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Auckland train network reliability in question with CRL on horizon

Commuters wait to board a south-bound train. A new timetable at the end of the year is expected to boost weekend services.

Today at least 19 trains were cancelled during peak hour due to speed restrictions caused by overheated tracks.
Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

Auckland Transport is concerned the problems causing the city’s train disruption will not be fixed before construction on the underground metro is finished next year.

City Rail Link (CRL) is designed to link with existing trains and buses in the city’s public transport network. It has a November 2023 deadline – although the project’s boss said in December 2023 there was no guarantee that would be met.

Today at least 19 trains were cancelled during peak hours due to speed restrictions caused by overheated tracks.

Yesterday 80 trains were cancelled due to speed restrictions caused by a signalling problem and overheated tracks, crew shortages and an alarm being activated on a train.

Auckland Transport public transport director Stacey van der Putten said the problems causing the disruption were not a quick fix.

“We do have concerns that come CRL we’re not going to have that reliability in the network to run CRL and integrate it into the network, that’s what needs to be resolved here.”

She said there was a cumulative impact on the network of known faults and the speed restrictions imposed due to heat “amplifies problems in the timetable”.

“We have pretty good working relationship with KiwiRail, can things be better yes absolutely. I think there’s a broader issue here … about the reliability of our network,” van der Putten said.

“It’s our role as AT to advocate to make sure Aucklanders have what they need in their transport system. Part of that, when we have issues across our network that actually is out of our control we need to do better in terms of trying to get those fixed for Aucklanders.”

After yesterday’s cancellations, Auckland mayor Wayne Brown described the situation as an “omnishambles”.

“It’s a new word, it’s a good one, but I haven’t heard it before,” van der Putten said.

“These things can be approached better. I think what yesterday resulted in was an amplification of our customer voice over repeated frustrations. We had an overwhelming influx of queries about these things because our customers’ patience has just gone.”

She said since January, 15 percent of the 500 train services each day were regularly cancelled for a variety of reasons.

Yesterday’s heat caused just over a quarter of the 80 cancellations – representing 15 percent of total trains running.

AT said 30 cancellations related to speed restrictions in part caused by the Britomart signalling issue, 24 cancellations related to heat speed restrictions, 15 cancellations related to a temporary train manager shortage and 11 cancellations related to a passenger alarm being activated.

‘Aucklanders have had enough’

Newmarket Business Association chief executive Mark Knoff-Thomas told Checkpoint it was “just frustrating”.

“I do have some sympathy for Auckland Transport in all of this because they’re the ones delivering the service … but the infrastructure itself at the moment is not really fit for purpose.”

He said it was vital that people had reliable public transport options to get around town centres and boost the economy.

“The biggest challenge right now is credibility. Auckland’s transport system is losing credibility at a rate of knots. People don’t have the confidence that they’ll be able to go to a train station and be able to get home on time or when they plan to. It’s too difficult to plan when they’re going to arrive to work or when they can get home … it’s very hard and it’s eroding credibility.

“All it’s going to do is force more people to take their private vehicles to work.”

Knoff-Thomas said of the 19 trains cancelled today, 15 directly impacted Newmarket.

And the possibility of the disruption continuing was “concerning”, he said.

“Aucklanders have been patient for quite a long period of time as the CRL build has been going under way. Mt Eden station has been closed for a period of time, there’s been roadworks all over the city, roads closed off, big interruptions to the city centre and the train timetable has been a bit of Russian Roulette to see what’s going to happen.

“All in all, Aucklanders have had enough and they want to have some confidence that going forward they’re going to be able to rely on a public transport which is there when they need it.”

He said KiwiRail needed to be held to account.

“The fact that it was 25C yesterday and the tracks overheated, I know they got to 40C or whatever it was. I’m quite sure there are many railway services in many countries in many parts of the world with much hotter climates than Auckland that are able to maintain some sort of railway service.”

Knoff-Thomas said for a while public transport was “ramping up pre-Covid” but since those days it had “unravelled pretty quickly”.

All parties involved needed to put in more effort in convincing people that the network was reliable, “only if of course the network is going to be reliable”.


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