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Auckland Transport lashes out at KiwiRail over track 'heat' issues

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 12 Feb 2024, 1:57pm
(Photo: NZ Herald)
(Photo: NZ Herald)

Auckland Transport lashes out at KiwiRail over track 'heat' issues

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 12 Feb 2024, 1:57pm

Auckland Transport (AT) has lashed out at KiwiRail after trains across Auckland are being cancelled this afternoon and during the evening rush hour due to the “heat”.

In a statement this afternoon, AT’s director of public transport Stacey van der Putten said it was “enormously disappointing” that they had to cancel services today because of speed restrictions put in place by KiwiRail on the 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,” she said.

The train lines would be affected from 1pm to 8pm.

The cancelled trips include eight on the Southern Line from 3pm between Britomart and Papakura, five on the Eastern Line between Manukau and Britomart and four on the Western Line between Swanson and Britomart.

“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,” said van der Putten.

She said the issues affecting the network today have been “decades in the making” and will take renewed investment and commitment to ensure Auckland has a reliable rail network in time for City Rail Link (CRL).

“Aucklanders deserve better than a passenger rail network that can’t run at capacity on a mildly warm summer day,” van der Putten said.

A spokesman from KiwiRail said the heat causes the steel in the rail lines to move if the trains pass over them too quickly.

This means trains must go a lot slower in hot conditions. Trains are often cancelled to prevent a major backlog, he said.

Commuters from downtown Auckland facing major delays and cancellations of train services vented their frustration with being stopped from getting home.

“I looked at the [timetable] noticeboard and saw all the cancellations and thought, ‘typical’,” one disgruntled commuter told the Herald.

She was crowded onto a platform with about 200 others. The next service due at that platform was cancelled. Constant announcements over the pubic address system advised of further delays to other services.

“It is a bit annoying. We wanted to beat the crowd [so left work early], but now we’re part of the crowd,” she said.

Another commuter, waiting for a cancelled Eastern Line train, said he couldn’t understand the disruption given services on that line had only just resumed after months of track improvements.

“I’m not happy,” he said, glaring at the Herald as he spoke.

“I’ve been waiting nine months for the [Eastern Line] train to return to service. Well, there’s been no improvement,” he said.

One woman waiting at a platform laughed when the Herald asked for her comment on the delays she faced.

“It’s just so frustrating. This is such an inconvenience. I have children at home I have to get back to,” she said.

Some people were blase, one saying “it is what it is”.

One woman, who was not too put out by the delays, was concerned about the crowd on the first train that would arrive after the string of cancellations.

One man simply told the Herald: “It [the service] must get better. I hope they improve their service.”

Auckland City councillor Richard Hills said on social media: “As I said last week I have serious concerns about Kiwirail’s performance for Auckland. Another day, another excuse. Signal faults, crew issues, operational constraints & now heat? It was hotter last week?”

Hills added: “I hope the minister is working on this? Am asking mayor to contact him.”

Speaking to NZME, Hills said he would hate to think it was an excuse, but it feels like another thing to add to the long list of issues that have “popped up” over the last few weeks.

“It’s a very strange announcement to sort of come out of the blue and delay or cancel trains for so many people,” he said.

The excuse of heat, Hills said, was “ludicrous”.

He said people were feeling less certain about rail when it is supposed to be one of Auckland’s most efficient transport modes, especially with all the investment that had gone into it recently.

“This announcement happened almost instantly when the delays and cancellations were going to happen so it doesn’t give people much time to plan or change plans,” Hills said.

Auckland Transport had shared similar concerns as him regarding the recent performance of KiwiRail, Hills said.

“Especially since we’ve had some major upgrades and closures on the network, Aucklanders would expect coming back to those rail lines that they would be in far better shape and working order,” he said.

WeatherWatch’s X (Twitter) account simply posted the reaction “Huh?!” to the cancellation announcement.

At 1pm, it was 23C in Auckland and the temperature peaked at 3pm with 25C.

It comes as AT warns we are quickly approaching the busiest time of year for public transport use in Auckland.

KiwiRail general manager for metros Jon Knight said temporary speed restrictions are put in place once the steel rails reach 40C and are lifted once the track drops below this temperature.

“It means that trains have to travel slower over these areas, due to the risk the track may have been misaligned by the high temperatures expanding the rail length. It is critical we apply these speed restrictions, so that passenger trains can continue running safely.

“We have had high temperatures on the network and heat restrictions in different areas for most of the last three weeks. In Auckland today heat restrictions are primarily on the Southern Line between Ōtāhuhu and Papakura. For example, the track around Ōtāhuhu has reached temperatures of 48 degrees today. We believe these restrictions add about 5 minutes to service journey times.”

Heat on the track is not directly related to air temperature, Knight explained, adding the steels rails get hotter than the air.

“Also, if there have been warm nights, the rail may not cool enough from the previous day. Temporary speed restrictions can have a cumulative effect on services and, to maintain schedule integrity, some services can be cancelled. This is a decision for the metro operator. Other factors, like the availability of train crews can contribute to decisions about cancelling services.

“At the earliest opportunity, predominantly in the evenings during high temperature periods, KiwiRail’s maintenance crews carry out any repairs to the track that may be required to ensure timetabled services for passengers.”

AT group manager growth and optimisation, Richard Harrison, said more people use Auckland’s transport network from the middle of February until early April than any other time of year.

AT anticipates there will be about two million trips each week on the city’s buses, trains and ferries.

“This is the highest public transport usage we’ve seen since before Covid-19,” he said.

Harrison said the morning and mid-to-late afternoon is when the transport network is at its busiest and it could take longer to get around.

“We’re encouraging Aucklanders to mix their go and try different ways of getting around,” Harrison said.

“There are so many ways to get around our city, and though these next couple of months will be busy, AT is committed to keeping Auckland moving.”

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