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Data confirms more bus replacements for Wellington commuters

Nick James, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 5 May 2023, 1:54pm
(Photo / Edward Swift)
(Photo / Edward Swift)

Data confirms more bus replacements for Wellington commuters

Nick James, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 5 May 2023, 1:54pm

Wellington train commuters are facing an increasing number of bus replacements.

New data revealed to the Herald under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act shows the weekly number of unplanned bus replacements for trains between March 2021 and March 2023.

In the year between March 2021 and March 2022, there were 1810 buses replacing train services. But for the same period the following year, that number had more than doubled to 4810.

The data comes at the end of a chaotic week for train services in the capital, with thousands of passengers having their commutes disrupted thanks to a broken piece of critical equipment and scheduling issues. Trains were restricted to 70kp/h, halving the usual number of services. The Government has ordered a rapid review into KiwiRail as a result.

Hutt Valley Line commuter Megan Fermo said the current state of Wellington’s rail network was quite embarrassing.

”For New Zealand’s capital it’s definitely not good enough in my eyes. I feel like it’s sub-par and I actually had a friend from Norway comment recently that if they were to compare the trains over there to here it’s just shocking, it’s like something from the 80s or 70s.”

When asked what she’d like to see changed, she said she’d like more predictability around knowing that the trains would run.

”On a lot more long-term scale, I would honestly love a whole major overhaul of the train system to something more modern.”

She said that even in Auckland the trains ran smoother when she lived there.

Greater Wellington Regional Council chair Daran Ponter told the Herald the unplanned bus replacements resulted from a number of issues.

”Slips on the line has been an issue, ice in the mornings on a number of occasions, but I think the thing that probably has increased in that period is absenteeism and staff shortages.”

Ponter said staffing issues on the trains had been a concern for quite a long time.

”The reality is it takes nine months to train a train driver – and those drivers are very well sought after and can be picked off quite easily to go and work overseas, particularly in Australia.”

But a lack of drivers was not the only issue.

”If we don’t have enough clippies and train managers, that can also result in trains being cancelled.”

Metlink general manager Samantha Gain said unplanned rail cancellations were caused by a range of external factors, often beyond the control of Metlink and its rail operator.

”A leading cause of unplanned cancellations on our rail network is weather. This is particularly evident during winter months when it’s wetter and colder.

“Heavy rain can cause slips and debris to block tracks, particularly on the Wairarapa, Kāpiti and Johnsonville rail lines, which are surrounded by slip-prone hills and cliff faces.”

Gain said that, between mid-December 2022 and late January 2023, Metlink’s rail operator experienced a high level of staff unavailability due to sickness and leave.

It could not stop unplanned bus replacements but was looking at ways to build a more resilient rail network.

”For example, we hope KiwiRail’s recent slope stabilisation work will reduce slips causing unplanned cancellations.”

Gain said unplanned cancellations occured on every rail network but Metlink understood they were frustrating for passengers.

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