Kiwirail are celebrating the completion of their near four-week long Christmas/New Year network shutdown works.

KiwiRail successfully delivers summer holiday infrastructure upgrades across NZ

KiwiRail teams delivered significant upgrade initiatives across the country’s major commuter rail networks on time and on target over the summer holiday period.

Temporarily shutting down the lines (block of line) allowed KiwiRail to carry out project upgrades, slip repairs and maintenance work across New Zealand’s metro networks faster, at a time of reduced commuter demand.

In Auckland, there were 89 active worksites across the rail corridor involving more than 1800 people, continuing the upgrade and improvement of the city’s rail infrastructure.

Wellington saw the successful delivery of the largest summer holiday block of line KiwiRail has ever carried out in the region, involving 550 workers across the entire network for the duration of the programme.

Auckland holiday closure works:

Auckland’s metro network saw intensive upgrade and maintenance work on multiple lines across the city.

“This was one of our biggest Christmas closures ever – with around 1,800 people working at 89 different rail sites across the city,” KiwiRail Chief Capital Planning and Asset Development Officer David Gordon says.

“We completed multiple projects and started others that will lift the standard of the Auckland metro network. This will support more reliable services, encourage more people to use the trains and get the network ready for the increased services that will come with the City Rail Link.”

Auckland’s Rail Network Rebuild (RNR) Stage 2 works on the Eastern Line were completed on schedule with Eastern Line services restarting between Manukau and The Strand last week. Services resumed from/to Waitematā (Britomart) from yesterday (22 January).

Mr Gordon says the holiday closure also saw a focus on the Western Line – which included slip repairs and the carrying out of the most invasive part of the RNR.

“Between Newmarket and New Lynn, we lifted away the tracks and sleepers and dug a metre below ground level to remove and replace the compacted rock foundations under the tracks. This ongoing work is crucial to enable more reliable and frequent rail services.

“It’s rewarding to see that our work on the Western Line has already successfully enabled the removal of some speed restrictions.”

Other Auckland work included:

  • Further enabling works for the new Third Main Line and signal upgrades at Wiri
  • Ongoing commissioning of new overhead lines between Papakura and Pukekohe to extend electrification
  • Further City Rail Link program milestones delivered, including significant track and civil work at Waitematā Station, Quay Park and Newmarket.

Out near my local station, work was going to build a new retaining wall after land slipped following the floods/storms early last year.

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There’s a bit more info in the press release about the work on the Wellington network if you’re interested. Last week they also highlighted more specifically the work to rebuild the Eastern Line, including these stats.

Work for Stage 2 on the Eastern Line has included:

  • 6,932 metres of formation (the rock foundation below the track) has been excavated and replaced.
  • 19,110 metres of ballast (the larger rocks the tracks sit on) has been replaced.
  • 24,678 metres of drainage has been improved.
  • 1,383 metres of rail and sleepers has been replaced.
  • Around 130 KiwiRail staff and contractors are working on RNR Stage 2.

It’s great that Kiwrail have completed this work and that the Eastern Line is now open again.

However, a question that I ask myself every year is when will these mega shutdowns end. I get that there’s always going to need for maintenance and that Kiwrail are having to deal with decades of neglect and deferred maintenance but how much of that is still to go. When do we get to a “normal” state so that month-long shutdowns aren’t a feature like they have been almost every year for the last 15-20 years.

Will it be after the Rail Network Rebuild works – though Kiwirail have already said that despite being given an extra $75 million for the work, on top of the original $330 million, they don’t have enough money to complete large parts of that programme – such as west of New Lynn and south of Puhinui.

Will it be after another one, two, ten years?

Or will we just always have them because Kiwrail have decided that’s what’s easiest for them?

The current state of the network and the scale of the work still required to get it up to a modern standard is something needs significantly more transparency around it.

As I’ve said before about the rebuild works, it bugs me that there are no (publicly) confirmed objective for 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. Even just regular reporting around things like the number and types of faults would be useful.

