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 areas where works have been carried out over the shutdown

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.

New track at Britomart being prepared for the concrete slab to be poured

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.

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72 comments

    1. Yes, and not just fixing up the decades of neglect but also adding long overdue new capacity. Go back 20 years, this sort of activity on the Auckland rail network would have been considered total fantasy, such was the anti rail sentiment at the time.

      1. If we done it way earlier we would have better functioning rail network and see minor work on it during weekends or holiday periods.

        1. Agreed, I myself getting sick and tired of long journey all the way from Papakura to Britomart by bus, its nauseating and far too long.

    2. Likely going to see more disruptions all the way through into 2023 also since its going to take along time to replace all that timber slab with the concrete.

  1. Everyone understand that this needs to happen, but Kiwirail and AT sure don’t make it clear what is happening or do smart things to reduce the disruptions for PT users.

    The rail replacement busses are awful and have anti synergy with their circuitous routes often being full of raised pedestrian platforms. While these do nothing for a ranger the busses slow right down. AT could have the city busses running as normal but don’t for no reason.

    Are we getting another month of this next year?

    1. AT could not have city buses running as normal due to Christmas, it’s already under budget strain from all the lockdowns. To expect a full bus service at this time of year is totally unrealistic, many staff are on leave.

      1. That is ridiculous, Christmas was weeks ago. This is a normal full work week, where employers are demanding staff come to work that’s massively disrupted by the rail closures.

        The busses running normally should be condition of rail shut down.

        1. Actually Christmas was 3 weeks ago, but see your point. The rail is suppose to be up and running by now!

      2. Wait till Omicron comes infecting the community and disrupts the network completely, we’ll have missing staff cause they will have to self isolate at home for 14 days and won’t be available for work for 2 weeks if the government doesn’t change things immediately

        1. Probably going to have next to no staff on site once community transmission kick in, hello long delayed transport and hello sluggish long rides

    2. Those AT rail bus people working at the bus stops should be aware that the eastern line bus takes up to15 minutes longer to get to Otahuhu from Britomart than the more direct southern line bus. And people going to Britomart from Puhinui should use the southern line bus

      1. The AT staff are very hit or miss reguarding their ablity to understand their own PT system. This should be clear as day tho.

      2. I was a reluctant passenger last Thursday. My trip in on the Southern line bus was agonising through Newmarket and Parnell and then road works around the rail bus stop on Custom street just made things worse. The trip home on the Eastern line bus was better mainly because we somehow managed to make a clean exit from the CDB. But I agree usually the Southern line buses are quicker. On weekend shutdowns getting past Sylvia Park can be painful. Bit of a lottery really.

        1. Eastern line is normally quite a long one cause you don’t really go along the main roads like with southern line, your better off with the Southern line.

      3. They pretty much they just stand there for the whole day and just do nothing cause its “just part of the job”. Thats AT for ya.

        1. Agreed, we shouldn’t be having bus replacements during work periods, plus theres not enough buses to match the rails capacity.

  2. A looks like we should have improved train service going forward. I sure miss having them operate during this summer holiday time when you stay in Auckland as it would be great to get around by train/bike combo to some decent bike path areas.

    1. I don’t remember when they did operate during summer holidays – they seem to shut down every single year. Which means whenever I am not at work and could use the trains, they are not running. So I don’t.

  3. I agree that there are opportunities to safely reduce dwell times at stations. Some relate to the painfully slow entry and departure from stations and others to the mysterious dead time before and after the doors open. I made a presentation on this to the Planning Committee of Council in June 2019 with specific examples of the effect on dwell times and the cycle time for the half-arm barriers at Level Crossings. I am well aware of the safety considerations and regulations involved, so I was not asking for corners to be cut. Trains enter stations at a slower than necessary speed and depart at an extremely slow speed – initially just walking pace. According to a driver friend this is caused by changes to the signalling system under project DART that delivered considerably slower entry and departure times than previously but which could be fixed by upgrading to the ETCS2 system now standard in Europe and Australia. To quote him: “When the EMUs came into service with the ETCS, the amount of time it takes for an EMU to come into the platform, and then crawl up to the signal on the end of the platform after the Train Manager has given ‘Right of Way’, is much increased compared to the diesel fleet.” On top of that issue, trains spend considerably longer than needed once stopped at the platform before the doors open – and again after the doors are closed before the train begins to move. In aggregate these delays add on average about 30 seconds per station – so a 10 station journey (Henderson to City) can take about 5 minutes (or roughly 10%) longer than necessary. I am not aware of any significant changes since then – though some drivers now seem to be able to open their doors a bit quicker. To upgrade to ETCS2 would cost millions, but will probably be necessary in 3 years time once the CRL is operational and train frequencies are significantly increased

    1. ETCS Level 2 is not standard in Australia (I think a bastardised version on one of the iron ore railways is the only one in service) yet and in Europe is still rare outside of a few high speed lines. It will become the standard but back in 2009 when the Auckland resignalling contract was signed there were only a handful of ETCS L2 sites live in the world and most of them were trials. Until a couple of years ago Auckland was the only operational ETCS installation in the southern hemisphere… meanwhile some idiot from the union back in 2014 was publicly saying KiwiRail cheaped out and should have bought ETCS Level 4… which is hilarious as there is no such thing and the standards for Level 3 still aren’t finalised in 2022! The slow approach into stations is only where there is a level crossing a few metres past the red signal and even then there are ways this could be improved with Level 1 but it doesn’t seem to be a priority for AT.

