Last week Transport Minster Simeon Brown and Mayor Wayne Brown opened the new Auckland Rail Operations Centre.

The new train control centre will see teams from KiwiRail, Auckland Transport and Auckland One Rail working more closely together to improve train services across the city.

The Auckland Rail Operations Centre in Ellerslie was opened today by Transport Minister Simeon Brown and will begin operating on 23 March.

KiwiRail Chief Executive Peter Reidy says the opening of the new centre is a key milestone toward delivering more reliable and frequent train services for Aucklanders.

“KiwiRail is two thirds of the way through a massive upgrade of the Auckland metro network, as we prepare it to safely handle the more frequent trains that will come when the City Rail Link opens.

“The Auckland Rail Operations Centre is an important part of that work. It is needed to successfully manage the greater operational complexity to come and ensure the smooth running of services.

“The centre has an excellent resilience profile but importantly it will see the right KiwiRail, Auckland Transport and Auckland One Rail (who operate metro trains) teams together in the same space.

“It will combine our train control and infrastructure planning teams, AoR’s stations’ control centre, train crewing and customer communications teams and AT’s transport coordinators, who link into Auckland’s bus and ferry services.”

“It means all the right people will be able to work closely together and better manage any disruptions for the benefit of commuters.”

This centre has been long needed to help manage Auckland’s rail network and I recall Auckland Transport expressing a need for it many years ago. The need for it has been particularly apparent when we’ve had issues, such as power outages in Wellington,  grinding trains to a halt here. Even without faults, it’s often apparent that the existing setup has led to poor outcomes for passengers. This is especially noticeable on the Western line where passengers were often delayed at Newmarket for up to 10 minutes to wait for a late Southern Line train because train controllers couldn’t be bothered with the manual paperwork needed to proactively respond to the situation.

Image from 1News

As Kiwirail also note above, this is one of the components in the wider network upgrades we’re seeing, noting that combined with the City Rail Link, more than $7 billion is being invested in the network and enable 50% more passenger journeys with a target of reaching 29 million annual journeys by 2030 – we reached 22 million prior to COVID.

Most of the information in here has been fairly well covered in the past but one thing that did stand out is confirmation that new crossovers would be installed at Meadowbank, Sylvia Park and Fruitvale. The need for additional crossovers, was highlighted in late 2022 when subsidence just west of New Lynn resulted in significant disruption with trains only running every 30 minutes at peak time because trains had to run all the way from New Lynn to Henderson on a single track.

The other one is the suggestion that the upgrade of Henderson will start soon. This is part of the wider CRL upgrades and was confirmed by council last year, though we’ve argued that Swanson should have been upgraded instead. Also, as reader J noted last week on my post about lift breakdowns, the upgrade isn’t going to do much to improve access. We wouldn’t want to make it easy for people to access stations now would we.

The lifts and escalators at Henderson are about to be fully replaced later this year and these issues (in this location) will be sorted for good. The escalators in particular were never designed to be outdoors (they are indoor escalators) so the frequent failure is as a result of weather damage.

Also – the planned station upgrade will have an Overbridge at the south end for emergency use only (it’ll be locked otherwise). Access will still only be via the North end escalators/lifts.

One thing I do find weird is the comment around four-tracking Papakura to Pukekohe. It seems like getting a third track from Puhinui to Papakura and even a fourth track on the Wiri to Westfield section (currently just getting a third track) would be much more of a priority than the Papakura to Pukekohe section.

Kiwirail also confirmed recently that the rail network rebuild work won’t include west of New Lynn due to a lack of funding

KiwiRail is in discussions with government about further funding to complete the Rail Network Rebuild in Auckland, such as the Western Line north west of New Lynn and further foundation replacement work on the Southern Line south of Ōtāhuhu.

Last week the Herald reported that they need an additional $150 million for that work.

KiwiRail says it needs a further $150 million to finish the rail network rebuild in Auckland – taking the cost of the project to $550m.

Full replacement of railway foundations, tracks and sleepers over the entire network to bring it up to standard ahead of the opening of the City Rail Link (CRL) was budgeted to cost $330m.

But last week it emerged KiwiRail chewed through this budget doing work on the eastern line tracks, which was stage two of the project, and received $75m from NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi to do the western lines from Newmarket to New Lynn.

