The Wellington rail network has been the feature of a couple of major news stories over the last few days, one good – and one not so good.

The not so good news – the network

Firstly, today Wellington rail users are getting a very small taste of what it’s like to be a rail user in Auckland, an hors d’oeuvre of rail disruption if you will, after Kiwirail announced on Friday afternoon that speed restrictions will be placed on all lines and fewer trains would be able to run because they haven’t been able to check the network.

Trains to and from Wellington will be running more slowly in May due to vital KiwiRail track evaluation safety equipment being out of action.

From Monday 1 May, a 70km/h speed restriction will be in place. This will limit train speeds and frequency, requiring Metlink passenger services across Wellington to operate to a reduced timetable.


“Passenger trains running across the Wellington region will be affected – limiting the number of services that can be run. This will be hugely disruptive to many and we apologise for this unplanned inconvenience and the late communication.

“To comply with engineering standards, every four months we run a Track Evaluation Car across the Wellington network, which makes very exact measurements of the tracks – important for trains to operate safely. It is a highly specialised machine that inspects rail lines across the country, doing the kind of fine detailed work that cannot be done by our staff using hand-held equipment.

“Due to unforeseen technical issues with the Track Evaluation Car, we have been unable to undertake the necessary inspections due on the Kāpiti Line by the start of May. The machine also needs to assess the Hutt Valley and Wairarapa Lines by 7 May. As a result, these lines will no longer be compliant and we need to put temporary speed restrictions in place to meet our regulatory requirements. It’s similar to the warrant of fitness on a car expiring.

“We’ve been using this machine in Wellington three times a year, for many years, without disruption. We are working as quickly as possible to repair the Track Evaluation Car in Auckland and get it to Wellington to carry out the inspections. It could take up to three weeks to remove the speed restrictions, but if we can do it faster, we will.”


There is only one Track Evaluation Car in New Zealand and it is used to assess rail lines across the country. Assessments using the car are a requirement under the Wellington metro Safety Case, which is regulated by Waka Kotahi.

Kiwrail’s Track Evaluation Car – Image from here

Greater Wellington Regional Council, which is responsible for public transport services, is understandably upset. Though the mention of it being an Auckland-based issue is particularly unfair, especially given the number of times issues with the Wellington-located train control centre have caused the entire Auckland network to be shut down, not to mention how they contribute to daily delays.

A KiwiRail equipment failure in Auckland is forcing Metlink to run fewer passenger rail services across the Wellington region during May.

KiwiRail’s one-and-only specialist rail track evaluation car, which measures tracks so trains can operate safely, is broken and inspections due on the Kāpiti, Hutt Valley and Wairarapa lines are overdue – making them non-compliant. Without compliance, KiwiRail has introduced temporary speed restrictions.

Greater Wellington Chair Daran Ponter says KiwiRail’s safety equipment failure shows an abysmal lack of accountability and management.

“To be clear, this is a monumental failure by KiwiRail. The poor maintenance of this essential piece of equipment is holding the entire North Island’s rail network hostage. If ever there was a perfect example of a lack of prudent management and accountability for critical rail infrastructure in this country, here is exhibit A.

“This is going to impact hundreds of thousands of rail passengers in Wellington alone; it’s going to harm tourism, and it’s going to put a strangle-hold on the freight industry using rail and ferry connections. It’s simply not good enough”.

Greater Wellington and Metlink learned of the equipment failure late on Thursday (27 April).

“It’s not clear how long KiwiRail have known about this but to only give Wellington three or four days’ notice before the restrictions are in place is simply ludicrous. It’s put significant pressure on Metlink staff to roll out new timetables, our operator Transdev to re-roster staff, and our rail and connecting bus passengers – whose lives will be tipped upside down,” says Cr Ponter.

The surprise news has clearly resulted in some pressure from politicians, with reports Kiwirail bosses have been called to the Beehive to explain. This is likely in part because it risked overshadowing the government’s Saturday announcement (below). It seems to have sparked action: on Saturday Kiwirail released a new statement saying they’re now getting the Track Evaluation Car fixed sooner.

“Our mechanical teams re-lathed the wheels of our specialist Track Evaluation Car (TEC) last night and are now in the process of reattaching monitoring equipment to the wheels.

