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.

Image from Stuff

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?

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57 comments

  1. Rip it all up and lay some light rail, heavy rail is old school. Then connect the Mangere line to the western line at Avondale and save about $14 billion.

    1. You do realise that this track is also used for the transportation of Rail Cargo almost every night? Often large enough to require dual locomotives to pull it.

  2. The question that immediately comes to me is, Why not extend the trains to 9 unit sets.
    Yes it will mean that the leading and trailing sets will overhang most platforms but then you only need to switch out those doors that overhang the platforms.

      1. So we clearly need to widen the roads.

        Maybe we can declare some of the new lanes as T2 lanes to satisfy those alternative travel hippies.

  3. Kiwirail appear to be struggling. Was this retaining wall built at the same time as the New Lynn trench? Has it been affected by any adjacent private development?

  4. So the closure over Labour Weekend for foundation replacement at Morningside will make less difference than expected.

  5. Its a wonder anyone even uses the trains with the amount of constant disruptions. Imagine how much mode share trains would have if they were as reliable as some places international to us.

    Not to mention how much this sucks for the 25% in Auckland who don’t/can’t/won’t drive… we need to make the other modes – bus and bicycle much more reliable and safe to compensate… long overdue. When are we getting started? Still radio silence from AT on solutions.

    1. AT will keep being silent until a new CEO / new Board chair is appointed. Then we may get to hear something. Not sure it will be more than platitudes by the new people trying to not immediately wreck their relationship with a caustic mayor.

      And that’s assuming the new people aren’t dinosaurs themselves!

  6. Every time I try to be thankful that at least I’m not British and suffering under Truss with no election in sight for three years, KiwiRail has to remind me they exist and I live in Auckland…

    1. For all the BS and hot air coming out of Westminster the rest of the UK is carrying on like normal. HS2 is ruining rurual and urban Bucks and Warwickshire as the World’s most expensive white elephant but the London ULEZ has significantly reduced pollution caused by politicians promoting diesel cars heavily 15-20 years ago, by pricing the poor out of London.

  7. Look on the bright side of this. At least it isn’t the roads that are being closed all at once to have the sub-grade rebuilt. Imagine how bad that would be.

    1. I hope you are enjoying more traffic.

      Also filled up yet? Petrol prices are about to skyrocket in time for the govts car subsidy to expire.

        1. Nope. Just prove copious amounts land land for free. That and pretty much ignore the emissions that you are so concerned with.

          Happy traffic!

        2. But who remembers all that crap they used to tell us about a compact city? they claimed all the infrastructure was already there to support growth in the centre. Turns out none of it is.

        3. “But who remembers all that crap they used to tell us about a compact city? they claimed all the infrastructure was already there to support growth in the centre. Turns out none of it is.”

          Didn’t hear them say that. What I DID hear various people saying is that doing the infrastructure in a compact city / brownfield area is about the same per capita as in greenfield. But the opex is a lot less. So basically, for long term (financial) sustainability, do brownfields.

          Its simple. Building low-density means more sewer lines / length per dwelling. It’s only the same capex price because installing it in a paddock is easier than down Sandringham Road, say. But later on, the opex of that low-density development comes to bite. Maybe not for a decade or three, but then we are fuc**ed (even more).

          For transport it’s even worse. You can talk a lot about new town centres, satellite cities, employment areas – most traffic still goes to the inner isthmus (on average). Census data shows this absolutely clearly. So if your people live somewhere in Kumeu, they will ALWAYS drive, or bus or train, a lot more per person than someone closer in.

          And guess what? They are using the inner city infrastructure to do it. That’s why roads like New North are so chocker. You can’t get away from that by claiming “uh, they said it was eaaaasy”. They didn’t. They just (correctly) said that it was better.

        4. One of the Council agencies made a fancy video about development in the CBD a few years back. They claimed everything was already in place. It wasn’t.

  8. So the western line has too lenghts of single track now. Its good that they can maintain some level of service. The downside of having more crossovers is there is more things that can go wrong and more crossovers means more complex signalling. If the problem was just the overhead then having a few sets on the network fitted with batteries would allow operation to continue but in this case there is problems with track subsidence. Still I would like to see at least some sets given battery backup for just this sort of mishap. Also so management and operational staff can get their heads around the potential of new technology. Experimentation is how we learn.

  9. Trust in PT is a huge thing.

    I’ve asked people why they don’t catch PT to work (when they are on a good route ) and they will often have a story about how they tried once 10 years ago and the bus disappeared from the board so they had to give up and drive. After which they never tried to catch a bus again.

    1. Trust is Massive. AT and Kiwirail have Burned too many people here. AT have also spectacularly failed to build bike infrastructure everywhere, but particularly along the rail lines.

      Traffic is going to get brutal over the next few years.

      1. “AT have also spectacularly failed to build bike infrastructure everywhere, but particularly along the rail lines.”

        I remember some of Mike Lee’s opposition to bike lanes (especially along rail lines) was in part because he felt they would cannibalise his beloved train patronage. Sigh. I can’t believe that fossil is back.