That kind of reporting and additional transparency around the state of the network could also be critical in other ways too. For example, following the change in government, what happens if Kiwirail get less funding for maintenance work going forward. Will the network slowly start to deteriorate again requiring more catch-up works in a few years? Having regular reporting in place could help highlight that.

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  1. The Summer rail works are complete until this long weekend when large parts of the rail network will be shut again.

    1. Closing during long weekends is such a downer. I know that the primary objective of the commuter rail network is to deliver people to the CBD on weekday peaks, but a lot of us also use PT for recreational travel on weekends and the whole network being shutdown really blows for us.

      1. Yeah I guess we should let the trains run all the time and never mind getting any work done.
        We can finish P2P in 2030 for example if we just work in the 5min between trains the rest of the time.

  2. Any Eastern Line passengers who were shifted between four trains and delayed by over an hour at peak time on Monday due to a track fault by The Strand might question whether a near year long shutdown was really worth it. The claimed trade off of disruption leading to a better service didn’t even last a day.

    1. Fully agree Bob. There are still a number of random ‘track faults’ and subsequent cancelled services on the Southern and Eastern lines. I was delayed by an hour on Tuesday night because of this.

      I don’t understand how this can happen after such significant amounts of work. As the post states, Kiwirail needs to be a lot more transparent around the work that needs to be done, rather than patting themselves on the back for the work that has been completed.

      1. From what I’ve observed in the past there is seems to be teething problems immediately after we’ve had rail shutdowns but in saying that it could have been the heat as well? One seemed to be the Britomart tunnel itself but they didn’t really spell it out and I see they’re still working on Waitematā to Newmarket coming up.

        1. I dont get this, how can there be problems between Britomart and Strand. Thats a fairly new addition?

          Either we have used the shadiest of material and or workmanship or something is really really wrong with kiwirail.

        2. They could’ve started Eastern Line services on Sunday instead of Monday, to work out these issues during a low stakes weekend. But no, instead we have what we call “testing in production” at its worst.

        3. Surely the issue is that at present, Britomart and Strand are not really connected – but arguably they should be? Diesel trains go to Strand (the old main Station) and electric trains go to Britomart (the current new main station). Main problem seems to be that if you come into Auckland on the long-distance passenger train (mainly tourists), then you are stranded at the Strand, and are completely cut off from Britomart. Perhaps someone has woken up to this and is actually doing something to connect Strand into the rest of the network, somehow?

        4. If you look at their Christmas Shutdown Works map I linked to below it shows major track work 24/7 for both Waitemata (Britomart) to Parnell and Quay Park to Judges Bay. So sounds like lots being happening and still is (haven’t looked myself) & maybe a lot relates to weather event resilience.
          Found this current details here also accessed from the QR code on that map (this is the details we like to know):

          “Eastern Line
          Quay Park/ Ports of Auckland: Track upgrade and foundation replacement works Monday to Saturday (including public holidays), and at times 24/7 to April 2024.
          Quay Park (Stadium side): On-going use of the rail yard to support the City Rail Link construction”

          Agree with Matt L though it would be good to know exactly what the faults are, released later on in a list of some sort, types, counts and where.

  3. As usual, anytime I could actually use the trains, like Christmas break or long weekends, they are closed for “major work”. The motorways never seem to need these closures; how do they manage it? how do other countries keep their railways going?

    The answer for maintenance is the same as for all other infrastructure – maintenance should only be delayed by natural disasters or acts of war. Otherwise, it should be a given. Charges for using the infrastructure should be set to cover the maintenance and operational costs. If we can do that for gas and electricity, why not for water, roads and rail?
    Proper costing and charging gives users honest information on which to make choices. And given that information, they might find more use for public transport, for example.

    1. Rail is moving toward that model with RUC type arrangements being put in place on the network. Roading already has RUC’s but reality is that is doesn’t address the “network” charge like electricity does. While registration could potentially address this, I imagine this would increase the cost a large amount.

