Over the last few weeks in our weekly roundup we’ve commented on the frequent delays and cancellations that have occurred on the rail network this year since the rail network went back into full operation on the 22-Jan – with Kiwirail proclaiming they had ‘successfully delivered summer holiday infrastructure upgrades across NZ

Things have been so bad that of the 14 weekdays (not including public holidays) we’ve had since the rail network has been back in full operation, there have been delays and cancellations caused by track faults, crew shortages or other issues on 12 of those days.

That 12 days includes yesterday where the state of the network became even more farcical after Kiwirail imposed speed restrictions due to issues with heat – despite it not even being near the hottest day we’ve had recently.

A spokesperson for KiwiRail said that speed restrictions had been put in place as a result of track temperatures having risen well above the threshold of 40C.

Despite Auckland only expecting to reach a high of 25C in air temperature, the tracks were a lot hotter, they said.

“Steel gets a lot hotter than the air and it retains heat.

“Once the temperature of the track drops, speed restrictions can be dropped, but sometimes with warm nights that might not happen until the next day.”

They said the tracks had gotten particularly hot in South Auckland on Monday afternoon with an area near Ōtāhuhu measuring 48C.

It seems even Auckland Transport have had enough with their director of Public Transport and Active Modes, Stacey van der Putten, issuing a statement which clearly highlights their frustration

Auckland deserves a rail network that can withstand a warm day

It is enormously disappointing that AT is having to cancel train services today because of speed restrictions put in place by KiwiRail on the Auckland rail network due to hot tracks.

These speed restrictions would be unlikely to be needed today if the Auckland rail network was not vulnerable because of numerous known faults.

We appreciate how enormously frustrating regular disruptions and cancellations are for our customers, and just how much days like this dent public confidence in our rail network.

We remain committed to working constructively with KiwiRail on fixing the underlying issues wrecking the reputation and reliability of Auckland’s rail network.

The issues affecting Auckland’s rail network today have been decades in the making and it will take renewed investment and commitment to ensure Auckland has a reliable rail network in time for CRL.

But Aucklanders deserve better than a passenger rail network that can’t run at capacity on a mildly warm summer day.

Auckland has had many hotter days than yesterday in recent weeks, what’s more, networks overseas, such as those in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane are able to work reliably in much hotter temperatures.

While I do agree that it’s “wrecking the reputation and reliability of Auckland’s rail network”, the reality is that reputation has been in tatters since mid-2020 when Kiwirail suddenly discovered they needed to conduct major repairs and shut large parts of the network to do that. The network, and passenger confidence has never been the same since then and that was only made worse by needing to do all that again for the rail network rebuild.

Looking west towards Meadowbank – photo by Anthony Cross

It’s something that’s been evident in the data. Immediately after the first wave of COVID, rail usage recovered at the same rate as buses and ferries until the rail network issues emerged. Since then recovery has been much lower and while in recent weeks, buses and ferries are back close to 100% of pre-COVID levels, trains are barely above 60%

One thing that is worth noting is how differently government’s treat Auckland rail issues over those in Wellington. You may recall last year Wellington experienced a few days of delays due to issues with track inspection equipment. It resulted in the government launching a ‘rapid review’ of Kiwirail’s handling of issues. While that review did include some look at Auckland, after three and half years of disruption, it does feel like Aucklanders are expected to just put up with it.

One thing that likely helped create some additional focus on Wellington at the time was a strong position taken by local politicians and it’s time for Auckland’s politicians to demand better.

Councillor Richard Hills has been raising similar concerns about the network recently and now he’s got the Mayor involved, who has demanded the CEO’s of Kiwirail, Auckland Transport and One Rail – the company that operates the trains – meet him this week about it.

One of the big problems I think we have is that there is very little transparency or accountability around the rail network. We don’t see public reporting on how many or what types of issues there are. Even when Kiwirail say they’re improving the network, like with the rail network rebuild, they talk about how it will make the network faster and more reliable but don’t say how much faster or more reliable it will be. With little transparency, it’s then hard to hold them accountable – and if people try, they just blame it on a lack of funding (now or in the past).

