Train users are likely to have been feeling frustrated over the last week or two with what have become nearly daily delays and cancellations. As a Western line user, this has been made more frustrating because unlike the Southern and Eastern lines, for which AT have at least put out some comms, there have been none for the Western, despite services often being delayed or cancelled as part of the disruption.

The main issue causing this disruption appears to be a lack of, or poor, maintenance from Kiwirail with AT finally tweeting this thread yesterday

Here’s the text from the whole thread:

In the past few weeks, we’ve been experiencing a number of delays and cancellations on our train services. These are primarily on the Southern Line, but have flow on effects to the wider AT Metro network.

KiwiRail, who own, control and maintain the train tracks have multiple temporary speed restrictions due to track that is not up to standard. Most of these locations have been identified as needing the train tracks to be completely replaced.

A number of locations had tracks replaced over Queen’s Birthday Weekend, while the line was closed which removed some of the temporary speed restrictions but there is still work to be done. KiwiRail has assured us that the track is safe.

These speed restrictions help maintain the track condition until maintenance work can be completed. We find these delays and cancellations incredibly frustrating, as many of our customers will do, and we apologise for this.

Together with Transdev, we are working with KiwiRail to resolve this as soon as possible with planned maintenance: ow.ly/Vz0c50uFqqk You can keep up to date with the AT Mobile app, our social media channels or our text message alert system:

In addition, stuff reports on comments from Kiwirail

KiwiRail Executive General Manager Operations Siva Sivapakkiam, apologised for the inconvenience to commuters, but said safety was KiwiRail’s top priority.

“KiwiRail owns and maintains the railway tracks and signals for the Auckland network, as part of our regular maintenance programme, we have inspected and identified sections of rail track that need replacing on the southern and eastern lines.

“We have placed temporary speed restrictions at several locations on the southern and eastern lines until we can carry out this work. The line needs to be closed to commuter trains to safely lay the new rail track.”

Sivapakkiam said KiwiRail was working closely with AT to prioritise the required maintenance and to lift the temporary speed restrictions as quickly as possible.

“On the basis of the current speed restrictions, it should be expected that delays will continue, and that some services may be cancelled.

“Future inspections of the rail track across the Auckland network may require further temporary speed restrictions to be introduced,” he said.

Things sometimes unexpectedly breaking, severe weather and other random acts that occasionally impact services are all annoying at the time but are understandable. But tracks being in poor condition feels like something that should have been foreseen and I think serious questions need to be asked of Kiwirail to why they’ve let them get to such a poor standard. Now on a normal weekday there are over 74,000 trips being made and ongoing delays will only serve to erode trust in the system.

The vastly improved reliability and punctuality of the system following the completion of electrification in mid-2015 is likely to have played a significant role in driving ridership up over the last few years, seeing it double to over 20 million in just the four years. This is reflected in the graph below showing the number of trains arriving at their destination within five minutes of schedule rising from around 80% to over 96%.

Here’s rail ridership as a comparison.

You can also see a breakdown of punctuality by line from 2011 onwards. One thing that’s interesting about this is that the eastern line was the worst performer but is now the best. This improvement in performance is likely related to why the Eastern Line has seen some of the strongest growth over the last few years.

Looking forward it appears there are now a lot of weekend shutdowns ahead, including three of the four weekends in July. I assume most of these are related to this track issue.

If there’s one silver lining to this disruption it’s that it’s yet another example of why it’s important that we don’t try to rely on the existing network for all future rapid transit lines. Having light rail as an independent but connected part of the rapid transit network is a feature, not a bug.

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67 comments

    1. We took a guy back to waiuku today who had missed the connection at Papakura. The bus services are truely a joke.

  1. Frustrating as a daily rail user to have delays / cancellations + other irregular disruptions the network seems to be having over the last few weeks. Hopefully track maintenance issues aren’t a long term on-going issue.
    Having a large amount of passengers now reliant on one type of rail which is mixed with freight needs isn’t ideal.

