Last week we learnt about Kiwirail’s plans for two years of rail network shutdowns to fix the formation under the tracks. The works will start with a three month closure of the inner section of the Southern Line at Christmas and be followed by a nine month closer of the Eastern Line. But it seems the Western line has decided to jump the queue with this being announced late on Tuesday night.
Reduced train services on the Western Line after KiwiRail identifies subsidence issue
AT passenger train services on Auckland’s Western Line will be running at a reduced timetable while KiwiRail, the track owner and maintainer, urgently investigates a subsidence issue along the line.
A single track will be operational as a precaution. Train services will need to operate every 30 minutes between Swanson and New Lynn, with services between New Lynn and Britomart running every 20 minutes during peak.
Out of peak travel times, trains between Swanson and New Lynn will run every 40 minutes, while trains between New Lynn and Britomart will operate every 20 minutes.
Passengers travelling through New Lynn in either direction will need to transfer between trains at New Lynn. Customer ambassadors will be on site to assist passengers.
Trains departing New Lynn for Britomart will use Platform 2. Trains at all stations from New Lynn to Sunnyvale will use Platform 1 in both directions.
Alternatively, regular buses are accepting rail tickets on the Western Line and rail replacement buses are running between New Lynn and Swanson.
Auckland Transport is working closely with KiwiRail and our train operator Auckland One Rail to minimise the disruption to passengers.
We appreciate that these changes will be frustrating for our passengers, but it’s important that KiwiRail is able to take the necessary steps to address this issue and keep our passengers safe and fix the issue as quickly as possible.
Subsidence discovered during a routine inspection
KiwiRail staff working on a routine inspection of the Western Line on Monday first discovered the subsidence issue when they found movement in an overhead electric pole.
To ensure the safety of passengers and staff, speed at this location was reduced to 25km/h while preliminary investigations were conducted. These investigations continued today and have confirmed there appears to be subsidence under the track.
KiwiRail is undertaking ground investigations to confirm how soon work can be completed to allow train services to resume to normal service.
The location in question is just west of New Lynn Station and Kiwirail have said a few sections of a concrete retaining wall have also moved. It also appears this isn’t going to be a quick fix with Kiwirail suggesting it will take a couple of days just to “establish the extent and depth of the ground movement” before repairs can be designed and planned.
Once again this really highlights the precarious state that our rail network is in and the issue is that it’s the public who have come to rely on public transport who suffer as a result. As noted above, trains are down to every 20 minutes between Britomart and New Lynn and at peak only ever 30 minutes between New Lynn and Swanson – with a transfer required at New Lynn.
Every time this kind of thing happens it damages trust in the network and encourages people to get back in their cars or not to give PT a go.
Given the section impacted is west of New Lynn, I’ve also asked AT why they can’t run trains more frequently between New Lynn and Britomart. There answer is below.
For the section of track from New Lynn to Swanson, the reduced timetable ultimately comes down crossover points. Although the “slip” only affects a small section of track on the New Lynn upmain, this ultimately results in single line running between New Lynn-Henderson. It takes approximately 11 minutes for a train to run this section of track as a passenger service – that’s for a single train to clear this section before allowing the next train to enter this section (in the opposing direction).
When you factor in train turn-around-times for changing ends and train setup time, this adds to the complexity about what frequency it is actually possible to run. In addition to this, because this is an unplanned disruption we are having to modify the running of the current timetable as opposed to operating trains through these sections as part of a pre-planned disruption timetable.
As for the section of track from Britomart-New Lynn, we are running at a 20 minute frequency purely to manage the crewing side of things. The western line normally has crew changeovers at Henderson and Swanson however, now that we’re turning trains around at New Lynn, these changeovers are no longer taking place which means we need to be careful to manage our crews and their working time.
It’s clear that this issue is exacerbated by not having more crossovers on the network to enable trains to change tracks. Kiwirail have said in the past they’re going to be adding some as part of the wider rail network improvements but it is unclear if this section is of track is expected to get more added.
I wonder if reviewing and renewing these kinds of retaining structures are also going to be part of the larger rail network works that planned and also, just how many more issues are there that we’re not aware of yet?