    2. Motorways do need maintenance, just they do partial lane closures (the equivalent of closing a single track, and reducing the frequency), or full closures at night (then work hard, put lots of resources in and get the job done before morning).

      Motorways also close only the affected area, and if there are multiple affected areas, they do one bit at a time. This means that the detours are relatively short (just an offramp or two) even if the time/distance added are significant.

      The equivalent would be to just shut a smaller section between two stations (or if a station is needed to be worked on, 3 stations), then trains can run nearly BAU at a slightly reduced frequency to either side of the closure, then rail buses in between. Far less distance to cover for the buses, so its cheaper and frequency can be higher as each bus trip is far faster.

      The small area closed means you can put a lot of resources in, and each small job gets done faster, with less overall disruption. It’s about breaking it into bite sized chunks.

      KR has the mentality of whole line closures, as for freight generally it’s all or nothing, while for passengers its not the same. They’ve not adjusted to that, and have shown little signs of progress in that regard. They do utilise single track closures – but they’ve done that for a long time.

      1. I think the main issue is isolating the electric power as there is only so many substations and places they can isolate it & continue to have power to the other sections. May not be an issue if all the equipment was low to the ground and the safety rules allowed for that. If not surely they can be amended so if no tall reaching equipment is being used they can work under live wires. Alternatively have a lot more power locations.

    3. On a lot of networks around the world the track switching far greater than Auckland’s. With a reduced timetable and switching, the work could be done without completely shutting down the whole network for a month. Maybe Kiwirail have addressed this with track upgrades, but doubtful.

  4. It is a real shame that the Eastern Line shutdowns were not used as an opportunity to carry out other major work that is either planned or which needs to happen, e.g.

    – Ōrākei TOD
    – Glen Innes station rebuild
    – Gowing Drive underpass to Ti Ara ki Uta ki Tai path
    – Enhancements to Sylvia Park Station, including connection to Carbine Road.
    – Tamaki Station reopening (at least make passive provision for it)
    – Three and four-tracking

    KiwiRail has no real vision for the future of Auckland as a rail-oriented city…and it shows.

    1. The issue is that half of that isn’t KiwiRails supply… The joys of the neoliberal model for the provision of public services.

    2. Well put PC. But as Shane said, a lot of it isn’t KRs responsibility… other agencies have to step up.

      The Gowing Drive connection – a crucial missing walking and cycling link – was meant to happen during this block of line but AT decided to postpone it (to when? is there another block of line coming?!?) despite the local board’s strong protests.

      The silo mentality and lack of foresight of some public agencies is so depressing…

      1. Even if AT were doing a go-slow on building the approaches to the underpass, surely the actual, structural, build-a-tunnel-under-the-line could have been done by KR in advance?

        A bit of passive provision rarely goes amiss.

        1. It depends on the type of provision though. Is the precise location, size etc of what’s needed set in stone? Otherwise it seems a problem if KR built a tunnel then months later AT comes back and say we’ve changed out mind, we actually want the tunnel 5 m away. By comparison, the lack of provision for a bus way in the SH16 upgrade seems more problematic since to me at least, it seems obvious that something that would eventually be needed and even if AT never asked NZTA, NZTA could have at least left the room etc to ensure one could be built.

      2. Not only was the Gowing Dr connection not put in during the months the line was closed, AT appeared to engage in actively hiding their intent to not do the work, maintaining on their webpages that the work was going ahead for months after they knew it woudn’t, and not responding to emails enquiring after start dates until it was well and truly clear there was never going to be a chance of getting the work done before the line reopened.

        They now maintain they ‘plan’ to complete the connection under the rail line next Christmas during the inevitable total rail shutdown, but advise it is still subject to funding, and given that they have hopelessly over-done the design (requiring retaining walls galore, and a ridiculously long S-shaped raised paths doubling back on itself the full length of the section between Gowing Dr and the rail line), it’s realistically unlikely to go ahead. Most frustrating when basic tunnel under the lines and a straight path down the section would provide the necessary access (in a form similar to every other property with a driveway along there), at a budget that had a chance of happening!

