It was already shaping up as a hectic week for news even before we had the COVID results on Tuesday night. Here’s our wrap up of some of the things that caught my attention.


The Great Rail Network Slowdown

I’ll be writing about this more in the coming days but in case you haven’t seen, it turns out Auckland’s rail network is in much worse case than thought and around 100km of tracks needs new rails or other maintenance work done on them. Things are so bad that the entire network is being slowed down to a maximum of 40km/h for the next six months compared to being between 80 and 110 km/h at the moment.

As such, from Monday there are new timetables for all lines and in addition to the trains taking longer, Auckland Transport are reducing frequencies to only every 20 minutes.. I haven’t checked all of them but as an example of the impact this will have:

  • The Western Line from Swanson to Britomart will be 10 minutes longer, taking 1 hour and 6 minutes.
  • The Southern Line from Papakura to Britomart will go from either 50 or 52 minutes to 1 hour and 7 minutes.
  • The Eastern Line from Manukau to Britomart will go from 37 or 39 minutes to 51 minutes.

Eastern Busway milestone

The team building the new Eastern Busway have reached an important milestone and are now moving the new bridge that will span the Tamaki River into place.

In a first for New Zealand, a new bridge is being slowly pushed across the Tamaki River as part of the $1.4b Eastern Busway.

There are four spans and each one is connected to the section behind it. Each launch of the bridge is around 50 metres and takes up to 10 days to inch across the river.

Mayor Phil Goff says this construction method is a first for New Zealand and speeds up the assembly.

“The first of the steel bridge spans were delivered to the construction site earlier in the year and are the largest single steel spans ever to be fabricated in New Zealand.

“The new busway bridge is more than 200 metres in length and contains 1,000 tonnes of steel and 2,000 tonnes of concrete,” says Mayor Phil Goff.

“It’s a feat of engineering and will be an integral part of the completed busway, supporting high frequency bus travel between Panmure and Pakuranga and eventually Botany once the project is completed in 2025.

The busway between Panmure and Pakuranga is due for completion next year. The video below is drone footage from near the end of July


Redoubt Rd Dynamic Lanes

Auckland Transport have started the process to add dynamic lanes to Redoubt Rd in Manukau.

A safer and less congested Redoubt Road is on the way before the end of the year.

To improve traffic flow, Auckland Transport (AT) will install dynamic lanes on Redoubt Road in Manukau, between the Southern Motorway offramp and Hollyford Drive.

AT will also make safety improvements at three road crossings along the route.

….

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says he is pleased to see work on the dynamic lanes get underway.

“Dynamic lanes are an effective solution to reduce congestion and delays for motorists that do not require the costly and time-consuming process of building new physical lanes,” he says.

“They have proved their effectiveness in Whangaparāoa and on the Auckland Harbour Bridge and hopefully will be just as effective on Redoubt Road, which I use frequently.”

The section being made dynamic (below) is already three lanes, with two westbound towards Manukau so this isn’t a massive change, however, it remains a classic case of Auckland Transport prioritising traffic flow. AT shouldn’t be even considering changes like this when there are still modes that are missing from the street. For example, there is nowhere safe for anyone to ride a bike? Alternatively, if they are going to make it dynamic, why not make it a dynamic bus lane given this section is used by the 35 frequent route as well as the 325, 355 and 366 services.


What the pole

Auckland Transports silos were on clear display earlier this week when some street sign poles appeared in the middle of what is meant to a new shared path as part of the Karangahape Rd upgrade.

It appears these may have been put in by the team doing the city centre speed limit changes and who took no thought to what else was happening in the area much like how they put a sign in the middle of

Thankfully after raising this, AT removed the poles but that this happened in the first place is a classic example of one AT department charging ahead without any knowledge or understanding of what other areas are doing.


Transmission Gully outcome close?

It seems we may be close to an outcome on Transmission Gully, though it’s one that sounds like will not be great for taxpayers.

NZTA and the private consortium building Transmission Gully are close to a new agreement that could remove or alter warranty obligations on the road.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford told reporters at Parliament on Thursday a project announcement to “reset the clock” on Transmission Gully was not far away.

