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Buses to replace Wellington trains most weekends for next '10 to 15 years'

Author
Azaria Howell,
Publish Date
Mon, 26 Feb 2024, 7:50AM
Greater Wellington Regional Council chair Thomas Nash said the council expects it will take "some time" to bring rail tracks up to standard, which needs to be done when the tracks are closed. Photo / File
Greater Wellington Regional Council chair Thomas Nash said the council expects it will take "some time" to bring rail tracks up to standard, which needs to be done when the tracks are closed. Photo / File

Buses to replace Wellington trains most weekends for next '10 to 15 years'

Author
Azaria Howell,
Publish Date
Mon, 26 Feb 2024, 7:50AM

The Wellington region’s practice of replacing trains with buses on maintenance days is expected to be the norm for at least a decade, as the region works through a renewals backlog.

Buses replace trains during maintenance and renewal work, often on weekends and holiday periods and in evenings.

Metlink’s Fiona Abbott told a Greater Wellington Regional Council Transport Committee meeting Metlink is going to require bus replacements for trains “as part of our service offering for the foreseeable future.

“That timeframe that we’re talking about to rectify all the issues is 10 to 15 years,” Abbott told the committee.

Greater Wellington Regional Council chair Thomas Nash confirmed the timeframe of 10 to 15 years, “while all the work gets done on the tracks.”

Nash told NZME “the best way to do a bunch of maintenance is to close the tracks.”

At the meeting, Abbott expected they would be “in the BRT [buses replacing trains] business for the long game.”

Meanwhile, alarm bells are ringing over KiwiRail’s financial state, amidst councils dealing with inflationary budgets.

KiwiRail needs between $5 billion and $7.8 billion for maintenance and rail investments for the Wellington metro network over the next 30 years.

In a statement to NZME, KiwiRail chief capital planning and asset development officer David Gordon confirmed the network is “old in some places.”

Gordon promised KiwiRail has been spending the regional council’s contribution “on the highest priority works to ensure commuter services continue running smoothly.” These include deferred renewals on assets deemed “life expired” which, according to KiwiRail, “could fail and need to be replaced urgently.”

Insurance costs have also significantly increased in recent years.

Gordon noted councils have been in financial strife recently, saying some have “difficulties” in making contributions.

“The current metro funding model has been in place since about 2009 and is not working. We’re in discussions with the Minister and Ministry of Transport on how to address it,” he added.

A Greater Wellington Regional Council report details severe underinvestment, and warns it threatens to ”bring passenger rail services to a halt if not addressed.”

KiwiRail has applied for government funding, though Metlink has confirmed plans are “unfunded.”

In a statement, Metlink group manager Samantha Gain said “it is not clear when a plan will be finalised.”

Azaria Howell is a Wellington-based multimedia reporter with an eye across the region. She joined NZME in 2022 and has a keen interest in city council decisions, social housing and transport.

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