We’re now in the final week of Kiwirail’s massive summer rail shutdown and from today some trains are back on the tracks. Kiwirail’s Acting Chief Executive David Gordon says this Christmas closure has been the most ambitious they’ve ever undertaken and:
“It is the single biggest mobilisation of resources for a temporary closure with 1100 people working day and night on the network to make it more resilient and reliable, and to advance some major infrastructure projects which are proceeding thanks to Government investment through the NZ Upgrade Programme.
“We haven’t finished yet but so far we’ve laid 17,000 m3 of ballast (the small stones that form the track bed), almost 4km of new formation (the bedrock which the track sits on), more than 5km of new rail track, and the installation of 16 complex track structures including turnouts, crossovers and scissors (these allow trains to move from one track to another).
Work has been carried out across 31 different sites in Auckland, and already some major milestones have been achieved. Freight trains are now reconnected from Northland on the Western Line. Link Alliance and KiwiRail have worked together to put in a new track from Kingsland to Grafton Station.
At Britomart Station, a concrete slab 75 metres long was poured and rail tracks were replaced at the entrance to the station.
“We have tight deadlines to get a large amount of work done safely in a short amount of time during these network closures and I would like to extend my sincere thanks to our staff and contractors who are giving up time during the summer holiday period to get the job done,” says Mr Gordon.
“Our thanks also extend to the people of Auckland – to commuters and to rail corridor neighbours –for their patience while we undergo this necessary work. This progresses a $1.5 billon suite of projects which will enable a world-class rail service for Auckland Transport’s passenger trains and greater capacity for freight trains.”
Progress was made on projects to extend electrification from Papakura to Pukekohe, continue construction on the third main line through the busiest part of the network between Westfield and Wiri, replacing track in the complex entry to Britomart Station, and carrying out necessary track repairs across the metro area.
The last two projects the Auckland teams are focusing on during this rail network shutdown are work on City Rail Link at Britomart and Mount Eden. These are due to be complete on 23 January.
The works at Britomart include new tracks and crossovers as well as work to shift walls, all of which is about making it easier and more reliable for trains to access the station once the CRL opens.
While many of us have been enjoying some time off, teams from CRL, KiwiRail & AT have been in the tunnel of Britomart Station doing some incredible work. New concrete bases for realigned tracks and new walls to support CRL construction. Trains into Britomart resume 23 January. pic.twitter.com/1Iui2E3OUI
— John (@johnage) January 13, 2022
At Mt Eden the City Rail Link works have seen the single track through the site shifted to new track on the northern side (right) of the original station and which now sweeps over the trench that will be used to access the City Rail Link.
This is of course not the end of the works with more planned as soon as Auckland Anniversary Weekend.
While this temporary shutdown of the rail network is nearing completion, KiwiRail is already gearing up for the next one over Auckland Anniversary weekend 29 – 31 January. KiwiRail will be undertaking works at Westfield, Pukekohe and general upgrades on the northern line.
While the disruption to the network is certainly frustrating for users, one thing I do appreciate is that much of the work happening is to get the network up to the standard it needs to be in time for when the City Rail Link is completed, so that we (hopefully) not experiencing years more disruption to do this just after it opens. There will be more upgrades in the future to fully realise the benefits of the CRL but the timing of those will depend on demand.
While it’s great we’re finally getting the infrastructure up to spec, what’s less clear is what , if anything is being done by Auckland Transport to ensure the services they run are at a similar standard. For example, there is a heap of work that AT should be doing to improve dwell times on our trains as well as making stations easier to access. It may not sound as sexy as a big infrastructure project like the CRL but changes such as improving dwell times could add significant travel time savings on top of those that come from the CRL, perhaps saving as much as five minutes per trip for those doing longer journeys.
It would also be good if AT could make some firm commitments as to what kind of services we can expect once the CRL opens. Rail is meant to be part of the backbone of our public transport system but at almost every opportunity AT have chosen to cut services (or not increase them) meaning that trains run at lower frequencies than some of the buses that connect to them.
Hopefully one thing that will help both of these issues is that from today Auckland has a new rail operator for the first time since 2004. Auckland One Rail (AOR); a joint venture comprising ComfortDelGro Transit Pte Ltd (CDGT) and UGL Rail Pty Ltd (UGL Rail) have taken over from Transdev on a 10-year contract and will be responsible “for not only train operations but also electric train maintenance, station operations and maintenance, safety, and security“.
The full network is in operation from next Monday however it won’t be until February 6 that trains return to their normal schedules. Until then they will still operate at lower frequencies as they have during the COVID lockdowns. Also, buses return to their normal schedules a little earlier on Tuesday 1 Feb.