“[A reset would] restart the project well and truly and have a clear run through to completion … [the road is] 83 percent completed and obviously people who live in this region, they want to see the road open as soon as possible.

Weakening warranty conditions doesn’t sound like a great outcome and more likely something that will come back to bit us in the future.


Manawatu Gorge Replacement moving ahead

A contract has finally been signed to built a new road to replace the old Manawatu Gorge road, which was closed due slips in 2017.

Site work is soon to begin on Te Ahu a Turanga: Manawatū Tararua Highway, the project to replace the former SH3 route through the Manawatū Gorge, Transport Minister Phil Twyford said today.

Phil Twyford was today in Woodville at the signing of a formal agreement by members of the Alliance delivering the design and construction of the $620 million project – Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, Fulton Hogan, HEB Construction, Aurecon and WSP.

Phil Twyford said today’s signing is a major step forward for the much-needed replacement to the Manawatū Gorge route that’s been closed since 2017.

“Te Ahu a Turanga: Manawatū Tararua Highway will reconnect Manawatū, Tararua District, Hawke’s Bay and northern Wairarapa, as well as restore a vital link for locals, travellers and businesses across the North Island.

“It will also help with the region’s economic recovery. The project will create hundreds of jobs and has a target to employ more than 60 per cent local workers. This will have huge benefits for the region with their people being upskilled and getting money in their pockets when they need it most.

“The team is also working closely with iwi, stakeholders and local government to protect the environment as much as possible. The project will plant 46ha of native forest, rehabilitate 32km of streams, protect 48ha of existing forest and manage the pest control of 300ha of forest reserve.


It’s not the parking ….

Retailers love to overestimate the value of parking and continually blame the lack of it, especially the lack of free parking, as to why people don’t visit their shops. A good example from Christchurch has once again shown that it’s not the parking that makes a difference.

One-hour free parking this winter has so far cost Christchurch ratepayers $195,000 and only attracted 395 more cars than last year– that’s close to $500 per car.

The Christchurch City Council introduced the initiative as a way to encourage people to come into the city and support businesses following the Covid-19 crisis.

But the lack of uptake has surprised the Central City Business Association (CCBA), which pushed for the free parking.

The council has been providing the first hour free at its Lichfield St and Art Gallery parking buildings during June, July and August. The initiative is set to end on August 31, but the council will decide the final on Thursday.

….

CCBA chairwoman Annabel Turley​ said there was a perception free parking brought in a lot of people, so she was surprised at the council’s figures.

….

She agreed it was hard to justify a continuation given the cost and lack of uptake.

“We really value the fact that they did put on that free parking. It showed great support for the retailers and the hospitality operators in the city. Parking always seems to be a barrier for people, whether it’s a true barrier or a perceived one.”

Like their counterparts in Auckland’s Heat of the City, perhaps this Christchurch business association should focus on making the city centre more people focused rather than encouraging people to drive to it.


Have a good weekend.

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55 comments

  1. How can the rail be in such a bad shape?
    Surely with rebalasting and other works that have been going on every christmas and many other times, the track condition will have been checked. It can’t have suddenly deterioated. I would have thought there would be vehicles running the lines checking alignment on a fairly frequent basis, that would also check rail condition.
    Who is being held to account?
    Why isn’t maintenance being done at night, between midnight and dawn, so that day time services aren’t affected, just like overseas?

    1. Indeed an appalling situation and the question really needs to be asked how it got to this situation. Apparently KiwiRail say Auckland Transport doesn’t give them enough time to do track work and keep increasing and extending the timetable which further reduces the amount of time they have available to do work at night.

      There has also been an issue with KiwiRail simply not having enough skilled track staff and funding to do the work, which stems back decades. It has all caught up and come to a head now it would seem.

      The needs to be a big investigation into this issue and sort out how this mess has happened and how to stop it happening again. Could it be with KiwiRail being a commercial SOE that it has been prioritising funding into things which make it money such as locos and wagons, rather than into the track and employing more track staff and maintenance equipment? A review and restructure of how rail is structured and run and by who needs to be made.

      Cutting back the evening timetable so that there is more time to get maintenance work done at night would also be a logical start as very few people use the late evening train services after around 9.30pm.

      It will be interesting to hear what all the political parties have to say about this and what they intend to do?