      The dwell times though…..

    2. Thanks for the work on this one Graeme.
      The crawling along issues I’m pretty sure are inherent to the signalling. But this is not the only issue.
      The extremely slow door opening times, and extremely slow door closing process are the real crimes here IMO. Along with timetable padding so the trains aren’t hitting top speeds and having to run well below top speed between stations so that they don’t get ahead of schedule.

      1. What is the logic behind making passengers open the doors themselves? Does anyone know? Surely it would be easier to have them all automatically as soon as the train comes to a halt?

  4. I very much appreciate the work that needs to be done on the rail network. My biggest hope is that, once the major maintenance works are done, trains will be running on the weekends and during the Christmas break. Not to mention that it would be nice if the AT app wasn’t letting me know that often about a track fault…
    And yes – the schedules should finally be improved so that the trains are running at least every 15 minutes, 7 days a week, 7am-7pm, just like the frequent buses. Shorter dwell times would also help…
    Anyway, I really can’t wait for the Western trains to return, I’ve missed them.

  5. AT need to have a promotion campaign to encourage more users and to offset those who say the bus doesn’t go my way. To help reduce emissions, support our community and cut congestion.
    AT staff are providing an important service that can be improved.

      1. That new bus plan has so much potential, especially if they crack out the yellow, green and White paints and allocate road space rationally.

    1. Wait till the evening, going to be even more worse, your gonna have jammed packed traffic and a long queue waiting to get on the bus replacements and worst part be mushed inside the bus.

    2. This morning the NX1 was so cramped full that most of the buses went past my stop Akoranga and having to wait 30 mins for it, also hearing that many at Smales Farm are having wait 30 mins to catch it too.

  6. They really to get the government involved in our transport system and really listen to the people, instead of listening to the experts opinions.

    1. Getting correct useful feedback can be a challenge in Transport. The fact is local government run public transport in NZ . If you have a problem councilors can say ask AT and AT can say we did it right. There is not really an opposition party in local politics to take it to.

  7. It was nice to see the works that they are doing around the network . This I filmed in December showing the prep work for what I think was for the Xmas shutdown and some of the works at Pukekohue . ;-

      1. Liam S , I asked the operator nicely if I could film from the Cab and then I set the camera up on the windscreen and returned to the passenger compartment and let the camera do it’s thing and when I got home edited any conversion out of it which they asked me to do .

        1. Liam S , I glad you like it .
          I tried to film the return trip the Driver said yes but the TM said no , and that put a halt to that . An the paperwork you have to get is a nightmare , and I’m hoping AOR is more helpful as when the CRL is finally open I want a full video trip though there .

  8. “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.”

    What on earth is the point of doing a massive demolition during that time. I seriously don’t get it. You may as well shut down the whole entire network until its actually finished.

  9. That comment makes no sense. They are shutting it down when no (standard) commuters are using the network. 3 days can get A LOT done when you are prepared for it. Heck airports repair whole runway (sections) in a single partial night. 3 days of work with no trains running is highly useful for many projects.

    Of course many projects would like even longer close-downs now, but that doesn’t mean that simply extending the current close-down is the best option (plus, some ancillary works may not even be done far enough yet for the close-down to be effectively used).

  10. I can’t see why the rail service is not going to Pokeno. The area is booming with still more houses going in. Tuakau too, still has the north south lines spread for the old island station very conveniently situated at the north end of George St.
    A side note, I went to Panmure and….FAAARK what a cock up they’ve made of the old roundabout at the west end of Queens Rd! A previously shitty intersection has somehow been made much much worse.
    Thanks for these updates.

    1. Ian it comes under the Waikato Regional Council and there are ones that want the Te Huia to stop there but their problem is they don’t want to spend monies on building any platforms .

    2. The old Panmure Roundabout? Has been gone for a while and has actually let to an increase in accidents/confused drivers due to the layout of the new intersection afaik.

  11. Is rail in Auckland ever going to be 7 day a week reliable? Back from UK and living out west for 7 years and more often than not there’s no rail on the weekend and a replacement bus is not a fun family outing so we use a car to get to the inner city/waterfront. Seems like the AT focus is work commuters but if they’ll all need cars for doing anything on weekends where’s the real change in transport habits …

    1. The focus on commuters is from planners who only see public transport as a useful thing at peak hour, peak direction and in more central areas, because it’s at those times, directions and places that public transport reduces congestion for drivers… but they don’t see the value of it otherwise, because driving is “fine” then.

      Auckland also has some excellent public transport planners who are really focused on getting a good network functioning for people of all levels of mobility, to use at all times of day, all places, all directions. So there’s an ongoing battle between the dinosaurs and the progressives.

      The climate planning that’s underway will presumably clear the decks at some stage soon, because the dinosaurs cannot justify their approach. At some point people in governance will wake up to what and who have been getting in the way of planning a proper network.

      So keep commenting, please. Every bit helps.

    2. AT only own the Rolling stock , Kiwi Rail own everything the Rolling stock runs on and all complaint’s should be forwarded to the previous National Government whose idea of rail was to let run down and turn all track into Reinforcing steel , sell the sleepers to Garden stores and turn the land into bike paths which very few of them ever used .

        1. The one to Kaikohe , which I travel on by train as a Holiday trip in the 60’s , And with out the Foreign tourists they are possibly not being used like they were before the borders were closed .

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