  2. If there’s one silver lining to this disruption it’s that it’s yet another example of why it’s important that we don’t try to rely on the existing network for all future rapid transit lines. Having light rail as an independent but connected part of the rapid transit network is a feature, not a bug.

    Given Airport to Botany is reliant on the Southern and Eastern Lines and CC2M is no where in sight we might want the Third and Fourth Mains sooner rather than later.

    1. it is annoying to be sure and is affecting many of my colleagues (so far no problem for me except riding in a packed train). I rather they fix the track than have an accident. We live with road works …so we need to live with track works too. I just wonder why so of them can not occur at night….perhaps too many freight trains.

      the real headache is connecting to low-frequency services like wattle downs and Waiuku…those trains need to run.

      Any news on the extra 15 trains that were ordered a while back?

      Agree that this highlights why we need an independent light rail network…more redundancy in the system (plus all the other reasons). Hopefully, the HR to airport people have realised the folly of an Otahuhu or Puhunini branch line.
      But maybe we need a Waiuku via Glennbrook branch to Manukau and a Taukau via Pukehoke to Manukau link to serve the needs of our brothers in the deep south?

      1. “Agree that this highlights why we need an independent light rail network”

        An odd line of thought. Should London replace its 100+ rail lines with a dozen different gauged independent networks, for resilience?

        No, of course not.

        1. London, what a great example to prove my point, thanks Geoff. Perhaps you haven’t noticed but good luck running a sub-surface line train on one of the deep tube lines, or one of the new Elizabeth line trains on either of them.
          Most major cities have networks of various different types of technology and they work fine because there’s no need for interoperability, only that passengers can easily connect between lines as part of a network.

        2. London has at least six independent, differently gauged rail networks that I can think of off the top of my head.

          It is indeed quite useful that a breakdown on Thameslink doesn’t stuff up the Northern Line, etc.

        3. @Lemna
          I think Nick’s referring to loading gauge (max vehicle length/width/height) rather than track gauge.

        4. As people here keep saying, the particular gauge, or the weight of the train is not important. So a homogeneous network of CAF units running on 1067mm-gauge track is not of itself a weakness. You can have resilient, independently-operable rail-services that are identical in terms of rolling-stock and track gauge. You don’t need to move deliberately to un-interoperable systems to achieve resilience.

          Wellington’s Johnsonville Line runs largely independently of the other routes and can fail without affecting the others, or it can keep going when the others fail. But all use the same type of trains.
          However caution needs to be exercised before building anything that jeopardises interoperability. Are we sure, even in the far future, that we will not need this? Can be awfully hard to retro-fit interoperability if we one-day decide we do need it.
          And incidentally, London’s Underground and Overground are all ‘heavy rail’ with same-gauge tracks even though the rolling-stock is differently-sized. And in quite a few places the two modes do share the same physical rails.

          Advocates for heavy rail – or this one at least – are not advocating for mode as such, but for features traditionally associated with the heavy-rail mode that make for a better and safer operation. Principally having its own, largely-segregated, fenced, ‘all-other-users-excluded’ right of way. That way it can be proper rapid transit not a faux version of it, and without risk of skittling vehicles and pedestrians the way mixed systems tend to (eg, the significant bus/pedestrian conflict occurring along Wellington’s Golden Mile).

        5. I believe the CAF EMUs have limitations due to existing platforms on the rail network that basically restrict them to having two doors per carriage and retractable ramps for the low-floor carriages.

          Even if money was no object and the proposed LR network was built as HR it would make sense for us to get EMUs that are more fit for purpose, meaning they wouldn’t function on the existing parts of the network anyway.