      1. Yes, NZ First’s Winston Peters and Shane Jones are normally front and centre with any announcements about KiwiRail, but along with their PTUA foghorn Jon Reeves, are strangely quiet on this one..

      2. Cutting back the evening services is the worst possible way to handle this. Kiwirail should employ more track engineers and use the night time slots more effectively. The point of tracks is to run trains and move people and goods, not to make it as simple as possible to maintain the tracks.

        1. That’s ignoring the past that has got us to this situation. The network can’t cope with the number of trains being run on it, track staff have to be trained, more very expensive track maintenance machines acquired, the ancient track formation fixed which can’t be done in a few hours at night. The priority needs to be fixing the network for the long term not trying to run virtually empty trains at night now.

        2. I could understand a temporary period of early shutdowns (especially as a bus replacement wouldn’t be significantly slower than the timetables they are proposing). However, it needs to be made clear to Kiwirail that this is a temporary arrangement and they must have a plan to allow full services to operate 365 days a year most years. There seems to be a culture there that shutting down the network is accpetable..

        3. Funding to bring the network up to standard also needs to include extra funding to improve the bus network, with more services and more priority, so they can take more of the load.

        4. Yes from memory some of the rail replacement bus areas are hugely slower. I think especially the southern lines putty little bus replacement takes so much longer than the train as it makes its way back to great south road or something between each station.

          The Eastern line misses Meadowbank altogether so users would have an a pathetic hourly 782 bus if it’s the weekend as an option.

      3. “Apparently KiwiRail say Auckland Transport doesn’t give them enough time to do track work and keep increasing and extending the timetable which further reduces the amount of time they have available to do work at night.”

        This is nonsense! The timetable has been roughly 05:00-22:30ish on all lines Sunday through Thursday for several years. I have been fighting to expand that for years, its near impossible to use trains for shift work in the city with such a dreadful end time, I used to finish at either 23:00 or 00:00. Also the 05:20ish start time means I had to drive my partner to Penrose from Henderson whenever she had a 06:00 or 06:30 start on ocassion.. ridiculous.

        The only services they slightly increased in span are the Fri-Sat late night services, but only by an hour.

        Kiwirail need to get real and explain why they havent used several years or more of 6 hour+ windows (23:00ish to 05:00ish) and endless rail replacement bus weekends to do this maintenance.

        Once this is done I hope the excuses stop to not bring trains in line with most bus routes and have them start at around 04:30 and end around midnight every night at the very least, so its actually usable for non-peak commuter customers.

        1. No Peter, what you are pushing for is nonsense. Why should everybody else pay for public transport to cater for you and your lifestyle to choice where you finish work at 11pm or midnight? The cost of all the operating staff, support staff, additional security, extra diesel (for Pukekohe trains and buses) to cater for single digit patronage levels, or more commonly empty trains and buses late at night, doesn’t stack up. It is not sensible use of limited transport funding resources, along with the additional pollution and wear and tear with all those empty buses and trains running.

          Not to mention the impact of running all these late services on other people lives who then also have to then work later (when there is no real demand for the service they are providing), keeping them away from their families and in the case of bus drivers, security guards and cleaners, working for minimum wage and not much more until un-Godly hours in the morning. Do you also expect all the shops to be open all hours as well to cater for when you and the very small number of other people who finish work late at night?

          Auckland Council has had to pass an emergency budget and all spending needs to be assessed to ensure it is being spent where it is really needed and will benefit the majority. By all means run public transport where there is a real demand for it. Extend train services during peak periods to places where people are crying out for them such as Kumeu / Huapai and Pokeno and Waiuku. Your mentioning that trains services should start running from 4.30am may well be valid as there tends to be quite a reasonable amount of patronage and therefore demand for public transport in the early morning – but not in the late evenings. Patronage really drops away after 9pm at night.

          It does not make sense to run buses and trains so late at night to cater for so few people. There isn’t a unlimited amount of funding. People who choose to work jobs where they finish so late at night, should just simply drive or ride a bike as there is very little traffic around late at night and in the early hours of the morning. Or alternatively live closer to where you work so that you can walk / bike to work. This would make more sense than having fleets of trains and buses running all through the night with no one on them.