KiwiRail’s Dave Gordon, who oversees capital projects, said today about $150m was still needed to finish the job, adding the money was not currently funded.

Given the government’s rhetoric around rail needing to pay for itself (while roads don’t), it’s hard to see them stumping up with that. Likely related to that, as part of the opening, the Minister also announced that the government were reviewing how rail operates.

“While some of the issues are about coordination, others relate to the operating model for metropolitan rail. Because of this, the Government will also be reviewing the Metropolitan Rail Operating Model (MROM) to improve metro rail services in Auckland and Wellington.

“The MROM hasn’t been updated in nearly 15 years, and metro rail has grown in scale and complexity over that time. Rail passengers are frankly fed up with the blame game of who is at fault, they just want a reliable service that turns up on time.

“Reviewing the MROM will allow us to develop a more sustainable funding model, including who pays for what, and ensure the services and infrastructure is more focused on delivering a reliable service for passengers.

There’s certainly a need for a review here. My concern is that it will see a lot more of the costs for this nationally strategic infrastructure pushed on to Auckland (and Wellington) councils and then to passengers by way of higher fares.

I’m also hearing a concern from some in the industry that this could lead to the metro networks being split off from Kiwirail, possibly as a precursor to shutting most of the national network down. This is despite estimates that rail provides around $1.7-$2.14 billion of economic benefits to NZ every year.

The real question with all of these upgrades and changes, will we as passengers actually see the improvement promised?

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    1. That government policy statement does not mention closing railway lines. It states that the investment focus will be the North Island Main Trunk between Britomart and Frankton and the East Coast Main Trunk between Frankton and Tauranga, but this does not mean that other lines will be closed.

      1. Sometimes it is what is not said that means the most. The GPS pretty much indicates that KiwiRail under this Government can expect its track maintenance means to fall to as low as $20m. Peter Reidy has already indicated that to keep approximately the status quo, the network needs $120m. So where is the money coming from?

      2. The government would never “force” Kiwirail to do anything specific. But strangling their budget and directing specific investments towards certain parts of the rail network would effectively mean kiwirail would have to mothball lines

        1. Shane Jones was something of a defender of Kiwirail in the last coalition govt. He got a number of rail upgrades funded. Perhaps he’ll do the same again.

  1. Why is it listed as Stage 3B Rail Network Rebuild: Pukekohe – Puhinui. KR are not going to rip up the nice new tracks between Pukekohe and Papakura to complete foundation works? And you all know what my next question is going to be ……..!

    1. Who says all the track is “nice and new”? It’s still mostly single line running at low speed on that section.

      1. Last time I travelled on the soon to be history Te Huia it looked like the Pukekohe to Papakura was a complete rebuild.

        1. It is not a complete rebuild and nothing close to it.
          P2P does not include new tracks.

        2. Kris , middle of June there will be a review done by the Waikato Councils that run it , and then it goes to NZTA for their approval ? , and then handed over to Simpleton Brown for him to read if he can understand all the contents of it .
          And who knows after that .

    2. Kiwirail have just confirmed they’re keeping the line closed till mid-jan to do the rebuild works after they finish electrification.
      They also claim electrification is on time for the end of the year even though it was meant to be done by mid year

      1. Yes, latest “rail network update” email just got tonight says:

        RNR between Pukekohe and Papakura from Mid May
        KiwiRail will start replacing the foundations under the tracks between Pukekohe and Papakura in May 2024.
        This part of the Southern Line is currently closed for electrification. RNR will delay the reopening by approximately one month, to mid-January 2025.

        Quite a lot in the email but also great to see:

        Western Line trains return to their normal frequency on Monday 29 April
        Trains will run:
        Every 10 minutes at peak commuting times on weekdays;
        Every 20 minutes in the middle of the day on weekdays and all day on weekends; and
        Every 30 minutes in the evening (from around 8:30pm).

  2. I think it should be on peoples radar that Simon Bridges (now chair of NZTA) blocked OIA on the Auckland’s third rail main economic study when he was transport minister as he thought the benefits were exaggerated. I don’t think many rail projects will be receiving NZTZ funding any time soon.

    1. Simon Bridges was a Tauranga based MP. He is now chair of the Auckland Business Chamber and as you note NZTA. Apparently he moved his family here, to the big smoke; so perhaps he will change his opinion based on the realities of living in our biggest town?

