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
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. pic.twitter.com/ob2Vl0FPzR
— Auckland Transport (@AklTransport) June 16, 2019
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.