          The issue with KiwiRail and track maintenance is largely due to years of lack of funding and priority for rail investment and improvement, which stems back decades over many Governments – both Labour and National. KiwiRail and Ontrack and Tranz Rail before, suffered from insufficient funding and from Government policy which didn’t prioritise spending and improvement on rail. The network has subsequently suffered due to the political decision-making since the time of New Zealand Rail being privatised and rail infrastructure not getting enough investment until very recently, and with the Government decision to have KiwiRail to still continue it its current form as a fully commercial profit-oriented State-Owned Enterprise being responsible for and in control of the infrastructure, as well as running rail services – both freight and passenger, as fully commercial profit-oriented services.

          In this time since the downsizing of rail staff which began under the Labour Government’s economic reforms in the 1980s, there has been a serious lack of investment in ongoing renewals and improvement to the rail system, resulting in a situation of managed decline which became very much apparent during the later years of the Tranz Rail era.

          There has also been insufficient ongoing training of skilled staff, such as infrastructure maintenance staff. So for many years up until very recently when this began to change under this current Government, there has simply not been enough staff or equipment to do the work needed in ever decreasing time available – Auckland Transport have extended services to run later until 11.00pm Mon-Thurs and 1.30am Fri and Sat, leaving very little time available between the last trains finishing and the first trains starting at 5.00am.

          The timetable needs to be cut back in the evenings to 9.30pm and the entire rail sector restructured so that there is a Government agency (NZRC) in charge of the rail infrastructure and all rail passenger services, which has the funding rail needs which the Government is best placed to provide, which is focused entirely on these important essential infrastructure services.

        2. What is really annoying is that when there is a weekend shutdown freights are still allowed to run and crews don’t work from shutdown time to start up time (that may have changed).

          There is also the noise disruption to those living alongside the corridor, many of them not by choice.

        3. Green, there’s some truth in what you say, except that your argument fell apart when you said this: “Patronage really drops away after 9pm at night.”

          I hope you realise that each trip taken on reliable services after 9 pm can represent ridership during the day of dozens of people. People won’t travel on PT if they aren’t guaranteed a ride home at the time of day they might need to return. And this might be only once or twice a month.

          A critical part of network design is understanding that the value in a late night PT trip goes far beyond the passengers/service statistic.

        4. Green – you’ll find more people on a Dominion Rd bus at 11:30pm than you will on a peak hour diesel shuttle to Kumeu if it were implemented.

          I agree regarding underfunding but you appear to be suggesting that Auckland in 2005 when trains stopped at 9pm had it right and Sydney where trains run through the night on some lines has it wrong.

          Sailor Boy was spot on with his comment that tracks are for moving people and goods not for maintaining.

        5. Most of the problems are with previous Gov’t’s and it’s called managed decline as most of them don’t won’t rail . And also you have people along the network phoning noise control after a certain because their sleep is disturb , I also think they are also the ones that moan because the train are delayed because the tracks are rundown .

        6. I am going slightly off key here as Matt L didn’t mention anything about Rail Safety week with all the misses across the Networks . I watched this on youtube the otther night and thank god we don’t have this meany idiots here ;-

        7. I am going slightly off key here as Matt L didn’t mention anything about Rail Safety week with all the misses across the Networks . I watched this on youtube the otther night and thank god we don’t have this many idiots here ;-

        8. The problem is that of “rolling contact fatigue” where the wheels meet the rails and it is caused, in part, by the mix on freight and electric trains on the network.

          During the procurement of the emus KR specified rigid bogies instead of steerables because it was a lower cost. If you listen when you go around a corner the wheels are grinding against the rails. We are now paying the price for that.

        9. Slowing down existing and having fewer commuter trains? All because the railtrack system in Auckland is decrepit.
          So why are we continuing with constructing the CRL? Won’t any perceived timetable advantages and capacity increases now be impossible until major investment in network track replacement is completed?
          Maybe we should just accept the new slower fewer trains railway and stop all existing rail expenditure until a future govt decides if funding rail replacement is viable.
          Also just get on and sort out better roading with a few more motorway lanes.

