impacts of a development to save money should have disappeared from the railways by now. Just because this was an existing use situation that didn’t require a resource consent was no excuse for ignoring the landscape impacts. In this situation fading of a powdercoat would not be a problem as a matte finish is actually desirable. The positive future PR value of these sorts of environmental sensitivities often outweighs the additional capital cost.

          5. Kevyn, do you not understand that by now the appearance of those masts will have changed radically? A photograph of how they look now would be far more germaine to the the debate than suggesting that someone faff around with photo-editing software. The masts are not white. They have never been white. As installed they were bare, bright metal (zinc) which in a coastal environment rapidly oxidises to a matte grey, so what are these “obvious problems” that you refer to?

        1. Did anyone ever consider bottom contact third rail for the electrification project? I believe that there are some systems that allow the rail to be insulated and that might address reasonable safety concerns.

          1. NZ has experience with overhead traction systems. We have no (recent?) experience with third-rail traction systems. Why borrow trouble by using a completely new system when you’ve got the other option in use widely?

  3. The steel masts in Auckland are a much nicer design than their Wellington counterparts but yes, the masts and wiring work across Hobson Bay and the Orakei Basin will be the last of the OLE work to be done, lest the nearby residents there try to unecessarily block it.

    1. I reckon they could probably erect the masts and string up the entire section from the tunnel to Tamaki Dr in 3 or 4 days if they really wanted to. Wait till the Christmas shutdown when heaps of people are out of the city and news is quite then get all crews working on it at once 😉

      1. Erecting the masts and stringing the catenary and contact wires is a relatively quick process but their registration (ie precise alignment in three dimensions) is a highly-skilled and time-consuming task.

        1. Sure but it is getting the masts and wires up initially that will cause the concern. Get the masts and wires all up before anyone complains to try and stop it then come back later and get the alignment right. That is how they have been doing the other sections anyway.

    2. Make-it-go and Matt L you are both spot on. This is the most sensitive part of the electrification project, and probably rightly so, was intentionally left to last. Not a bad tactic.. the least worst maybe. Build in a few days over Christmas, yes.

      There really isn’t a technical alternative. Trains can coast for short sections unpowered but not across a gap of a few 100 m like Orakei or Hobson Basins. Potentially an “electric hybrid” (i.e. with battery backup) could do it in the future. You would think such a system could permit electrification at much lower cost in places like AK by avoiding the need to raise all those over-bridges.. just have gaps in the wire instead. But not available yet. There’s no alternative to overhead wires for 25 kVac.. third rail is generally limited to around 1 kVdc and requires a completely different power system and for that matter all kinds of associated complications, and as SteveC points out it’s not without risks in the AK context. The great thing about 25 kVac of course is that it is exactly what we have south of Hamilton (well as far as PN anyway). In fact it really only makes sense if we join it all up. One day we will of course.

      Meanwhile, the wires and the masts will change the view across the basins.. but the view is modified already with the tracks themselves. It will be changed further when the cycle track is extended across Hobson.. and hopefully across the railway and up the Purewa valley. All good. Better than burning oil, and chucking out noise, CO2 and fumes. The sooner the better I say.

      All far preferable to a 6-lane highway..

      1. Given that the 2016 public transport network seems to “channel” people towards rail by reducing duplication of bus routes, what strategies will be in place to avoid issues with rail network outages? Reason I query this is due to the past power cuts in Auckland and the high number of level crossings which will have the inevitable truck forgetting their are overhead wires. 100m without power would tend to suggest the whole system freezes?

        1. That’s a Question worth asking.. power could be lost for all kind of reasons like equipment failure, sea spray causing the lines to flashover along Tamaki Drive (still a risk, though the design will have taken that into consideration) and with all those level crossings, someone will no doubt drive a overweight vehicle into the lines. Then there’s still the chance of more signalling failures that could be caused by issues in the Wellington control centre.

          Nightmare scenario from a PR perspective is two or three of these in the first few weeks.. but as you say another longer term issue is what is plan B when any one of those happens on a weekday morning when there are 2-3x the number of people depending on the trains to get to work. Or 10x when the CRL is built. Not a reason not to go ahead, but it’s a level of risk that has to be managed and of course there is little operational experience in AK with electric trains.

          Anyone know how Perth got on in reliability terms in their early years of rapid growth when they electrified?

        2. A couple of things. The network has connections directly into both the national grid and into the Southdown power station owned by MRP and each connection is powerful to run the entire network. From there the power is distributed to the various substations scattered around the network so if there was a problem with the lines on one part of the network, it doesn’t mean that other parts of the network will be affected.

  4. Difficulty getting enough access to the rail corridor? They’ve had enough of the network as they’ve wanted for just about every second weekend for much of the last year. Plus a month over christmas. This strikes me as a poor excuse and poor management. If it’s an international scale project and if Kiwirail were’nt up to it they should have bought in international contractors who could. They’re stringing up wires for electrification for goodness sake.

      1. Freights important but they shut passenger rail services down (yes they run buses) and don’t get the work down.

        I don’t think kiwirail think that much of passenger services but once the electric units are installed and demand picks up they’ll have to change their thinking.

  5. Sounds like a conspiracy theory on the blog that angry residents near Hobson Bay are waiting to scupper electrification at the last minute. This isn’t a motorway being built and people living in the area will know better than most about what’s going on. Many will be grateful the least obtrusive mast designs were chosen to cross the causeway. I think we’d also find most residents are looking forward to seeing sleek and quiet EMU’s replacing rattly diesels. Let’s hope freight trains will eventually get the same treatment since there will be increasing pressure to run more of them at night over time.

    1. Maybe a little bit conspiracy but isn’t so much about them trying to stop electrification but that they will object to the visual changes that stringing the wires creates. In saying that the lines that are electrified don’t look to bad and the poles and cables aren’t too intrusive, certainly could have been worse.

      1. The people in Orakei are some of the richest and most powerful in the country. Many of them are the same who are also trying to scupper the Auckland UP, oblivious to the needs of the rest of Auckland’s current 1.5 million people, and future hundreds of thousands. They also managed to stop the Eastern Motorway, despite the strong backing it had from various levels of government at the time (this was a good outcome, but an illustration of their strength).

        No conspiracy needed. A continuation of current performance is all that’s necessary to suggest that there will be a loud outcry that may be taken seriously.

  6. Notice that KR seem to be expressing surprise that there is demand for services on their network. This looks awfully consistent with general theme from the people there that they basically have little faith in the very asset and services that they are charged with providing.

  7. Went out to Papakura via Eastern Line this morning and there are still sections which haven’t been completed though coming off Westfield going to Sylvia Park some of the overheads with that earthing wire in place.Work progressing along with Wiri Depot .Meant to be completed in July for the first EMUS to arrive in September .Manukau Link has now got two tracks coming onto main line where there was one previously .Will go out there one day to get a better look at this new makes you wonder how many teams they have out there doing this project but it will reach a conclusion eventually

  8. I read in the paper today that they are going to doing bus replacement services to try and get the electrification done.

    The interesting part I found was that if the whole 9 trains that need to get replaced some 300 to 350 people will be disrupted. So 40 people per train. Not quite the same as those pictures we were shown the other week.

    1. It is only affecting services after 9pm. Yes there are less people travelling on trains at that time of night, this is not surprising or news

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