There was huge transport disruption this morning for train users after Britomart was closed following a tsunami warning. I wanted to quickly share a few thoughts I’ve had about the incident.
I want to start by making clear that I’m not criticising the decision to close Britomart. I’m sure it was done based on someone following a pre-defined safety process. Whether that process needs to be reassessed I’ll leave up to others to discuss/assess.
What the incident really highlighted to me was how differently we treat different modes. For example, if the incident was considered serious enough to close Britomart then why weren’t low lying roads also closed? Roads like Tamaki Dr and SH1 either side of the Harbour Bridge are only barely above sea level at high tides while the Victoria Park Tunnel is below that. A tsunami hitting Auckland, and especially during the morning peak, would be devastating for people in vehicles on those roads and yet it appears authorities seem consider that perfectly acceptable. Surely we should treat all of transport the same.
I guess it many ways this mirrors how we deal with transport in general. Even seemingly minor incidents on the rail network get thoroughly investigated by independent bodies and often result in policy and procedure changes. There are also systems in place (such as the ECTS signalling system) that are designed to do as much as possible to actively prevent human error issues from occurring. Yet on the roads we seem to accept that every year over 300 people will die on our roads and in transport assessments, often safety is weighted up against travel time savings.
The other main thought about this morning was once again the terrible communications from Auckland Transport. The first I heard about any issues via a text message from AT at 7:07 claiming there was a track fault. At 7:20 another text claimed it was an emergency services incident (which usually is used to mean that someone has been hit by a train. It wasn’t until 7:57 that a third text said there was a Civil Defence Warning.
But even that was good compared to other forms of communication AT have at their disposal. I’m told messages at train stations were severely lacking, the real time boards weren’t working, exactly at the times you need them the most. On social media their messages on twitter were equally pointless and their finally existent Facebook page was completely silent. After so many years of experiencing this kind of crap when things go wrong it still amazes me that it still happens.