“This means the TEC can leave our Auckland workshop early tomorrow morning and travel down the North Island Main Trunk Line to Palmerston North by tomorrow (Sunday) night.

“On Monday evening we will begin track assessments on the Kāpiti Line as it travels from Palmerston North to Wellington, with infrastructure teams ready to address any track issues found. We are focussed on repairing any track as quickly as possible, so are bringing in additional infrastructure teams from Palmerston North to support our Wellington crews.

I guess the good news here is that at least the disruption should be relatively short-lived, unlike the years of disruption Auckland has to deal with.

This is of course not the first time Kiwirail have sprung surprise slowdowns (or shutdowns) on passenger services, with Auckland currently bearing the brunt of a second round of major disruption in just a few years.

It really raises the question of just how seriously Kiwirail take passenger services in New Zealand. We’ve long believed that they don’t because they’re primarily a freight company.

Given these issues have been happening so frequently and the same people at Kiwirail have been involved for years, at what point does accountability kick in? In the past, I’ve heard from multiple people with experience running systems overseas that these kinds of issues would never be tolerated, and certainly not multiple times over. Meanwhile, multiple regulators think the organisation prioritises commercial (freight) outcomes over safety.

It seems that the biggest impediment to improving rail in NZ is Kiwrail itself.

The good news – more regional trains

Last week we ran a guest post about how the government needs to invest in new regional trains for the Lower North Island – and on Saturday they did just that.

A fleet of 18 brand new trains for Wairarapa and Kapiti Coast:

  • Increase capacity by approximately 1.5 million trips
  • Time savings of up to 15 minutes on the Manawatū line
  • Reduce over half a million tonnes of emissions
  • Build resilience into the network
  • More reliable, efficient, and safer train services are coming for Kapiti Coast and Wairarapa commuters as the Government invests in a fleet of 18 new trains, Minister of Finance Grant Robertson and Minister of Transport Michael Wood have announced.


“This initiative to co-fund a fleet of 18 four-car trains and upgrade rail tracks will strengthen public transport links for those traveling or working in and out of Wellington from Manawatu or the Wairarapa. It will also support growth along these rail corridors as well as boost productivity for the regions and the country as a whole.

“The new trains will operate using a combination of electricity wires, batteries and fuel, lowering our carbon emissions and making New Zealand less reliant on volatile international energy markets,” Grant Robertson said.

The government says the total level of funding is currently confidential due to commercial considerations. However, Stuff reported in March that the original business case was for $874 million but included 22 trains.

The current announcement is only for 18 trains, which does mean services won’t be quite as high as GWRC had originally hoped. But presumably it could be easy to extend the order, or have a second tranche at a later date.

It would also be good to have a version that can run on the Upper North Island, such as for Te Huia. I also wonder if during the tender process we might see the trains evolve to be only electric and battery-powered.

Overall, this is great to see – although there is one part that does annoy me. Stuff also reports:

The Government is expected to provide 90% of the funding for the trains, as it had when trains were last purchased for Wellington, and both the Wellington regional council and Horizons Regional Council would provide the remaining 10%.

Why is Wellington only having to pay for 10% of these trains and the infrastructure to support, them when Auckland is having to pay 50% for the City Rail Link and has been paying for 50% of its electric trains?

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  1. “Why is Wellington only having to pay for 90% of these trains and the infrastructure to support, them when Auckland is having to pay 50% for the City Rail Link and has been paying for 50% of its electric trains?”

    Matt, does this read correctly?

      1. Probably worth throwing in a mention about LGWM being supposedly funded 60/40 as well. That still gristles my thistles, considering there is no regional fuel tax, nor will there be for the Wellington Region.

    1. Negotiated long and hard for 90%. Who’s leading Auckland negotiations on train replacements/growth?

      90/10 split is the same split GWRC achieved for Matangi train procurement. Anything less would have meant reverting to diesels.

  2. This is the biggest development in regional rail in a long time. It must be around 50 years since we last invested in new rolling stock for intercity services.

    1. Technically Wellington’s commuter trains, the Matangi FP/FT EMUs, delivered from 2010, run intercity services between Wellington, Lower Hutt, Upper Hutt and Porirua, but that has more to do with Wellington’s fragmented political geography than anything else.

