Over the last year, parts of Auckland’s rail network have been shut down as Kiwirail have worked to replace aging formation below the tracks. They started with the inner southern line between Newmarket and Otahuhu, Then in March moved on to the Eastern Line between Quay Park and Otahuhu. For the Eastern Line, they say

between 20 March and 24 September:

  • 3,877 metres of formation (the compacted rock foundation below the track) has been excavated and replaced
  • 5,960 metres of ballast (the larger rocks the tracks sit in) has been replaced
  • 6,091 metres of drainage has been improved
  • 554 metres of rail has been replaced

That work is still ongoing but yesterday Kiwirail announced the next stage of the Rail Network Rebuild, and it starts in just a few weeks. The good news is they say this next phase will be less disruptive than we’ve seen before.

“The next stage will focus on replacing formation and upgrading drainage on the Western Line between Newmarket and New Lynn (Stage 3a), with more minor upgrade work on the Southern Line south of Puhinui (Stage 3b).”

“During Stage 3 we are able to work in evenings, on some weekends, and over Labour Weekend and the quiet Christmas period. We will need to work during weekdays on the Western Line for about nine weeks – but we can do this while keeping one track open so that some trains can keep running.”

“This next stage is more complicated, and there will be a level of disruption as we undertake this crucial work – but it will be much less than the disruption experienced by Auckland commuters during previous stages,” Mr Gordon says.

Auckland Transport’s Executive General Manager Public Transport Services Stacey van der Putten says the reduced disruption for Stage 3 will come as welcome news to Auckland’s rail passengers.

“Auckland Transport and KiwiRail have been working hard to find ways to minimise the disruption to our customers from the next stage of the vital Rail Network Rebuild project,” Ms van der Putten says.

“The good news for users of the Western and Southern Lines is that trains will continue to operate at the times when most of our customers are using the network, which is on weekdays when people rely on our services to get to work, school, and hospital appointments.


During the period Western Line trains will run on a single track, service frequency will be affected – timetables will be confirmed in due course.

It’s great that they’ve found a way to keep at least some trains running. That will likely make a big difference to just how much impact the works have and how ridership recovers once it’s finished.

Though in their FAQs it appears the only reason they’ve been able to do is due to the delay in the City Rail Link meaning they can take their time rather than process efficiency improvements they have learnt from the first two stages.

More concerning is they’re now saying that despite getting an extra $75 million for the work, on top of the original $330 million, they don’t actually have enough to do west of New Lynn and south of Puhinui properly.

By focusing on the Western Line (Newmarket – New Lynn) in Stage 3, once complete we will have upgraded most of the inner Auckland metro network (Southern Line Newmarket – Otahuhu, Eastern Line Britomart – Otahuhu, and Western Line Newmarket – New Lynn). This is important, as the inner part of the network has the highest passenger patronage.

As part of Stage 3, KiwiRail is undertaking more minor, drainage improvement works on the Southern Line south of Puhinui. In this part of Auckland more of rail line tends to be lower than the surrounding area, so improving drainage is crucial for its resilience (in comparison, more of the Western Line tends to be elevated) and minimising weather event impacts – which disrupt both commuter and freight trains. Secondly, the line between Papakura and Pukekohe is current closed to commuter traffic so the work can be done efficiently and without creating more passenger disruption. We will need to come back and replace the formation on this part of the Southern Line.

KiwiRail and AT want to upgrade the entire Auckland metro network and we are committed to upgrading the outer sections – including coming back to replace formation on the Southern Line (Pukekohe to Puhinui) and fully upgrading the rest of the Western Line (Swanson – New Lynn). We will be having discussions with Waka Kotahi and Central Government Ministers about further funding required to complete RNR. KiwiRail is still developing an exact understanding of those costs and information regarding timing is not available at this time. Our goal is to complete as much RNR work as possible before the City Rail Link begins operating, likely in 2026.

It’s odd that they talk about the western line being more elevated and so less in needing minimising from weather events when it was the western line that suffered the most from slips during those events this year. There is also no mention of the section between Otahuhu and Puhinui – though perhaps that is tied up in the works for the 3rd main.

As for why they’re already so over budget, they say

The amount of civil work needed to be undertaken was always subject to confirmation once physical works commenced and the below-ground condition could be fully determined. The outcome of work in the areas so far (Stage 1 and 2) have resulted in more significant formation replacement than previously thought.

The major thing that continues to really bug me about this work is there are still no (publicly) confirmed objectives of it. We continue to get told that this work will result in “faster journey times and more frequent, reliable trains” yet there is never any information on just how much faster, more frequent or more reliable they will be so these agencies can be held to account if that doesn’t eventuate.

Finally, some confirmation of timing for this work, as well as the usual Christmas shutdown.