  5. Still the rail replacement buses are improving.
    Now I realise that I really should just leave this to the professionals, but I was wondering if in future when we have Britomart or even the CRL out of action whether it would be possible to designate Newmarket as the chief station. I am thinking Eastern line trains could run via the Strand and Parnell stations and terminate at Newmarket rather than the Strand. It would just make things a little more complete. Maybe Onehunga trains would have to revert to a Penrose shuttle. And no matter whether this is taken up or not, I can’t quite understand why the spare train sidings just before the Strand station have been disconnected at the eastern end. Surely it would have been a useful place to park a spare train while train control gets things back and running after a breakdown. These sidings are all wired up and ready to go however they are accessible and are being used from the other end near the Strand so maybe an eastern access isn’t required.

  6. I don’t quite understand the reasoning when Kiwi rail say they lifted away the tracks and sleepers and dug a metre below ground level to remove and replace the compacted rock foundations under the tracks.
    Compacted rock is good. There are no holes or spaces!
    If the ballast under the tracks is a mixture of large rocks, stones and sand and if it is tightly packed then it won’t move. Does it really matter it the larger rocks are at the top or random through the 1 meter?
    The problem is when there is clay or organic matter in that 1meter which will expand and contract as it rains.
    So keeping water out of that 1 meter with good drainage is most important

    1. OK found this good explainer comment from the UK regarding from rails down to the formation and I think inferred the formation has a similar issue to the ballast regarding movement and drainage, but also clay etc coming up through it.
      “Ballast loses its angularity over time, partly through small movement under the passage of trains, and partly through tamping. Tiny pieces break off, creating fines (essentially sand) which clog the ballast causing it to lose its drainage properties. Rounded ballast is also not so good at locking sleepers into place, so more minor movement occurs and then the problem escalates.”

      From Kiwi Rails own page on the rebuild:
      The Rail Network Rebuild is challenging:

      Rail lines, sleepers and turnouts (which allow trains to switch between tracks) lifted away;
      Existing formation (compacted gravel that forms the base of the rail line) and ballast (the rocks the tracks sit on) dug out;
      New formation brought in and compacted to form a firm and resilient base;
      New ballast brought in and compacted
      New drainage to prevent future deterioration of the formation;
      The rails, sleepers and turnouts put back, aligned for safe and smooth train running.

      Interesting that UK rail forums commenter says it’s normally not economic to re-use the rails, but maybe thats’ in their country and was 2013 when steel I presume was cheaper. “The scrap value is generally more than the cost of unloading and reloading the rail at a depot, plus doing the necessary ultrasonic checks to ensure the rail is fit for reuse”.

      1. I can’t help thinking the checks they’re doing on the rails to ensure they’re fit for re-used might be a lot less stringent. Some of this might be reasonable e.g. I expect the speed requirements for rail in the UK are a lot higher than here. Some might be for other reasons…..

  7. I mean, despite the “shutdown” being over, the Wellington trains are still mostly bus replaced off-peak and weekends until the end of February. It rings a bit hollow for KiwiRail to be crowing about how the disruption is over:

  8. Haven’t used the train much in the rebuilt areas since but but it does seem a smoother ride on the southern and eastern sections that have been complete when I have.

  9. Took Te Huia Huntly to Puhinui today, front 3 carriages were ~50% full. Nice ride at 80+km/h at times. Wifi, comfy seats. Changed at Puhinui for eastern line to GI. Another good service. Just wish the upcoming station, ‘hop card will be checked at any time’, mind the gap ‘get off at Sylvia Park for Sylvia Park mall’ ( really?) announcements we’re not shouted at us passengers.

  10. Very happy to have the Eastern line back. Journey’s from Glen Innes to Waitemata this week have been incredibly fast and smooth.