      Hopefully this smooths the path for investing in new rolling stock for Te Huia and the always-proposed, never delivered Christchurch metro rail project.

      1. And also hope they will get some tri-mode locomotives that use AC/DC and Diesel for the different passenger services and then they could get back into Britomart instead of going to the cold and barren Strand .

        1. I think the strand is a good spot for a station its the fact that is disconnect from the metro network that makes it ineffective and if they did fix it, it would have great connections to spark area and Parnell gardens

        2. Will – they need toilet outside of the Platform area as the platform and Northern Explorer office is closed and only open for that service and when the Te Huia comes in then the gate opens and if you need the relieve yourself you may have to wait up to 20mins to use the ones on the train .
          My other peeve is the access from the road to the Station , o.k. bus stop to it outside but there is no ramp for those that may need it , and for getting back into the City the closes stop on that road is a long walk to the nearest bus stop and for those say need a ramp which is not there there is a hike of around 500metres or there abouts .
          And it goes to show AT could not give a Rats about the KR services .

        3. No tri mode, nothing with a fuel tank is allowed in Britomart anymore. Bimode with battery would suffice anyway.

        4. Riccardo – I have seen numerous Martinus vehicles in there and they all have a fuel tank and have been operating during the day and the fuel could be hydrogen which can be used in a Diesel Engine . And I think fuel would be safer than a Battery if there was a fire .

  3. KiwiRail’s failures here are self evident but I feel Greater Wellington could have done more. A swift application to a court could have got some sort of injunction to extend the track inspection deadline. Or they could have run a full timetable at the morning peak, allowing times to slip just as they would if there were a rainstorm or a minor incident. I suspect GW were working on a “not my fault” basis and unwilling to take any steps to improve the situation.

    1. While I doubt the tracks have suddenly got more risky this week, I doubt any leader would want to be involved in applying to extent a safety related deadline for no other reason than the inspection equipment was broken.

    2. Re: the issue of why does the Wellington region only pay 10% of its train and rail infrastructure costs whereas Auckland pays 50%. There is massive regional disparities throughout NZ not just between Auckland and Wellington. Canterbury and Christchurch for instance has a greater population than regional and urban Wellington yet it receives virtually no passenger rail funding and what it does receive for passenger rail to the West Coast and Marlborough is priced for high-end tourists not regular local travel.

      1. Perhaps Canterbury receives Zero funding for Passenger rail because they offer Zero services for Passengers? I’m sure that their case for funding would be reconsidered if they were to come up with a plan to actually cater for people…

      2. The Regional Council in Canterbury certainly doesn’t help the situation, it has been lukewarm to urban rail for years.

        1. Not true – Councillors have been making the case for passenger rail for several electoral cycles now.


          Of course, Wellington because it is the capital city it has a higher concentration of politicians fighting for political goodies (like new trains and new motorways) so it is not surprising that Ecan’s efforts seem comparatively small.
          But does that make it right?
          A lot of people seem to think it is unfair…

    3. The comparison of getting a WOF last minute is apt.
      The testing should be scheduled to be done well before deadline forcing speed restrictions.
      There needs to be some float in the schedule to allow for weather, breakdowns, etc.
      Its just abysmal management.

      1. Can’t just “do it early”, or the 4 month schedule would have to become every 3 months. I’m not surprised if Auckland rails banged up the wheels, leading to re-lathing the wheels.
        Maybe Kiwirail should purchase some spare wheels, to switch while machining? But the problem may be too infrequent and the time saved to little to be worth that.

  4. This seems like a good time to get a second station in Palmerston North and maybe even Levin. Masterton has three stations for a population not much bigger than Levin, it doesn’t make sense for Palmerston North with 80,000 to only have one.

    1. It would also be quite helpful for Palmerston North to actually have a station where the people are, instead of right out on the edge of town where no-one lives. But of course, they used to have that, with the rail running right through the centre of the town Square, until they moved the station out to the back of beyond…

      1. True, but in Palmy, a bus shuttle would take a mere 5mins to get to The Square.

        Besides, I am not sure where a second station would be that would be useful. I would have thought it better to get more services at a reasonable hour and then provide shuttles to the CBD (maybe as a stop that terminates at the University) and develop the station itself with cafe’s, a bar, etc.