Aucklanders deserve better and we need Councillors and Auckland Transport advocating like this more regularly.

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69 comments

  1. If air temperature reached the upper limit, rail will slow down or stop.
    If wind speed reached upper limit, bridge will be closed or at reduced capacity.
    If rainfall is very heavy, roads will be closed or heavily congested.

    It seemed to me Auckland is not a capable of coping with some of the weather issue.

  2. I worked as a locomotive assistant in the 1970’s and I can never remember speed restrictions due to heat. The thing that has changed is the use of continuous welded rail with no expansion joints. In the 1970’s track was in sections with joiners every half a kilometre or more, hence there was room for expansion and contraction. The thinking around long stretches of continuous welded rail is that if the base and ballast holds the track firmly there’ll be no warping of track as temperatures rise. Obviously this methodology is flawed. I’m guessing expansion joints are widely used in Australia and other countries.`

      1. Its not destressed, they are installed in a stressed state to match the length they’ll be at a certain temperature (some temperature a bit less than 40°C). As the track temperature rises above this the rails will start to go into compression and at 40°C (threshold temperature) they’ll be at risk of buckling. Clearly the selected temperature is too low.

        1. That and they use substandard rail. Ours typically have lower loading gauges than overseas, while the actual quality of the metal rail often leaves something to be desired… cheap Chinese rail or reusing older rail again.
          For minimal extra cost if they installed proper heavy loading gauge rail we would have less issues (it’s less liable to warping, is stronger) but also lasts longer and needs less maintenance.

        2. Do you have any proof for all this or are you just blowing hot air? The rail meets all the specifications, it is 50 kg/m which is a standard heavy rail size. Very unlikely old rail is reused on main lines given Kiwirail has ample stocks of new rail.

        3. Yes Anthony is right. Civilised countries use heat or massive jacks to tension the rails before welding them so as they thermally expand they don’t buckle. They design to an operating temperature trading thermal expansion and elasticity. Looks to me like we were better off in the clickety clack days with joints, rather than a half arsed version of continuous welded rails. Tell your friends to drive.

    1. International standard MINIMUM is 52kg/m. 60kg/m Is recommended while tracks that carry freight should ideally be above 64kg/m. Since our lines carry freight (albeit with relatively light loadings by international scale) really they should be installing 60kg/m track.

  3. Realistically, AT should have used the 20 minute timetable until the network settles down and works out all the bugs following the major disruption of the Christmas works. It’s also a reflection of the lack of alternative routes and track capacity, the southern line was fully double tracked by 1931, it’s still only double tracked!

  4. In some places they could plant some trees to shade the lines.
    Shaded areas have 10 degree, or more cooler temperatures

    1. I doubt that’s realistic, considering the solar angle and direction changes not only by time of day, but also by season. Plus you’d need massive-sized trees to shade enough area (I’m not opposed to more tree planting but it’s hardly a fast or priority fix).

      Rail works in countries like Australia’s outback. So surely it is a matter of the right design / installation more than anything – as mentioned in some of the informed-sounding comments above.

        1. And all trees like Hairy Mammals shed leaves and Mammals so Kr will have to purchase equipment to clean the rails as they do in Britains rail

    2. In some places they paint the rail for heat and corrosion, maybe they could get some paint brushes out?
      There is loads of technology to help manage the mismanagement or poor competency to do very basic works.

  5. I think the difference between Auckland and Wellington, is that Wellington have always had a passenger transport network,whereas Auckland’s is relatively “new”. It seems there has always been some resentment by Kiwirail,to accommodating passenger trains in Auckland, I.e,it has been forced upon them,and they have,had to accept it. The CRL only magnifies this.
    We accept adverse operating conditions ,causing serious harm on our roading network,without blinking an eye,but not on rail,is that because,in the event of an incident on the rail network,some one can be held accountable, but an incident on the road network,is just part of life,we just clean up the mess and carry on.

    1. The Wellington incident was an easily fixed bureaucratic and management stuff up. Auckland’s problems are due to major reconstuction and upgrades. There’s really no comparison.