    Very angry that trains are being replaced over anniversary weekend. We hoped to get the train to the airport for $8.40 return each. Instead we once again need to drive and pay $90 for parking.

    I see they have updated the journey planner to include the Eastern line again, although there is a little pink exclamation point saying it is still closed.

    1. You can also book parking in advance for a fraction of the cost (are you flying or seeing people to or from the airport?), family have just done this very thing. There are various carparks and options at different prices.

  11. So I take it there will be no need for rail replacement buses from this date, and all network trains are back to normal.
    until further maintenance or improvement announcements plans.

  12. I use the Southern line from Homai to Britomart. I buy a monthly pass for my travel.
    What I discovered in the last 4 years is that the Train never operated for 90% in the weekends. They close the line whenever they need for maintenance. I could never take my children or wife to city or game or to take a ferry in the weekend and public holiday. I don’t rely on the Trains anymore and I don’t recommend anyone to take the train. AT/kiwi rail cannot do maintenance for almost 10 days in a month. I urge all the people who use train to ask for a refund of 30% that they paid for a monthly pass in the past 2 years.

    1. Yet another reason why a four-tracked system is needed throughout Auckland. Run trains on two lines while the other two are worked on. It’s absurd that four-tracking was not done, nor scoped, nor prepared for as part of the rebuild. KiwiRail seems indifferent to adding more tracks, or indeed building any redundancy into any part of the national rail network.

      Auckland’s sole rail connection to the rest of the country consist of an un-electrified, single-track line that meanders over a swamp. This exemplifies an unfortunate approach to strategic investment in rail .

    2. It’s because Kiwirail (and AT) still seem to see rail as commuter only, between the city centre and the end of the four lines, at peak times on weekdays.

      People might want to use the trains on weekends? Pfft…

      1. It’s a system that had zero upgrades and virtually no maintenance for decades. Now we are in catch up mode and that means extensive and constant closures. Blame Maurice Williamson.

  13. This blog and the comments are a strange combination of:

    – There has been decades of under investment , we need to catch up on investments asap.
    – We can’t shut down the trains to do the investment, it needs to just magically happen.
    – We don’t know why they are doing the investment, what’s the point? (hint: KiwiRail has mentioned the removal of speed restrictions. Maybe ask/OFI them for more details on TSRs if you want them).
    – I hope they don’t do any more investments/big maintenance next year, it’s too disruptive.
    – Then at the same time: why do things break and disrupt the trains? Aren’t they maintained?
    – Or at least do them in a way that is less disruptive (i.e. takes 10x as long and costs 10x as much, and never actually catch up).

    – We like projects to W2QP and P2P, more of them should be built and as fast as possible.
    – But don’t cancel trains on some weekends to make it happen, it needs to happen by magic (or maybe bring DMUs back, they don’t need the pesky high-voltage OLE that gets in the way of safe construction)

    All the experts here should probably just get jobs at KiwiRail/AT and show how it should be done. I’m obviously not doing good enough at it – see you ’round.

    1. Who would have thought. Different commenters have different views?

      Not really worth getting your knickers in a twist about it. Again.

    2. “We can’t shut down the trains to do the investment”

      Maintenance is not investment. The folks that make this comment don’t understand the difference between capex and opex. Railways need funds to maintain the permanent way.

      “or maybe bring DMUs back, they don’t need the pesky high-voltage OLE that gets in the way of safe construction”

      Was that actually a bad idea? Limited service, bare minimum expenditure to get the old ones serviceable/clean/safe?

  14. Please check out Transport for Wales’ News Feed regarding the Treherbert Line Upgrade, as TfW are keen to get passengers back on their network, after a nine month shutdown and will be using the older trains pre shutdown, whilst they phase in the new electric services. It is all or nothing out here! Also very interesting on driver training and route familiarisation for a line the same length as Pukekohe to Papakara – one month, yes one month!

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