    2. This is sad truth sometimes they happen to try it on a bad day or something. Always worth trying again. The counter argument is that roads in general are not always reliable for a commute particularly motorways

  10. Here is something I put together from 1news and RNZ last night , and nearly everyone growls at AT , all AT does is use the Track/rail and pays KR a fortune to use them and where did that money go into their bank account as a profit which most ended up in all the different Governments coffers . ;-

  11. I have a question .
    Which track is it that failed , is it the original track or is it the new section that was laid this Century .

      1. I’ll be willing to wait to hear what the reason is. Sometimes things built correctly and well fail because of external reasons. For all I know, there could be a drainage fault of a nearby (transport-unrelated) project washing out the substructure.

        1. Also how deep were the piles there ? , or was this section done on the cheap because there was something under the ground .
          And which side of the track were they installed i.e retaining wall side or the other side of the line ? .

        1. The second line and embankment widening occurred in 2007 and obviously to a poor standard given modern technology available.

  12. Kiwirail make money when they found an issue and ask government to pay for it.

    Since government is paying for it, they also ensure the issue is fixed in the most expensive gold-plated way so their contractors (or themself) also makes money.

    Disruptions or passenger experiences is not their concern.

    It highlights how broken is the current system is.

    Seems like something for Wayne Brown to fix.

    1. Wayne will fix it by asking National next year to build some more motorways and provide more money for local road works*. Be wary of what you ask for. “Fix” means different things for different people.

      *While continuing to blame AT for doing local road works, of course. Because nothing IS going to get fixed that way, so a punching bag is required in perpetuity.

      1. Where actually needs more motorways in Auckland?

        I can see Mill Road/SH16 extension/Penlink and maybe East/West as potential options? Plus the Warkworth to Whangarei route. But most of the lower hanging fruit in the Auckland seems gone, our motorway network mostly seems complete bar SH1 North and SH16 West?

        1. “Where actually needs more motorways in Auckland?”

          That’s not the question.

          And the answer is, among other places, between Onehunga and Mt Wellington, between Wynyard and the Shore, out to Kumeu, south to Pukekohe and Hamilton. Te Irirangi Drive is getting a bit congested, so lets do that. Mill Road was always undersized. Lets widen SH1 between Penrose and Mt Wellington, it always queues there. Have we looked at whether Pakuranga Road REALLY can be left to stay a Council road? Like REALLY looked?

        2. “Lets widen SH1 between Penrose and Mt Wellington, it always queues there. ”
          What, to join the queue that would form further north or south as a result? How about we put more money into projects that would give us mode shift.

  13. There needs to be a ministerial inquiry into these colossal fuck ups from Kiwirail and an independent review of the asset management, investment, and communication. The organisation is going to have to be rebuilt from the ground up.

    1. A Ministerial enquiry? You’ve got to be joking. Who of the current government Ministers would have the competency to lead that. They would probably find that KiwiRails aspirations were set higher than their ability to produce. But because aspirations are more important then they would report that its all ok

  14. “Past performance may not be indicative of future results.”

    Investors have probably seen this disclaimer. However past performance is indicative of future results for Kiwirail and Auckland trains.

    There’s no point hoping things will improve if Kiwirail own and maintain the tracks for passenger services.

    1. You’ll find that the experts usually get told by politicians or budget-cutting managers as to why things “can’t” be sorted out (not enough funding, not enough space, other priorities are more important, its better not to talk about these issues in public, etc).

      Of course after a few decades of being in such an industry, many experts internalise those excuses, and believe that things that are expected and indeed normal in a quality rail country / quality cycle country / quality road safety country are “a step too far” or “a luxury” here.

      1. The metric for how long past the scheduled arrival before a train is considered ‘late’ has always blown my mind. Auckland’s might as well be “Has there ever been a train on this line?” compared to some places.

  15. Exactly why I don’t endorse many PT initiatives in this city. Managed and endorsed by incompetent clowns really. At least major roads don’t generally get shut for large swathes of time.

  16. Hopefully this is not another isolated project without having a big picture. I wish there won’t be endless TRAIN related repair work in the next 10 years, no need to mention how unreliable the train services have been in the last 10 years and how many disruptions or canceled services? Imagine if any chance SH1\SH16 would need to shutdown for some reason in the next two years, perhaps all Aucklanders should take a granted staying home holiday….

  17. While the railway sections are closed for rebuilding, can all the road crossings that aren’t already grade-separated be grade-separated, or have alternative accesses built, so that the CRL and system as a whole can be utilised to its full capacity potential – and lengthen platforms for 9+ carriages (per my previous comment); rather than having trains slow down for multiple level crossings (i.e., like they did in NZ for line duplications in the 1910s and 1920s)? It would seem to be a huge wastedipportuniry to not do all this work at once during one closure, rather than have to close the railway again to do grade separations (or alternative acceses) at crossings and lengthening of platforms at stations. (Or, again, is that too logical for NZ these days?)

    1. You would think so, but it would be a whole design, public feedback, consenting etc process around level crossing removals. Perhaps at least a couple could be done at the same time?

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