      1. It took three days of disruptions for a ‘Please explain’ invite from parliament when it was Wellington in question.

        Auckland is clearly out-of-sight, out-of-mind. This has been going on for years now. And now we’ve had a prolonged reduction in service in addition the regular summer shutdown and we’re still in the same boat. So at what point does this improve?

        1. I think it is best that Auckland is fully upgraded now before CRL opens, even if it does mean interruptions. Pressure to keep rail running is probably making them take shortcuts, I’m not sure more pressure will help.

        2. The question surely by now is “Are any of these upgrades being executed to the extent we will have a functional rail system when the CRL does actually open?”.

          Or do we now have a boiling frog issue where this is a new normal and this is the kind of service level we’re going to struggle to maintain?

          Other commuter rail networks measure their service delivery in seconds. And here we are with network issues if someone plays “Let the Sunshine In” from Aquarius too loudly.

  6. “…Councillor Richard Hills has been raising similar concerns about the network recently and now he’s got the Mayor involved, who has demanded the CEO’s of Kiwirail, Auckland Transport and One Rail – the company that operates the trains – meet him this week about it….”

    There is the problem. That is four organisations plus central government to make five, they can blame each other and play pass the buck forever.

    1. It all goes back to the corporatisations and privatisations of the 80s and the 90s, the “funder/provider split” and similar other attempts to create artificial markets and competition because of a religious belief that private is always better.

    2. I thought the point of Auckland One Rail was to have representatives from AT and Kiwirail embedded in it so they can co-ordinate better?

  7. I wonder if all this blame game stuff really helps…
    I recall rail lines being shut in the UK due to heat. Granted it was 40 degrees. But I think it is normal for this to happen occasionally, and to my knowledge this is the first time in Auckland. Rail used to shut in the UK due to “leaves on tracks”. It might just be a case of bad timing!

    1. The blame game really doesn’t help.

      Kiwirail need some communications staff to be fronting this issue, rather than trotting out COOs and CEOs who can only talk in railway jargon that the public can’t understand.

      The concepts of continuous welded rail, thermal expansion and pre-stressing are lost on the general public but it must be possible to produce some communications that say “Track we rebuilt have no problem. Track we have not rebuilt have problem. Rebuild more track, have no more problem”

  8. I’m still trying to get my head around these heat issues. It appears that it relates to KiwiRail works which took place over the Christmas maintenance period and certain areas (around 4km of track) which they were not able to do.

    What it’s done is created a huge PR disaster for Auckland Transport.

    1. I listened to Kiwirail’s David Gordon on Morning Report this morning: https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/morningreport/audio/2018925824/auckland-trains-cancelled-after-tracks-too-hot

      You’re right, it appears to be a 4 km section of track that hasn’t yet been ripped up and rebuilt that had the problem yesterday. The sections that have been rebuilt did not have a problem.

      It is a bit of a communications/PR disaster – Kiwirail imposing a speed restriction on 4km out of 200km of track, with AT/AOR cancelling a swathe of services in response.

      The programme of closing and rebuilding large sections of line, while it’s frustrating now, is the right thing to do. It’s good to see some proper investment in the track assets with some forward thinking to enable the intense timetable post-CRL.

  9. The whole manner of dealing with heat restrictions in NZ is complete overkill. Same day it was 35⁰ in Melbourne and trains continued to run, heat restrictions imposed were far less onerous.

    Heat restrictions in NZ have been over the top since the early 2000s, beware the law of unintended consequences. Some well meaning h&s policies have forced a modeshift away from rail to less safe modes (road) which don’t have the same stringent h&s policies.

  10. The uninformed and misinformed public discussion on this situation has become quite disturbing. It looks very much like a coordinated stitch-up is being undertaken against KiwiRail over things beyond their control.

    Certainly track faults and signal faults are their responsibility, and yes there have been too many of them, but not many more than has been usual for years. What has been unusual is the way the network operator has responded to these and other disruptions, and there have been many other disruptions that are nothing to do with KiwiRail. People stepping in front of moving trains, people climbing on structures above the overhead power lines, level crossing barriers damaged by cars, trucks and buses, and many more.