      Unfounded hopefulness I know; but people have been known to change their opinion; apparently it is known as intellectual humility!

      Bah humbug uncertainties

      1. I optimistically hope your right. City living hopefully opens his eyes to the simple fact, you can’t fit more roads in Auckland without huge cost.

      2. Simon Bridges was a National MP before the very essence of the party became, apparently, fiscal responsibility. (I think that was last Thursday, the day after the government announced subsidised skiing holidays at both Whakapapa and Turoa.)

        Those with good memories will remember his mindless plan to build 10 bridges across Northland. They were at places that most of us had never heard of; and if we had heard of them, we had certainly never visited them; and more importantly never intended to visit them. I suspect that the most frequent users of those bridges would have been wandering stock.

        Unfortunately what politicians do is largely determined by what is popular. National will build heaps of roads because 80% of journeys are by car. Their voters drive. (Or fly. Will Shane Jones continue to be a climate change wrecking ball by facilitating the building of regional airports even though the only part of their operation that might stack up economically is the vending machine in the terminal?) Their voters won’t be overly concerned about congestion charges because they will predominantly be the ones who will enjoy the largest tax cuts, to enable them to afford the charges.

        And paying for overseas carbon credits because NZ fails to achieve its emission reduction targets? Fortunately, very few understand the scam by which money will flow from NZ to “carbon reducing” projects somewhere else.

        1. Those “subsidised ski holidays” as you put it are a bargain for the government.
          Ruapehu is in an economically deprived area. The ski industry pumps around $100m into the region every year. The taxes alone from this and associated business/employment are tens of millions each year.
          Then to top it off the costs of having to pay more in unemployment benefits if the mountain went bust far outweigh the government contributions by themselves.
          Furthermore, by keeping domestic skiers at Ruapehu rather than overwhelming the South Island resorts allows those South Island resorts to bring in overseas skiers (which generate much higher revenues and contribute positively to the nations balance of payments).

        2. I worked three years on Turoa. A huge proportion of the workforce was imported labour. A job that lasts only about 4 months of the year is of little help to the locals. Consequently, much of the wages earned left with the workforce, as they returned to Australia, Austria, Canada, the States etc.
          The revenue from the skiers ended up in only a few locals hands: ski shops, restaurants, takeaways etc. Some of those struggled. Even Johny Nations (the former home of NZ’s best chocolate eclair) only chose to operate during the ski season.
          These skifields are hugely damaging to our environment with almost every skier arriving by car or SUV. Is the gst collected sufficient to even maintain those roads?
          But the real kicker is that the skifields are doomed. Back when Turoa was built by AHI 40 odd years ago, it was constructed on that side of the mountain because of concerns about the volume of snow on the other side. So it has proved.
          Do a little google searching. Read about RAL’s debts of $40m. Or of Stuart Nash saying, enough’s enough to prop up the skifields. Read the NIWA report.
          Sadly these skifields time is up. But all is not lost. They have a main trunk line rail station. People could visit for mountain biking and other adventure tourism. If only there were trains.

        3. Congratulations, 3 years must make you an expert… or bitter………

          There certainly are some part truths in your comments.
          Yes there are a lot of foreign workers on the mountain. Foreign workers who aren’t trying to save money who spend it in the local area.
          There are a lot of locals that work up there too (particularly a lot of Maori who otherwise might not have great job prospects in the region).
          Whilst a lot of businesses are geared up for ski season, most still operate year round (the likes of TCB does just as much business from bike hire/tours etc). A lot if those businesses are marginal most of the year and rely on the ski season boom to make the whole year worthwhile. Those people of course then support other businesses and jobs in the area.

          The actual operations themselves are pretty much low carbon (lifts run on electricity etc, only really the groomers that use diesel). Yes plenty of cars, but no different than any other holiday destination and arguably better since the majority have 3 or more people per car.
          The cost of the road maintenance is well and truely covered by the resort, rates, fuel tax and government contribution from general tax (which I have already explained adds net millions to the government coffers).
          From an environmental perspective it would be great if we did have regional rail to allow people to avoid those travel emissions. People I know used to catch the evening train from Auckland arriving in Ohakune around midnight which allowed a good 6 hours in bed (plus whatever you got in the train) before catching a ride/bus up the mountain.

