Auckland’s rail operators promise city’s trains will run more smoothly

Auckland’s rail operators are promising the city’s trains will run more smoothly, with a new control centre providing hope there will be no repeat of January’s commuter train chaos.

The centre will put staff from One Rail, KiwiRail and Auckland Transport into one office and aims to provide a speedier response to faults on the rail network.

Executives say it is part of a big picture of upgrading Auckland’s rail network, which is set to significantly change once the city rail link goes live.

But a cloud is hovering over the project, with the cost of KiwiRail’s Rail Network rebuild blowing out, and millions of dollars more needed to complete the network rebuild.

New control centre makes for more proactive responses

Transport Minister Simeon Brown opened the brand new control centre in Ellerslie on Thursday.

Staff will be moving in next week, and it is set to begin operating on 23 March.

“Aucklanders are sick and tired of the blame games when it comes to what the problems are that need to be fixed. And what the means is having a centre like this is the first step in meaning that Aucklanders get a more reliable service,” Simeon Brown said.

He was referring to the disruptions to Auckland’s rail network last month – with up to 78 trains cancelled in a single day, because of heat restrictions.

It meant trains between Ōtāhuhu and Papakura had to slow down, causing a domino effect on services.

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown would not let the rail executives forget the problem.

“Auckland Transport, KiwiRail, Auckland One Rail – it’s nice to have you here at a positive thing. Last time we met it was the headmasters room when I barked at them over the problems with the heat,” he said.

“Amazing how that got fixed.”

Brown said that conversation had made a difference.

“Well, a couple of leaders have already said to me when I barked at them in one room it did make a difference.”

The train control centre has been in the works since 2020, and Auckland One Rail chief executive Martin Kearney said it would change the way network problems are dealt with.

“As an incident happens on a railway, the customer information will be immediate. We’ll know exactly what’s happening, and we’ll be able to communicate that straight away, providing our customers information for their journeys.”

Auckland Transport group manager of public transport and active modes Stacey Van Der Putten said it would ease disruptions across the entire transport network.

“If we’re looking at it from a network perspective, because that’s the biggest knock on effect we see with any train disruptions, then the team can see in real time where the busses are, and can divert them to where they need to be.”

Rail funding review

At the opening, Simeon Brown announced a review of the metropolitan rail operating model, which has not been updated since 2009.

He said rail had grown in scale and complexity.

“Since then, what commuters and what the public expect from metropolitan rail has changed, the needs of the system have increased, and it’s important that we have a review to ensure that we have a sustainable funding model, including a user pays approach, which means that commuters, ultimately, get the service that they deserve.”

Decisions from a review would be made by the end of the year, he said.

More funding needed to finish the job

With the opening of the City Rail Link – the double-track rail tunnel being built underneath central Auckland – in 2026, trains will move across multiple lines throughout the entire network, KiwiRail’s chief capital planning and asset development officer David Gordon explained.

That means KiwiRail has to get the tracks up to standard – and that is focus of its Auckland-wide rail network rebuild.

But there is a shadow over the project.

There has been $330 million already spent, and another $150m is needed to finish the job by the end of the year.

Gordon said that funding was currently unaccounted for – but he was confident it would be secured.

“I read the draft GPS, it’s got what I would call a pretty encouraging statement… what it says, is the government’s focus and priority in transport is ensuring readiness for City Rail link.”

If the shortfall is not found, Auckland Transport chief executive Dean Compton said it would have an impact on how well the rail system was able to integrate.

“There will be an impact on the post go-live level of service and customer and experience, if you’re having to maintain more often, the things that you could have fixed before.”

With increased patronage over time, combined with the City Rail Link, Compton said upwards of 40m passengers were expected across the rail network from 2030.

That is a big jump from the nearly 13m rail trips taken last year – and a lot of pressure on the new control centre to make sure services run more smoothly in the future.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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