        1. Near the airport where Railway Road crosses the tracks. Northern side of the crossing before the track splits.
          Also how about one out at Longburn

        2. No one actually lives at Longburn though. There is just a dis-used freezing works, an inland container hub, and a great second-hand building materials shop called the Rusty Nail. Seriously good selection of recycled matai floorboards etc there.

          But I do agree with you that a better place for a second station would be near the Kelvin Grove end of town, next to the Airport. Just think of that – the one place in NZ where you could get off the plane and straight onto a train. Visions of Schipol fill my head.

  5. KR seems to have a problem with preventative maintenance and asset monitoring. Issues like this just pop up every now and then with something breaking down, KR giving very short notice, and then reactively fixing it.

    I wonder how much this is a holdover from the 2010s when the network was on life support and there was no point monitoring the assets because there was no budget for anything other than essential maintenance anyway.

    Regardless, the excuses of “no money” and “old assets” only go so far, now that there is plenty of funding to go around and decade-old parts of Auckland’s network are being dug up to replace the foundation.

    I also wonder if it is that KR doesn’t care about passenger services, or that these issues are happening on the freight side of things as well, just with less publicity because KR can handle them internally and no commuters are disrupted. After all, projects like the RNR are disruptive to freight operations as well.

    Anyway, to really replace car and truck travel, the rail network has to be as reliable as what it’s superseding. Some big changes will be needed and I suspect it will be harder than just throwing more money at KR.

    1. The answer to “how much this is a holdover from the 2010s” is all of it. Yes there is funding now – but it’s still not enough to recover from when it was at absolutely abysmal levels. There isn’t plenty of funding, unfortunately.

    2. I’d say it goes back to the 1980s. There hasn’t been any serious investment in the rail network outside the urban areas since the electrification of the NIMT.

  6. Any advancement in track quality, urban and suburban and regional rail networks etc. must be seen as positive, climate positive, health positive, eventually stress negative. Tamaki Makaurau Auckland is four times more important than Greater Wellington but we all deserve to be able to move around in comfort, out of the wind, out of the rain, out of the motorways, out of the untracked objects. Everything should be but on a track. End road rage and drink driving. We knew this in 1940, we can surely learn it all again tomorrow?

  7. This train upgrade to the Wellington region trains is absolutely fantastic news – wonderful result! Really will make a difference to moving around here when the new hybrid trains are actually in place. A vindication of several years of lobbying. Well done Darran Ponter, Roger Bleakley, Thomas Nash and the rest of the GW team who have been pushing relentlessly for this outcome. I too have been banging on about this since way back:

    I know that the actual arrival of the new trains will take a couple of years at least, but hopefully a contract is in place that cannot be cancelled by any incoming government / council. It is one step towards eventually once more having a working national network of public transport by rail. We had it once before – we can have it once again.

  8. Strong words from Cr Ponter on the Kiwirail failures. Wonder what he thinks about the organisation who manages Wellington’s buses. Maybe another dose of invective coming up?

  9. Yes, fantastic news about the trains, and thank you GA and everyone else who has campaigned for this for years. (Dare I say Restore Passenger Rail?) The announcement also said travel times from Palmerston North would be cut by 15 minutes which is great.

    The business case talked about another study, of full electrification of the North Island Main Trunk, and how it would interact with this decision. Not sure where that is at.

    The 180 km return trip from Waikanae to Palmerston North may be a bit far for batteries. The battery EMUs in use seem to have a range of more like 80 km. But there is also the option to put up short lengths of catenaries near the stations for a topup.

  10. I am interested in them being tri-mode

    Could the same trains also be used for upper North Island runs like Te Huia?

    I know that high voltage electrical supply is different, but they could also be made quad-mode?

    That or I wonder if analysis has been done to compare going without the combustion engine and extending electrification instead? Seems like with enough battery capacity you could get away with a number of gaps in the overhead electrification and use batteries instead of firing up a combustion engine

    1. From the diagram provided, it would probably need to be the same platform with the mode dealing with Electric changed from 1600V DC to 25KV AC.

      So while the trains would be essentially the same, one of the power sources would be different. Could these be the same in the future, yes, but I doubt it is worth the cost, we’d be better building more electrification in places that don’t have any yet, than converting what already exists.