        6. David No question that a grade separated exclusive access corridor is the holy grail for rapid transport. Auckland currently has very little of that. A few Kilometres of the North Shore busway, The eastern railway line and the Southern line down as far as Takanui?
          The western line and Onehunga branch, still have at grade road crossings.
          There are three options to create new grade separated corridors. Above, on ground or underground.
          Creating an above ground corridor, crossing above an already built city, is simply environmentally unacceptable. It will also be incredibly expensive. Melbourne’s creation of above ground rail corridors is on the existing rail corridors, not creating new corridors.
          Creating a new grade separated surface transport corridor, motorway or rail, through existing built up areas is similarly not acceptable, because of community severance. Land acquisition costs will also be prohibitive.
          The massive costs of underground can only be justified when land costs are massive such as in the CBD. Simply not viable in our relatively low density suburbia but further under grounding transport in the CBD probable in the medium term.
          Light Rail, using a combination of on street running, and some existing spare transit corridor space is cheaper then any heavy rail option and the degradation of possible service level well offset by the advantages of earlier delivery of a larger network. Light rail is simply able to offer a viable car alternative transport to more people earlier.
          But Dave, it is also important we press on with, in fact accelerate progress in improving our Heavy Rail network to upgrade it’s carrying capacity, range and service levels along the routes it does serve now and could in the future. Not only the suburban passenger network, but also the creation of a regional passenger network, and a very much enlarged role in freight movement.

        7. Thanks Don. By and large agree with that. But I get a little cynical when I see transport policy that is quite prepared to ram a 4 or 6 lane motorway through an urban environment but baulks at a 2-track railway. This lop-sided approach has been de-rigueur for the past 50 years. Maybe urban motorways are becoming less acceptable now (depends on the flavor of govt.), but quite honestly, urban-rail has an awful lot of catching-up to do in this regardand a bit of threading through the urban-fabric should not be ruled-out (the likely alternative being moar roads).

          With growing emphasis on lower, safer speeds in pedestrian environments, I cannot see the expedient of running so-called ‘rapid-transit’ unprotected through such environments, as being satisfactory. Traditionally the role of the street-tram has been slow-transit for inner-suburban journeys. Outer-suburban has generally been the domain of segregated systems, principally heavy-rail. The respective reach and coverage of Melbourne’s rail and tram systems illustrate this. Agreed that level-crossings on otherwise segregated systems are weak-spots, and need to be prioritized for elimination. But trying to shoe-horn rapid transit into mixed-use environments risks creating more of the same weakness – in spades.

          My prediction is that if we try to run fast in this environment there will be casualties, and a massive, embarrassing clamp-down will follow (even 30Km/h hasn’t eliminated bus/pedestrian accidents in Wellington’s Golden Mile). Conversely if we design for safety in this environment, it sure won’t be rapid.
          Maybe a happy medium can be achieved of some slow-portions of route and some rapid, but I fear we will be designing-in a compromise which we will live to regret. Rather like a motorway abruptly discharging its traffic into ordinary streets – the bugbear of that policy pretty-much everywhere.

          @ Jezza – Agreed, any new EMUs purchased should have the deficiencies of the present fleet designed-out. However I don’t see why this should make them incompatible with the existing network.

        8. Dave, apologies for probably having read a comment before that gives this information, but if I have I’ve forgotten. My question is:

          Since we need extra rapid transit lines, and you think they should be grade separated rail in dedicated corridors, what are you actually envisaging in Auckland? Underground, elevated or converting streets to corridors that we need overpasses and underpasses to get past? And which streets?

          And what do you think about buses? We’ve got such a problem of safety near buses now, as the drivers have picked up the normal antisocial behaviour of red light running, red light jumping, and driving way too fast in places.

        9. Dave, I think, and seriously hope, that ramming more urban motorways through existing built up areas has finished for good in Auckland, and even extending and creating more general lanes on the existing motorways seems to be being curtailed. Still a lot of lane adding being done to the urban arterial network though. For Dominion Road I cannot see that a Light Rail consist every 3 minutes at 50kph and a general traffic lane at 40kph will be more dangerous then the existing multiple buses on the bus lane and a general traffic lane both at 50kph. If Light rail and general traffic were both limited to 30kph through the en route shopping strips and 40kph elsewhere, safety would be considerably enhanced over the existing situation. For Light Rail signal priority, reduced stops, and the considerably improved embarking/disembarking arrangements of over the existing double decker buses route timings will be considerably better then today, even in spite of a lowered maximum speed.