        10. Eric – CRL is due to be completed in 2024, the track upgrades are due to be completed in six months, it’s hard to figure out what your concern is.

        11. Chris – why on earth did KR specify the cheap option for one of the few parts of the EMU that comes into direct contact with their infrastructure when they weren’t even the ones paying for the EMUs?

        12. KiwiRail did not specify the Emu bogies. AT was responsible for procuring the EMUs. They would have specified the minimum standards that the EMUs had to meet. My understanding was that normally bogie design is an iterative process, that normally there are a couple of design stages to produce an optimised design. However the expedited delivery schedule that CAF signed up to meant that there was only enough time to produce a basic compliant design but not to refine it. Hence the bogies are known to be hard on the track

        13. ALPHATRON – KiwiRail were originally in charge of the EMU project. It was assigned to them after National came into Government in 2008. The project was originally for around 38 3 car EMUs and 13 electric locos pulling 6 car SA sets. The project was later transferred from KiwiRail to AT.

        14. If what people are claiming about the AM units And their bogies is true; it is lunacy to want to use them for high frequency services.

        15. The benefit of running PT regularly for an extended number of hours is that some people can decide they don’t need to own a car at all, just as happens in many European cities. As car ownership falls vkt and emissions are likely to fall.
          I agree with the point that Heidi has made. When we travel to the city in the evening by bus we do so because we know that we can return by that means. Is the night network as efficient as it could be -no.

          Have we made suggestions to improve the network in our area while costing less money – yes we have. I guess we are fortunate that AT believes they have the best answers to most things – or perhaps have locked themselves into inflexible contracts.

    2. Re the rail network times – This is a total joke! What a fuck up!
      PT is already facing hugely challenging times with covid-19.
      Depressing – who is responsible????

      1. Who is responsible? The man at the top of Kiwirail. The guy on the really big salary who is claiming that it has come as a bit of a surprise and is intimating that it is the AT rolling stock that is to blame and not his 20 tonne axle load freight trains in combination with head-in-the-sand permanent way maintenance procedures.

        1. The salary is not the only thing which is big. Every time you see him he seems to be getting bigger – must be a lot of corporate lunches and dinners..

        2. It’s a total disgrace. Just when you think PT in Auckland has got past second world status and is approaching first world status, something like this happens. To set it right back to second world status (at best).
          That incompetent ass Twyford should be doing something about this, rather than farting around with his light rail wet dreams.
          This country really is a joke, much of the time.

  2. re Tamaki river bridge construction method. Is it really a first.. something very similar was done with the Cannons Creek bridge near Porirua on the Tansmission Gully road.

    1. Incremental launching like this is a well-established technique using both steel (this example, Matahoroa road bridge and others) and concrete (Tauranga Harbour Bridge- twice!, Grafton rail bridge and others).

    1. It very much depends on what was in the original ppp agreement signed up to by the previous government. I’m guessing the contractor has quite a few “out” clauses for overruns and weather etc etc. Not forgetting that good old get out of everything, the pandemic exclusion.

  3. Transmission Gully: “a new agreement that could remove or alter warranty obligations on the road”

    Why?
    And how can we increase RUC’s to cover the ongoing costs that will plague us?

    1. “Why?”
      It’s called pandering to voters. Stupid people in the Wellington region would be livid if they’re denied the right to drive the road they’ve been convinced they need.
      Mark my words: There will be horrible consequences of this and most likely resulting in some people perishing. I’m sure that Twyford has a plan to shirk responsibility for it, not saying the plan will work (It’s Twyford I’m taking about).

    2. Of course TGM was originally envisaged as a toll road, until concerns arose that too much traffic would continue to use the “free” existing road if a realistic toll was charged. Everyone says they want TGM, but obviously not enough to be willing to pay to use it.
      Steven Joyce should be sent the bill since he overrode the assessment process that determined it was a poor investment.

  4. Of course the free parking trial in Christchurch will merely allow the opponents to claim:
    “Yeah that trial was a waste of time, that parking wasn’t convenient, it was out of the way from where shoppers actually wanted to go. What was needed was more (first hour free) on-street parking located right outside businesses – not parking locked away in some parking building on the other side of town”.

    Of course the other [untold] story of that free parking trial was the first thing the council tried early on was making the entire parking buildings free all day – and what happened?

