Just over a week ago, the government and Kiwirail officially kicked off about $1.1 billion of works to improve the rail network in Auckland. This work is on top of the $4.4 billion for the City Rail Link, and in some ways could be considered is about getting the network ready for a post CRL world. Part of it also includes the works for which the rail network was slowed down for six months from yesterday. I’ll look at each of the components of the works but let’s start with that slowdown.
It turns out that Auckland’s rail network is in much worse shape than previously thought and as mentioned, from yesterday the rail network was slowed down to a maximum of just 40km/h for the next six months while repairs are carried out. This compares to being between 80 and 110 km/h previously. Auckland Transport have had to change timetables as a result and it means:
- 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.
Kiwirail say the issue is caused by Rolling Contact Fatigue (RCF), which “has become increasingly prevalent on the Auckland metro rail network“. They also say “It occurs when the stress created by contact between rail and the rolling wheel of a train causes the rail to develop cracks, and those cracks to grow“.
This is same issue that has led to a lot of disruption on the Eastern Line recently but Kiwirail say:
recent testing across the Auckland metro network has indicated wear on the tracks is more widespread, with repair work required more urgently, than previously understood
They estimate about 100km of track, about half the network and some of which is relatively new, now needs to be replaced but because the wear is spread throughout the network they’ve imposed the 40km/h blanket speed restriction so that a consistent timetable can be operated.
Back in April Waka Kotahi NZTA approved $183 million towards these and other renewal works and is why the testing was happening and repair work is able to happen. It is also why a specialist rail grinding machine was already on its way from Australia to work on the network.
What I find most frustrating is that we’re now into the 15th year of rail upgrade works where nearly every Christmas/New Year as well as most public holidays and many other weekends the network is shut down for major works and yet we’re still in this position. What have Kiwirail been doing all this time? It feels like Kiwirail have been maintaining the network like a lowly used freight network.
As part of the fix, instead of slowing the entire network down for six months, I wonder if there was an option where they focus resources on one line at a time so that at least that line could get back to ‘normal’ as soon as the works are completed. Alternatively, I wonder if it was possible to shut down the network for say 2-3 weeks to get the work done – a case of ripping the plaster off fast instead of pulling it off slowly.
Speaking of getting back to normal, we know that our trains could and should be running much faster than they currently do and yet they run much slower than those in other cities. Personally, I’d be a little more accepting of the situation if I knew that at the end of it it meant our rail network was up to spec and could support running trains to the levels expected but as of yet there’s no indication that will happen.
I do hope that as part of this, Kiwirail putting in in place changes to how they maintain the network so this doesn’t occur again.
Wiri to Quay Park – Third Main
We’ve talked about the third main many times before but Kiwirail have put some information about it on their website. As we learnt earlier in the year with the NZ Upgrade Programme, $315 million has been put aside for it and as part of last week’s announcement, Kiwirail said that Downer had won the contract to deliver the project.
“The tender evaluation team was unanimous in recommending negotiations for a final contract continue with Downer. In both non-price and commercial attributes, Downer was ahead.
There are three key aspects to the project
The Westfield and Wiri Junctions
This is the work that will be starting soon and at a high-level:
Westfield and Wiri are the busiest junctions on the rail network for both freight and commuter trains. The works will improve the way the junctions connect between the rail yards, EMU depot and the main line
It’s a shame we’re not grade separating these junctions at the same time.
Middlemore to Wiri (3rd main)
Kiwirail say this section won’t actually start till 2022 but when it does it will see a new track on the western side of the rail corridor and it seems Kiwirail actually need more land in places to enable this work.
One of the biggest challenges is at Middlemore Station though.
At Middlemore Station a new platform and overbridges will be built so people can access the station, and cross the rail corridor safely. We recognise this is well used by commuters, residents and those accessing the hospital. We are working with both Middlemore Hospital and Auckland Transport to plan these works.
Middlemore is a tricky site and I’m interested to see the designs. I also hope they’re actively future proofing them for at least four tracks.
Speaking of four tracks, it really feels like something we should be doing now at the same time given all the plans for improved rail services in Auckland and future inter-regional trains. I understand the fourth main would go on the eastern side of the current tracks but it would also involve a lot more property purchase than the 3rd does and would require rebuilding, or adding new spans to bridges along the route.
The Quay Park works are much smaller by comparison.
Works will be within rail land and will see us separating out freight and commuter trains so the slower freight trains won’t delay commuter services.
To do this we are changing the track layout to provide separate rail access to the Ports of Auckland freight yard, and installing two additional scissor crossovers to enable more operational flexibility.
Papakura to Pukekohe Electrification
Like the third main project, this is one we’ve talked about a bit over the years and it too will also start later this year.
Like with the Downer comment, this one seems to be aimed at the whinging earlier this year largely from Fletchers at being overlooked for the job.
“Electrification of the line between Papakura and Pukekohe will be delivered by eTRACS – a consortium of McConnell Dowell and John Holland, with KiwiRail again leading on track and signals.
As with the Papakura to Pukekohe electrification contract, KiwiRail received no wholly-New Zealand-owned bids in its competitive tender for the Wiri to Quay Park contract. Audit New Zealand was the probity advisor in the tender process.
The NZUP allocated $371 million to complete the project which feels very high given the entire Auckland network was done for about $500 million only 6-10 years ago. One part of that cost is that it will require a new a new power feed to complement the existing two that supply the network currently.
Like with when the rest of the network was electrified, the signalling system will need to be replaced to “improve safety and ensure compatibility with the new overhead power system“.
Kiwirail have also decided to lower the tracks that pass under SH1 at Drury. As I understand it there is just one of the bridges is too low and there was some thought that they would wait for the NZTA to replace it as part of the plans to widen the motorway, which was also funded as part of the NZUP, especially given that just 150m northeast of the motorway the rail line crosses the Hingaia Stream. But it seems they’re not waiting.
There are three new stations planned along this section too which are to support all the sprawl that’s being encouraged. The NZUP committed $247 million for two of these stations though it seems that the costs may be for a lot more than just stations and include park and ride and possibly some local road connections. Even so it seems very expensive when you consider the full Puhinui upgrade is costing about $60 million. However, I have heard that the various agencies are now hoping to get a third new station included from within that funding envelope. Both the electrification and station plans are said to be future-proofed for up to four tracks.
All of these upgrades are very much needed and really overdue. One thing I would really like to see from both Kiwirail and Auckland Transport is a commitment to getting the speed of services up and closer to the times Kiwirail set as requirements in the electric train tender before the process was handed over to Auckland Transport.