        10. Heidi – quick answer: I support LR Dominion Road but caution that it might not be as rapid as many seem to think. It may or may not run to the airport, and should not be viewed as the main airport RTN access. My belief is that we should look to getting HR to airport from Penrose/Otahuhu/Wiri and find workable solutions to the roadblocks, not just give up. All RTN routes including NW, NShore, etc should be built to same speed and safety-capability as existing HR, even if not using same vehicles.

          Don – also quick answer. While the regime you suggest for Dom Road might be OK by yesterday’s standards, or safer than what we have today, I believe we must prepare for an imminent step-change in road-environment safety which may render this regime still unacceptable. Heavy Rail sets a standard of safety which has left road far behind, and I think the safety authorities and legislators are belatedly waking up to this. Safety on the roads may be about to be dragged into the 21st century. And about time too.

        11. Im not convinced we have seen the last of urban motorway building, a change of government could easily see a return of the east west link and four lanes to the planes remains stubbornly popular with voters.

        12. Agree. It’s a worry – at least for those of us who dearly want to see some change.

        13. Dave – while I can see your concern I don’t agree it is very likely. I can’t see arterial roads being reduced below 50kmh, if for no other reason the impact on buses would be enormous.

          Even if this happened the risk from a fleet of LRVs driven by professional drivers running at 50kmh in the centre of a long straight road with excellent visibility would be extremely low. There would be more risk at the existing pedestrian crossings on the HR network.

          NZ is a follower of world trends and I can’t see European, North American or Australian cities with existing LR intentionally hobbling their networks with 30kmh speed limits.

    2. Can you imagine how much disruption building the third or fourth main will cause, there will be many more train cancellation.

      1. Adding the 3rd and 4th main add desired capacity and resilience so delays to travellers acheiving this, whilst annoying are tolerable. Tolerance of travellers will be tested however if maintenance delays are caused by Kiwi Rail operating to a “fix when breaks” regime rather then a planned predictive regime.

        1. I agree with you.

          In fairness to Kiwirail, it has years of scimp and save where possible and now it has decent money from the last budget to start spending money from on track and signalling infrastructure upgrade and maintenance. I hope the government keeps giving Kiwirail the necessary money to upgrade the national track, tunnel, bridge and signalling infrastructure.

  3. Fantastic charts, Matt. That train reliability one is really striking.

    Hope they get to the bottom of this. Seems to me either lack of funding for maintenance, maintenance funds directed in the wrong place, or some system fault preventing good planning, must be happening.

  4. Whilst I can understand track issues which is caused by wear, I can’t understand those sorts of wide-spread signal issues. Last Friday is not the first time this happened and it’s far more disruptive than speed restrictions.
    How can we have complete signal outages?

    1. There was a localised mains power cut in Mt Wellington which apparently affected the Kiwirail signalling system. You would think an obviously important part of the signalling system would be using a UPS but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I think a lot of these issues are due to the last 3 decades of neglect and starvation diet at Kiwirail.

      1. When I started (hobby) flying in 1967 Wellington Tower had a “no break” electrical back up. That’s 52 years ago!

        Surely something similar is available in this day and age? (sarcasm mode off)

  5. Although track faults are almost always present with applicable speed restrictions in force the speed of Aucklands metro network maintenance is a throw back to the bad old days. They put the vast majority off until Christmas or a few in public holidays.

    Seems to me we need best practice and do it as it’s needed between the last and first trains taking into account freight movements, but certainly not saving them up for a rainy day type of thing.

    AT’s lack of explanation leading up to today as to where and why these faults exist and for how long is standard with their comms of treating us like mushrooms.

  6. Overseas this kind of maintenance is carried out at night, along with preventative maintenance and testing.
    Why is it acceptable for us to have delayed and cancelled services?
    Safety is the number #1 priority, services running on time should be #2.

    1. I’d change those priorities slightly:

      1. Safety, 2. People’s sleep, 3. Services running on time

      I believe Kiwirail do some work at night but not where the tracks are in residential areas.

        1. Not necessarily, I haven’t seen any evidence the lack of preventative maintenance here is due to not doing all the work at night.