      1. Wasn’t suggesting that we rip up Wellington and/or Auckland to change from their current supply voltages/types. Just using the same train units, with most running gear the same, but option to specify them with either 1600V DC or 15KV AC.

        As I understand, Te Huia is currently using a set of 1980 era diesel engines (even if they have been upgraded over the last 40+ years)

        It just seems like rather than being a Wellington only purchase, since it is 90% central government funded, would it not make more sense to standardize passenger trains in NZ and purchase an extra set for Hamilton/Auckland route?

        Like 18 for Wellington and an extra set of four adapted to run Auckland power system (25KV AC). Even go further and see if Canterbury councils want to take advantage of the bulk order and place orders for some. Would think suppliers would discount if there was a long term plan for them to be the standard passenger rolling stock in NZ with regular purchases and refurbs.

        I don’t know trains, but seems like a huge feature to be tri-modal; so even if you only electrified part of the route like the stations and storage yards (on particular places like Christchurch that are not electrified yet), you could still reduce emissions by just using diesel when you have to on longer runs between towns.

        (just been reading up on Railway Electrification in New_Zealand – so many missed chances to have made big differences, and Kiwirail trying to roll back to Diesel)

    2. Just the different ownership of Auckland and Wellington based passenger train sets would make interoperability extremly unlikely.
      But could not Te Huia be just bi mode?
      25KV and battery. Under the wires from Hamilton to TeRapa and then battery to bridge through to back under the wires at Pukekohe?

  11. The Future is Rail conference in late June is going to be even more interesting now, I think. Looking forward to it.

  12. Good news I notice there will be stabling at Palmerston and Masterton presumably there will be charging inferstructure so units start the day with a full charge in the batteries. It would also be possible to electrify sections of track to top up the batteries without having to do the whole line. So much more flexibility as soon as we have batteries aboard. For instance having overhead wire for hilly sections aviods battery drain for trains travelling up a hill. Going the other way batteries can be recharged. This is probably not applicable to the non electrified sections of both lines which are relatively flat however it could be used for extending services to New Plymouth or Hawkes bay in the future.

  13. Really there should be 3 of those testing units. One based in Auckland, one in Wellington, one in Christchurch.

    Great news on the new trains. I was hoping they might tag on more units for other places too (Auckland-Hamilton-Tauranga), Canterbury etc.

    1. I presume that the testing rig has never ever been deployed to the Hawkes Bay. Still has speed restrictions down to 20km/hr for several years now – the tracks are so wobbly that it is unsafe for anything to go at any speed. While this is a great success story for the lower North Island, it would also be great to have a wider success on the middle of the North… from side to side…

  14. Maybe Kiwirail just needs to get more total track length laid, then justify the cost of needing a second inspection vehicle.

  15. Is the overhead, or more correctly the substations, able to take the regenerated current?

    1. Pretty telling that not even a week of inconvenience for Wellingtonians gets Kiwirail hauled in front of Parliament for a please explain and an inquiry.

      Auckland is facing literally years of disruption and nary a whisper. Just shut your mouth, pay your regional fuel tax, don’t ask about what happened to rapid transit, and accept that Auckland exists as a prop to fund Wellington, where the real work (snort) happens.

      1. Rail transit in Auckland may be struggling to keep its head above water and getting little help from the Ministry of Transport or WK. But down here in Canterbury we are completely underwater.
        We are the second largest region that contributes to funding WK by way of road user charges and fuel tax. And we are the 2nd largest region by GDP – so we are the second largest general tax paying region too. Yet we receive $billions less than the Wellington region in transport spending and this imbalance has been going on for decades.

  16. First thought is why hasn’t someone said buy Two more Track Inspection Cars or even Four more. Both Auckland and Wellington should get one running over the track overnight. Most Countries seem to use old stock towed on the end of a train. The Railcar version we have ( testing speed) could use an old motor car and the carriage or just buy a new one with the order for new train sets. Seems odd that no one has thought of this in the current day and age.
    Second coming from Auckland I don’t understand a TMU or its range. Auckland still has two diesel services to Pukekohe and Hamilton. Very proud of themselves for “extended a service to meet the need” Is there a possibility to use TMY’s on these services?

    1. If these new trains are able to run using their batteries from Waikanae to Palmerston North which is about 80 kilometres, they should also be more than capable of running from Pukekohe to Hamilton which is probably an even shorter distance.