          You premise on why AHI developed Turoa is incorrect and snowline/global warning wasn’t even a consideration back then. It was actually developed because the Parks Board (pre DoC) wanted to develop that side of the mountain so that more people could access the National Park for outdoor activities and to help develop the local economy after the decline of the former railway town in the preceding decades.
          Originally they were going to develop Tukino but poor access, less snow, no town were factors against Tukino.

          As for RALs debts and government funding, the only reason why they had a big debt to start with was because the government wanted to boost tourism further with a gondola and gave RAL a loan. From there it never had a chance to operate the gondola to its potential due to 2 years of COVID ruining those seasons and piling on more debt. Finally this was followed by the worse snow season on record which broke the back.
          Since all of this, the government has shown remarkable levels of ineptitude and RAL has had to pay out millions to consultants and administrators draining its accounts further. The government simply could have wiped the debt from the get go and it would have cost less than it has and would be much more effective.

  3. What is old is new. I recall a time when all rail movements were coordinated by – The NZ Railways. A concern who did all the work and on train tracks, maintained all the rolling stock and supplied the staff to run it. Albeit not always efficient, we never had this type of poppy cock about needing to get three concerns together to run a train network. You had all concerns located in one building with an inate ability to walk down some stairs or pick up a phone and work the issues through. Rail has always been a political football and all this “great” celebration says to me is the new model didnt work and lets revert to what used to be in place. It infuriates me that we didnt stream line the one stop shop package we used to have however what do I know? – I do not have a series of letters after my name and my QBE (Qualified By Experience) is not readily recognised easily.

    1. “I recall a time when all rail movements were coordinated by – The NZ Railways’

      NZ Railways also had a reputation for “misplacing” entire rakes of wagons on their way from Panmure to Wellington, that often contained several loads of F&P fridges that had been manufactured at the F&P Mt Wellington factory. When the misplaced wagons were found, they were empty.

    2. Those rail movements never coordinated with suburban buses and ferries though. The reality is unless an organisation such as AT ran the countries’ rail network there will always be multiple interests.

  4. Who buggered the train set?
    Heavy freight rail:
    Not the hint of even one single complaint.
    Westport to Reefton to Greymouth to Hokitika To Christchurch railway,recall the days of thundering whistle blowing freight and passenger trains.
    The Reefton and Otira railway stations are pretty much intact.
    God help us if these lunatics ever get their hands on that.
    Squandering money in the railways like ye olde Ministry of Works,is of historical legend.
    The carcases of those epic steam engines were designated ballast and river protection.
    Down the side of the bank at Omoto,at grey River.,and the Otira Tunnel, mouth Otira..
    My grandfather Martin Ambrose Clancy was in the construction team that punched a hole under the Southern Alps to make the tunnel.
    Most of the weatherboard houses in Auckland are built from Westland stands of Rimu,carried by train and Union Steamship vessels.
    Auckland’s very survival was saved twice by the Thames gold bonanza.

  5. Here’s some questions if a crossover is installed between tracks on a double track line do the tracks need to be shifted or can the original alignment be kept. After the crossover has being installed will trains need to slow if it is not changing tracks or only if it is crossing over. Can line speed could be maintained whether or not the train needs to cross over.

    1. Be interesting to know. I know they called the new Sylvia Park one a “highspeed crossover” so maybe that means keep the speed on.

    2. They won’t need to realign of the mainline tracks so trains will be able to maintain their regular speeds.

    3. Opposite Boston Rd they put a set in for when the line was down to a single track while they were building sections of the CRL , and the whole lot was made in a paddock in Mt Roskill then trucked there and fitted on a BoL weekend . And they could do the same for the ones they need on the Western line .

      Why weren’t they put in when the Line was Doubled Tracked all those years back ?

    1. Land is cheaper?
      Existing corridor is wide enough?
      No stations to rebuild to have 4 tracks?

      I’m just guessing, but those could be 3 potential reasons.

    2. Eventually that section will need 6 tracks, with 2 local passenger, 2 freight, and 2 interregional (not that the interregional tracks will be needed anytime soon given Te Huia).

      The insane bit is that Wiri to Westfield will need 8 or even more, with 4 local passenger (Eastern and Southern lines), 2 interregional, and 2+ freight (depending on how the inland ports/Avondale-Southdown freight routes add up)

  6. The crossovers at Medowbank and Sylvia Park were installed during the Eastern Line upgrade. They will be commissioned when the CRL is completed.

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