Stage 3 work timing:

  • Labour Weekend into December 2023 – Stage 3a starts. Working mainly at nights. On some nights commuter services will stop running earlier than usual. There is a full network-wide closure over Labour Weekend and one additional weekend closure on the Western Line.
  • Full Network Christmas Closure: 26 December 2023 – 14 January 2024 – Stage 3a continues
  • 15 – 19 January 2024 – Stage 3a continues. The Western Line will remain closed for an additional week for RNR work.
  • Late January – early March 2024 – Stage 3b starts. Working between Papakura and Puhinui, mainly at nights, where commuter services will stop running earlier than usual. There will also likely be a number of weekend line closures.
  • Early March – May 2024 – Stage 3a completion. Working between Avondale and Morningside. Metro trains will be able to run on one (of the two) Western Line tracks, though they will be less frequent than usual.
  • Late May – late June 2024 – Stage 3b completion. Working between Pukekohe and Papakura. Commuter services are not affected as this section of line is already closed for work extending overhead electrification.
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    1. Mainly electrification work rather than a rebuild I presume so still needs doing. Here’s what they say about the Western line in the FAQ doc:
      “A second track was added to the Western Line in the mid-late 2000s. The majority of the second track is to standard, but the original double tracking project did not include replacing the formation of the existing line. This now needs to be done. The frequency and type of passenger service in operation at the time permitted services to continue while the new line was constructed – this approach did result is some areas not receiving the ideal level of excavation. The Rail Network Rebuild will address issues in these areas.”

  1. You would hope they could get round to fixing the speed restriction between Puhinui Station and Papatoetoe heading north at some stage it’s being in place for ages. Also when are the going to start work on the third main through Middlemore Station.

  2. It’s gone very quiet on the election around here. There were posts on Labour’s and National’s transport policies more than a month ago. Would love to see GA’s perspective on the election vis a vis Auckland, housing, climate, environment.

    1. Unfortunately the policies of both major parties can be summed up in short order, and it doesn’t make pleasant reading.

      National: MOAR ROADS

      Labour: Unaffordable and unnecessary zillion-dollar tunnels

      Nowhere: sensible, affordable, climate-friendly policies

        1. And more shit in our rivers and emissions in our atmosphere, because of the lengths of “red tape” that will clog our landfills.

      1. I always thought that Labour’s transport policies consisted of saying the right thing and then not doing it, while quietly building motorways.

        National’s policies (at least these days) seem to consist of demonising safer speeds and active modes, grudgingly claiming support for public transport, while loudly building motorways.

        1. Indeed. Labour’s inability to deliver on their promises has soured me any further committments they are making in the current campaign.

        2. and its anybody’s guess what NZ First’s transport policy is. Regional airports will likely be prominent. The most likely transport scenario is nothing will happen, just like last time round.

  3. The short line between Newmarket an Britomart was closed for 3 months early this year. But it has also been shut on weekends for the past three months and for months to come. I guess the reason is to repair the slip beside the tunnel but each week I ride past I don’t notice any progress. It is frustrating to have Britomart shut for months to the many 1000s who want to go the city.

    1. I believe the Newmarket line closures are to do with work inside Britomart, not the slips near the tunnel. Freight, Te Huia and northern explorer trains have continued running at weekends.

  4. AT and Kiwirail should* be able to coordinate their programmes, budgets and investments. This is a great opportunity to grade-separate pedestrian level crossings and deliver other necessary improvements for a growing city.

    *when pigs fly

  5. Just a joke! Never see any other big city had shut down major transit train line for whole year!
    This only can happen in NZ.

    1. In the 100 plus years since it was opened the only big bucks that has been spent on it was the Electrification Works , before that there was little rail movement and since we have heaps .

    2. That isn’t totally fair, I thought that too for a while, but a recent trip to Berlin highlighted that it isn’t the case.

      The U6 line will be closed for several years while re-build works are undertaken.


      The work they are doing is quite substantial and well coordinated to improve things, probably moreso than in AKL, but still a huge disruption.

      There are also very frequent bus replacements that are more effective than the rail replacements here, shock horror, as there is good bus priority and not nearly the level of congestion as people have better options than to drive.

    3. In Frankfurt, Germany, they have been closing main S-Bahn / U-Bahn lines straight through the heart of the city for many months for works over the last years. Not just NZ, for better or worse. A year is very long though, I agree.

  6. If as a general policy rail replacement buses were ran at double the normal train frequency (to make up for their disadvantages) it would help with these down time. It would probably keep “rail user loyalty” at higher levels also.

    1. Sounds like a good idea though I wonder how many drivers that will require, as we are still just coming out of a period of driver scarcity?

  7. Are they intending to strand people during Labour weekend and the Christmas holiday period without full bike-friendly alternatives in place yet again? If so, this is a product of commuter-focussed car dependent thinking we should not be seeing in a post -TERP world.

    In no way does it enable car free households, local living nor assist the level of modeshift required.

  8. Will all this long overdue work result in a end to KiwiFail’s habit of closing the rail network every second weekend? Or will they continue to inconvenience weekend rail passengers?

    1. It’s like everywhere the closures will always be there as it needs to be done otherwise we will have major works happening every decade . And it’s like a road if you don’t get on top of things like potholes e.t.c , peoples start crying because the road/track is rough .

      1. Yes, but they have been shutting down the entire network over so many weekends. It makes it impossible to get around by train.
        In Europe, holidays and weekends are typically the most busy periods for the train network because so many people want to go somewhere for leisure. Here it is drive or stay home.

  9. Rail, rail, rail. For heaven’s sake, as urban transport rail is obsolete technology. What do rails do? They keep trains travelling on course. We now have GPS for that. I lived in Bristol and watched the city build an interesting, rather narrow road from the city to South Bristol. It was fenced off and had stations with ticket machines. When it was completed I saw the future of urban transport: trains with rubber wheels, no overhead wires, battery powered long bendy buses, in fact, running at high frequency. And it is certain that one day soon, if the unions ever get out of the way, they won’t have drivers. 100% safe and far, far cheaper than rail. It breaks my heart to watch the enormous money sink that is City Rail preparing us for the past.

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