      1. Its actually Pukekohe to Papakura is about 23km…. Its getting electrification sort of now. I didn’t know.
        Hamilton to Auckland (Papakura or Pukekohe 2024?) Papakura is about 94km

      2. From the diagram above, they don’t run Waikanae to PN on batteries alone. It’s batteries + batteries + CI engine. Not sure why they mention the batteries twice, guess it will run on battery alone for the start until that runs out and the generator kicks in?

        1. The reason they list batteries twice is that under Battery + CI, the diesel engine will charge the battery, and the drivetrain power will be drawn from the battery. This is how all the diesel electric locos work.

          ie this mode is battery charged by the CI, and the other mode is battery alone.

        2. Good explanation, Nicko, but with the slight correction that “This is how all the diesel electric locos work” is not the case, since conventional diesel electrics do not have traction batteries. The diesel engine drives a generator, which powers the traction motors.

  17. And are 3 news items I put together also at the end is another protest in Wellington for more Rail .

  18. Interesting comment from GWRC Cr Daran Ponter:
    “When we tender for 18 trains, it is likely that we will also seek quotes for higher numbers, and possibly different configurations (eg 18, 22, 26, 30; Wgtn Dc Voltage; Auckland AC Voltage etc). This will assist the government and AT/Waikato RC to make an assessment on whether to join the procurement exercise for trains in the Upper NI and for Metlink and Govt to extend the number of trains for Wellington.”

    1. That is really interesting; and what I have been looking for as it makes so much more sense.

      You get a quote or RFP response on 18 trains (+ simulator, spares, support etc), but also get options on say 24 or more as well. You know that cost per unit will come down so if you can get buy in from other parties to use the same units, then everybody wins.

      I am pessimist that Kiwirail and operators will be smart enough to leverage this though,

  19. What feels particularly unfair to me is to assume us Wellingtonians are somehow privileged or not suffering from a completely broken public transport network. It is not our fault that Auckland is being screwed over, and it’s not right to imply we are somehow taking away from them for these trains. You cannot simultaneously advocate for a better public transport future whilst bemoaning government spending on transportation outside of your base of operations.

    1. Well I hardly think this blog is bemoaning government transport spend outside of Auckland. This very article is very supportive of the new train fleet for Wellington.
      What it bemoans is the unfair funding ratios that Wellington receives. Either Auckland ratepayers should receive 90% funding, or Wellington ratepayers should chip in 50%.

      And this funding is taking away from other regions. The transport fund is only so big, and every $ spent on one project is a $ not spent on another project. Given the funding ratios it’s worse, for every one train we fund in Wellington, that two trains we could fund in Auckland. Or what could we fund in Christchurch for the same spend?

      1. I also think it was how quickly the government jumped in when normal service was threatened. Aucklanders have been expected just to put up with no service on sections of track for long periods of time, not just a week or two, with the government doing nothing at all.
        Definitely not a case of bemoaning spending on public transport in the Wellington area.

  20. That’s great news for Palmy and the lower North Island. So let’s hope this is properly backed up with integrated ticketing! All the stake holders in Wellingtion and around the country should have a look at Austria and the [KlimaTicket]( for inspiration: One ticket to rule them all! Instead of 3 tickets (e.g. bus, train, bus) to get between Hamilton and Auckland or between Palmy and Wellington. This yearly pass for all trains and public transport in Austria is 1095€ (~1800NZ$), and there are also regional offers: 368€ for Graz (including all of Styria) or 365€ for Vienna. In Austria there are no restrictions for fast trains like with the monthly 49€ Deutschland-Ticket in Germany (the successor of the 9€ ticket, which just started yesterday). This is nice as you can just hop on the next train which comes your way. As services even with these improvements will still be infrequent, allowing to use the Northern Explorer for trips between Hamilton and Auckland or Palmerston North and Wellington should be a no brainer. However the current prices for such a trip with the Northern Explorer are insane (79$), even though the service is not faster! And why has kiwirail a different homepage / booking system for all their different services???
    Greetings from Austria

    PS: Switzerland and Austria have the highest train ridership in Europe mainly because services are frequent and in time(!), which allows good connections between services. German word of the day to look up: “Schweizer Taktfahrplan”.

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