    And then there’s the heat. Let’s be clear – heat restrictions are a completely normal part of modern rail operations. They are applied every year from October to April on sections of track that are not able to be de-stressed to suit the summer temperature range to avoid cracking in the cold or buckling in the heat. A 40km/h restriction applies when track temperature exceeds the local maximum. This is for safety first, but also to avoid far greater disruption or maintenance costs if anything should kick out of alignment, even if to a perfectly safe degree. Currently there are about eight heat restrictions on the Auckland network. That’s totally normal number. Last year there were between 25 and 30 heat restrictions all summer and it didn’t cause the kind of chaos we’ve seen this year. Why not? Because heat restrictions aren’t the problem.

    Conspicuous by their absence from this discussion are the network operators, Auckland One Rail. They are responsible for crewing, fleet control, rostering, scheduling, information displays, security and response to disruptions. All of those things have been in decline since they took over. This year we’ve seen ordinary disruptions turn into all day chaos – track faults fixed in an hour at 7am still being blamed for ongoing delays 12 hours later. And not just once or twice – almost every day. Automated announcements and information displays pumping out the message that it’s all KiwiRail’s fault for many hours after the problem has been fixed.

    That’s the stuff that isn’t normal. It has never been like that in the past. Even very serious incidents usually only lasted as long as the peak period and the off peak period of reduced frequency would almost immediately restore a relatively ordered service. Not anymore. AOR are cancelling whole blocks of trains every morning, well before the track temperature comes up – often before 5am. To say that is to avoid disruption eight hours later and that it’s all KiwiRail’s fault is absurd and quite frankly dishonest.

    It’s the bizarre delay mitigation decisions. It’s the fact that they’re trying to operate with fewer train managers than they had when the EMUs first entered service in 2014. Fifteen percent fewer than the rostered minimum. It’s the turnaround times at terminal stations being cut to the minimum so that there’s no opportunity to recover lost time between services. It’s crew changes in the middle of services meaning trains have to be cancelled when crew haven’t been able to get to the station because their own train was cancelled or delayed. These are the ABC basics of railway operations and they’re being fumbled every day.

    Why has this not been mentioned in the media? It looks very much like AT are shielding AOR and pointing the finger at KiwiRail knowing full well that KiwiRail are public enemy number one right now and quite unable to defend themselves.

    I look forward to the politicians and media bulldogs catching on to this deception and turning their gaze to where it should fall.

    1. Good points you’ve raised. Perhaps no-one actually knows these (if they’re true) because AOR and Kiwirail and AT are particularly poor at communicating what the issue is, and when it is fixed?
      Maybe AOR is a lot worse than Transdev?
      Hopefully more information comes out.

      I remember heat being blamed for cancelled services back in 2001 and 2002 during my university years, that was back when the strand was the city centre station, so it’s not a new problem. But perhaps just another problem on top of so many other problems.

    2. The train driver can open and close the doors. We don’t really need this army of train managers to close the doors, the train can run without them.

      1. You are right about the doors (we could also reduce the absurdly lengthy dwell times while we are at it).

        With that said, I think we do need staff on board as a means of providing security and safety. Auckland homes a large population of ferals who can (and do) cause security issues on board. There is the risk of a train accident (and needing somebody to take charge of a situation; particularly if a driver is injured). Finally, people often suffer medical events while travelling; you need trained first aid responders for these situations as well.

    3. Looked at todays speeds and theres only 6 heats on the wholenetwork nd none of them are on the western line or onehunga line and none north of westfeild. Total distance under heats = 3.4km up for 3 mins delay and 2.3km down for 2 mins delay for southern line. Half that for manukau line trains. AT are talking shit.

    4. This guy rails. Spot on comments.

      I agree, the media reporting and general uneducated views banded around on places like Reddit shows a total lack of understanding of funding arrangments (AT has to pay their fair share of the maintineance cost, but they dont), maintainence practices and Heat amangement.