    Spaces were all used up by all day [free] parking from office workers who took up all the spaces.
    Leaving none for the shoppers who were wanting to do the right thing!

    All that did was reinforce the message – there is not enough parking in town, don’t try and shop there. Talk about council shooting itself and CBD business owners in the foot!

    Any fool could have told the council from the start that an free all day parking plan was not going to work out well.

    In fact I think some of the councillors made that very point when it was up for debate.

  5. Of course the free parking trial in Christchurch will merely allow the opponents to claim:
    “Yeah that trial was a waste of time, that parking wasn’t convenient, it was out of the way from where shoppers actually wanted to go. What was needed was more (first hour free) on-street parking located right outside businesses – not parking locked away in some hard to get to parking building on the other side of town”.

    Of course the other [untold] story of that free parking trial was the first thing the council tried early on was making the entire parking buildings free all day – and what happened?

    Spaces were all used up by all day [free] parking from office workers who took up all the spaces.
    Leaving none for the shoppers who were wanting to do the right thing!

    All that did was reinforce the message – there is not enough parking in town, don’t try and shop there. Talk about council shooting itself and CBD business owners in the foot!

    Any fool could have told the council from the start that an free all day parking plan was not going to work out well.

    In fact I think some of the councillors made that very point when it was up for debate.

  6. I’m surprised the Manawatu gorge replacement will be for a four lane expressway, rather than a 2+1 style. I used to drive that way quite often and it never seemed to have that level of traffic. The gorge was slow but the roads either side flowed okay.

    Good to see some pedestrian & cycling facilities, and I hope the original gorge road could be converted to the same. It is an underrated scenic part of the country.

    1. Heavy vehicles are slow both uphill & downhill, gorge road was basically flat. Left lanes on up and down grades will be used as crawler lanes

    2. Depending on the grades, the incremental costs might not be too bad. Sometimes the additional lane is only a 10-15% increase, but to come back later after it is open to traffic would cost close to the original project.

  7. “CCBA chairwoman Annabel Turley​ said there was a perception free parking brought in a lot of people, so she was surprised at the council’s figures“

    Love that quote, needs to be shouted loud, far and wide.

    1. But then… “We really value the fact that they did put on that free parking. It showed great support for the retailers and the hospitality operators in the city. Parking always seems to be a barrier for people, whether it’s a true barrier or a perceived one.”

      Are we going to now have decision-makers continue to fork out public money for parking even though they know it isn’t a wise use of our money, on the basis of perceptions?

      Actually, maybe that’s what most of it’s been so far anyway… I certainly know local board members who support residential parking schemes for this reason alone.

  8. I can’t help but wonder if the Labour government can make moves and proper promises because they no longer have legacy contracts from the previous government to fulfill.

  9. Look forward to your rail post next week. It is crazy that the condition of the network has been able to be degraded to this point.
    Train patronage was starting to get back to what it was pre-covid and now these changes to frequency and speed will push even more people back into cars. I literally have no choice but to take the train, so it is very frustrating that an extra 20 minutes will be added to my return journey.

    1. I suspect the rail network is not in as bad shape as the 40kmh speed limit suggests. KiwiRail is rather risk-adverse, we’re lucky they’re prepared to run trains at all!

  10. What is really annoying is that when there is a weekend shutdown freights are still allowed to run and crews don’t work from shutdown time to start up time (that may have changed).

    There is also the noise disruption to those living alongside the corridor, many of them not by choice.

  11. Agree with the comments about having the infrastructure separated from KiwiRail together with a new nationwide public transport agency for rail passenger services.

    There needs to be a competent minister put in charge of this as well (re-establish Minister of Railways) – someone with a firm hand who sort this out and will keep it in check.

  12. One thing this rail debacle shows, is the folly of placing too many eggs in one basket.
    Not that public transport to the airport is any sort of issue at the moment, but placing a reliance on heavy rail all the way to the airport, when network wide failure conditions, such as this, are unfortunately far too common. The frequent Express bus priority service connecting to rail at Puhanui Station, plus the option by airport extension, of the required, high capacity priority transport system serving the central isthmus, both increases coverage and resilience.

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