          As the network becomes more and more essential more night work will become inevitable. However, with good planning and preventative work the impact on residential areas should be able to be minimised.

          I don’t think it is acceptable for people to be kept awake night after night just so other people passing through their neighbourhood don’t suffer any delays.

        2. How does that work when there are major housing developments occurring right next to the existing rail lines? I’m thinking about Glen Eden. So would night work on tracks there be impossible possibly leading to unavoidable daytime work then train delays and cancellations.

        3. Depending on the work and noise generated then night works are likely to be necessary. Similar to temporary disturbances that motorway closures and re-directing of traffic onto local roads generates.

        4. I’d imagine there’d be a few liveable cities with housing next to good rail infrastructure we can learn from. Is it that they try to have a excess capacity, so that the work can be done during the daytime, in offpeak hours?

  7. I was at Manukau station when the trains stopped on monday some one asked me how to get into the city. I said catch a bus to Botany then get the 70 to Britomart can anyone think of a better way to get there if the train stops. I don’t think there is a bus from Otahuhu except the hospital one. Or catch a 313 bus to Onehunga town center then another to the city.

      1. If you exclude the train then Manukau to Britomart just comes up with 380 to airport then sky bus. 1 hour 39 minutes
        From Otahuhu to Britomart give bus 321 1 hour 25 mins.
        Maybe we should have a bus via the motorway from Manukau running half hour frequency during the day and one from Otahuhu running limited stop via great south road.
        What about that bus which runs to AUT at Manukau could it run to the Manukau bus station as back up if there is problems with the railway.

        1. Many years ago there was a service that ran from Manukau City through Papatoetoe and then all the way up the Great South Road, then via Symonds St. to what is now Britomart. Seems strange there is no longer such a direct route.

        2. I use to get that service when it was run NZRRoad services and it carried on to Pukekohe and that was in 1978 .

        3. Yes there is slow limited backups when the rail is out and not planned especially at peak when no spare buses can be mustered up. If just Eastern or southern is out then there are better options. I have said before, that 321 bus seems to need better frequency and coverage for these reasons and others. There is lack of bus up great south road after Otahuhu since the new network as we are counting on the hugely reliable *cough cough* rapid rail network which is not even fully rapid when at the best of times.

  8. These delays and disruptions have been occurring for a lot longer than just the past week or so, more like the past two months. There have been multiple power failures/overhead problems between Westfield and Puhinui and various other issues which result in serious delays and often, strandings. I wonder if the work Kiwirail does during the weekend closedowns, often causes inadvertent damage to the infrastructure which shows up in the following days. The conditions of the tracks is no surprise to anyone who uses southern and eastern line trains, frequent bumping and lurching, sometimes really quite alarming. The problem is the track and the formation underneath it are very old and decrepit in many places and are just not up to running an intensive commuter service along with numerous heavy freight trains. Because the southern and eastern lines were already double tracked they were mostly left “as is” and fitted with the new overhead infrastructure. Now the chickens are coming home to roost, it’s not just relaying the track, the formation needs upgrading to modern standards which is a major and disruptive job.

    1. A bit of a case of being a victim to it’s own success. At least it is a lot easier to justify the expense on current patronage, rather then trying to justify it ten years ago on patronage then.

    2. In fairness to Kiwirail, it has years of scimp and save where possible on the money it has received from National and what it earns from its freight and long distance passenger train services. Now it has decent money from the last budget to start spending money from on track and signalling infrastructure upgrade and maintenance. I hope the government keeps giving Kiwirail the necessary money to upgrade the national track, tunnel, bridge and signalling infrastructure.

      Currently, the national rail network is still woefully under utilized.

  9. With the new tracks in place, will this enable train to move faster and smoother?

    This may allow them to increase the line speed and make the journey time more competitive to driving?

  10. The tracks and sleepers they show in their twitter posting all seem to be the old timber varity are they the cause of the speed restrictions ? If so how much of the Auckland network still have them ?

    And with the new tracks they are installing have the tracks been fitted with concrete sleepers to fix the speed restrictions ? And when they doubled tracked the western line did they lay concrete or timber on the new sections and leaving the old track with timber ?