    5. Almost every peak train I have caught this week on the Western line has been only 3 cars, and absolutely packed. Considering the number of cancelled trains, this makes no sense (especially as we are also in another Covid wave). Who is making these decisions?

    6. “pointing the finger at KiwiRail knowing full well that KiwiRail are public enemy number one right now and quite unable to defend themselves.’

      SOLUTION: KiwiRail could maintain or upgrade their tracks so they don’t have to impose speed limits.

  11. Anyone who is fortunate enough to be able to use the train network, understands how incredibly efficient it is, particularly in peak hours when roads are often more parked than in motion.

    I use all modes of public transport but if there is a train, it will always be my first preference.

    That all of our transport agencies are not focused on the key to addressing the billions of dollars our city loses to gridlock every minute; is horrifying, add the climate benefits of an electrified train service and the lack of investment is borderline suicidal!

    My mother was born into the end of the tram lines that once connected our smaller city, and all of us know how other cities around the world can only function with functional mass transit systems.

    That Tamaki Makaurau continues to wilfully ignore the social, health and financial damage that our car prioritising city is causing its inhabitants; is wrong.

    I grew up with no trains here, and I still find them quite magical; but rail stations with no trains are more common in this land than functioning train stations.

    We spent years pondering light rail and still Mangere might get a little green lane all the way from Onehunga for those on bikes.

    Bikes are good but they are personal transport. Mass transit must be improved, and rail is the only way to guarantee fast, efficient movement; that will then justify its existence to us JAFAs!

    We are superior beings, we live in the only place that is almost a city in this motu, and we deserve a world-class metropolitan rail spiderweb!

  12. KR keeps doing a shit job. There are myriad excuses, yet the failings get worse every year. It’s not suitable for our largest city and our capital – or the other conflicts with councils from Waikato to Dunedin.

    They can’t do the job, needs to be split into the SOE KR that runs the freight/tourist trains etc. for profit, and an Ontrack 2.0 that manages the tracks. Removes the conflicts of interest re track access, removes the conflicts of profit vs track maintenance, and stops the whole KR being unprofitable arguments against rail, plus allows competition when KR inevitably becomes monopolistic.

    KR would make its profit as normal, and pay track access charges to Ontrack 2.0. Without the rail network, they should be profitable as they seem to be normally. Apart from the possibility of competitors, there would be little change to the business side.

    The Ontrack 2.0 side would make its money from track access fees and leasing out the vast property portfolio (as well as gov funding, but that’s less reliable). They’d pick who can access the network when, and their KPIs would be on the reliability of the network. They’d manage the competing demands of local, regional trains, maintenance, and KR freight and potential competitors freight (if a company like Fonterra wants to run its own trains if KR is asking too much). Ontrack 2.0 wouldn’t be a profit motivated SOE, but more like NZTA.

    Interislander would be split too, with oversight from the Comcom (as its crucial to the rail network, so needs oversight to ensure the pricing/availability of the rail slots doesn’t negatively affect users). Whether it’s owned by the gov as a SOE, or still under KR ownership but independent it’s dealers choice.

  13. Boomers have, over their selfish lifetimes, utterly run down this country.

    Never has so much been give to so many with so little offered in return.

    1. Are you suggesting boomers have deliberately run down the country since they started entering the workforce in the 1960s? Kindly stop using the roads, railways, power and broadband systems created and paid for by the boomers.

      1. Stop being so prickly, Boomers (the attitude, not the age) have voted for successive governments that have failed to invest sufficiently in infrastructure and productive enterprises.
        We are seeing this in transport, electricity supply, water etc. Meanwhile population growth through liberal immigration settings ensure growth in nominal GDP, even though per capita is stalled.
        Yes, “boomers” like these policies.

        1. I am a pensioner. I loathe and detest these policies. DO NOT have the temerity to speak for me…but BTW I want to start a French-style left wing party. The kind where cars are burnt on the streets. Would you like to join?
          Viva la Revolution!

      2. Lol you can keep your traffic inducing 6 lane motorways old fella.

        Will you, by that logic, avoid our hospitals and retirement homes. Staffed, funded and increasingly having to be rebuilt by mine.

        I’d like to see more of your generation cut expenses actually!

  14. Auckland Transport seem to be overreacting to make the situation look worse than it actually is.

    The AT app has all sorts of warnings about significant delays and cancelations, when in reality maybe 1 train out of 6 is being cancelled on each line. Auckland has dealt with far worse cancelations before.

    The issue definitely seems to lie with AOR and staffing, yet AT are trying to push all the blame onto KR. There were at least 10 train drivers/managers sitting around at Britomart yesterday, I’ve never seen that before.

  15. How much of this is AT playing silly b*****s. 40km/h restriction on 4km of track. So if a train can maintain 40km/hr on that section it will take around 6minutes to traverse, as opposed to approximately 3 minutes. If KiwiRail insist that this is the only restricted bit, then 3 minutes delay doesn’t even affect ontime ratings, and they are cancelling a bunch of trains? And this assumes that there are no stations in the 4km. If there are then the delay will be even less.

    What politics are going on here. Who is telling porkies.

  16. It’s like something out of Fawlty Towers

    I reckon there’s a couple of seasons of material should a comedy show be aired with the main protagonists being Auckland Transport and Kiwirail!

  17. This is not news. Hot weather, track issues. It will soon be cooler again and the from what I’ve seen they still run a 20 min frequency at least through the peak. This is the putty frequency anyway for off-peak which a lot of us use. In fact it’s the biggest bug bear of mine that at night etc we have 30 min frequencies on our core network that the new bus network is meant to integrate with. Took a child to a concert Sunday night via the train but to get home apart from the last service replaced by bus to Newmarket that it only ran to around 10:30pm anyway. I knew this and planned and used the frequent Tamaki Link and then the last! 74, the latter reduced to 30 mins by that time.
    What I noticed out and about the last couple of days is the early “March Madness” is kicking in, a bit of bad press on the rail though and many have perhaps shifted to car travel so let’s all not overact to this.

  18. Does a train damage to the lines in hot weather and the weight of the train cause the lines to compress and flatten? If the train moves slower is the downwards force less than if the train moves faster!
    So a train full of passengers is going to do more damage than a train half full.
    Do half the number of trains reduce the damage to the steel?
    Is the reason Kiwi Rail can’t have all the trains running at reduced speeds because of signal problems?

    1. Just like a car cornering at speed or heavily braking puts a lot of load on the tyres and tarmac. Not downwards force, but sideways force. So does a train put force into the track. If the rails, sleepers or ballast are at less than ideal condition/alignment, ordinary forces at ordinary speeds can be enough to threaten the lateral stability of the track. Lower speeds are the easiest way to eliminate the risk without stopping trains to correct the fault.

      Passenger load is only a small fraction of the total train load and even a full train is well below the normal rated capacity of the track.

      Reducing the frequency of trains is about making space to keep trains moving and get them out of each others way. Just like automotive gridlock, when trains have to stop and wait, it takes a lot longer to get things moving again than if there were fewer trains on the network to begin with.

  19. Perhaps the previous government should have focussed a lot more on Auckland’s heavy rail network as opposed to a pie in the sky light rail project of questionable merit.

    1. What are you smoking? They did!

      Accelerated and expanded CRL spec. Third Main project. Pukekohe electrification and total station rebuild. Fifteen additional EMUs. Wiri depot expansion started. Three new stations started on the southern line. Westfield Junction upgraded. Complete rebuild of the Auckland network from the bedrock up for the first time since it was laid, 2/3 stages complete and free of speed restrictions.

      Auckland hasn’t seen that kind of focus on its rail network in a hundred years.

  20. Auckland train issues made the news 2 days in a row. Same issues for a 3rd day and no mention of it in the news.

    I’m on the 438 Eastern Line train that left Britomart right on time, yet the AT app says the train is severely delayed and isn’t leaving for another 12 minutes

  21. The Auckland Trams back in1907 had a method of keeping their Rails Cool , so why in this day and age why can’t both AT & Kiwi Rail do the same or is this too had for their over paid management ;-

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