    And finally has the Eastern line been completely relaid with concrete to reduce the speed restrictions ?

    1. And what size track are they installing and what was the track that was already there ? is it 55lb or 70lb rail ?

      this video shows track being replaced in Wanganui with 91lb rail as the old rails were all different weight/gauges :-

      1. ” is it 55lb or 70lb rail?” Neither seeing that rail weight in NZ is expressed in kg/m and has been for decades.

        1. Even pounds are defined in terms of kg now and have been for years. The pound (mass) is apparently defined as 0.45359237kg. Yet people keep using them.

    2. Looking at the satellite maps I’d say Kiwi rail has tried to replace the sleepers when other work is underway, such as station rebuilds etc. ITs pretty easy to tell, light grey concrete verses the black of the hardwood sleepers.

      Generally on the southern ling long stretches have been rebuilt when the track bed has needed it. Interesting a significant amount of point work is still on timber sleepers, expensive to replace, more disruptive, and labour intensive. Otahuhu/Westfield Junction has a lot of this, so does Penrose.

  11. The track maintenance and renewal requirement is a fairly predictable process. Rails, sleepers and the associated ballast etc need maintenance input to ensure that the track remains properly supported, is drained and that the track profile is maintained to standard. Renewal is driven by a number of factors including time and usage. So it’s all down to planning and delivery. Perhaps a more appropriate question for KiwiRail might be if the large-scale diversion of resources (staff and materials) needed to repair the NML between Picton and Christchurch may have had a knock on effect on the delivery of the maintenance and renewal work-bank elsewhere across the network. I think this would be a perfectly understandable and acceptable reason if this was the case.

    1. Going by KR’s Fb page it looks like they are after track workers in the Auckland area as it seems they are short of workers around here , and with the Hamilton-Auckland service starting next year they will need more for the work in the south ;-

      KiwiRail
      23 May at 18:35 ·

      Are you interested in a career in rail? We are now taking expressions of Interest for Trainee Track Workers in Auckland. Full training will be provided for the job, which could include installing, repairing or renewing track, working in tunnels or on bridges. If you enjoy problem solving in a fast-paced outdoor environment, you’re willing to learn new skills and you love being part of a team, check out the job listing on our careers site:

      https://careers.kiwirail.co.nz/jobdetails?ajid=rOfU9

      so if you have young ones that want to work outdoors show them the ad

  12. Also a lengthy, but undeclared, period of managed, or abrogated management, decline, left a big decline in physical and human resources, that can not be reversed quickly. So the Auckland , Weĺington suburban upgrade projects and then Canturbury / Marlborough reinstatements have stretched railways engineering resources.

    1. Yes so much catch up from previous governments to get the track up to spec. Soo much time before the comms come out with detail, probably Kiwi Rail then AT Running everything through a big PR and legal team machine. Anyway it’s not that bad the delays, best to just turn up a 10 mins earlier and expect slight delays. First I heard or expected it last Thursday then Friday in the morning but with high frequency bus connections after the train section, it didn’t make too much difference. Heck, in a car you need to Expect that much delay on the motorway in the morning.

      1. Realised after I posted this that not everyone can easily just turn up 10 mins earlier to a train station when they are on an infrequent feeder service.

    1. Yup. On topic for everything Auckland is needing to do!! 🙂

      As a cycling advocate said to me, it’s just missing, “as a keen cyclist myself”…

    1. With these signal failures has anyone worked out what is causing them ? . Or maybe it could the increase in the rat population that we are having right now as they love to chew through PVC piping and with the wiring causing a magnetic field it attracts them to start chewing everything

      1. And this from 27 Apr, 2012 8:07am – Akld train outage an ‘odd set of events’ . Were Len Brown had a go at KR over a similar event . he is the link ;-

        https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10801787

        And this sounds like this was a 1st and not a one off , and it’s still happening and it sure as hell won’t be the last . So why can’t they have the network controlled from Auckland and have redundant systems for any breakdowns ? .

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