It’s been a rollercoaster weekend for Wairarapa commuters, with anticipated weeks of delays on the train line dissipating overnight and a government pre-budget sweetener that is expected “revolutionise” their lives.
KiwiRail came under heavy fire on Friday with the revelation that the nation’s only track evaluation car [TEC] had failed, delaying track inspections in the lower North Island and forcing Metlink to impose blanket 70kmh speed limit restrictions on the Wairarapa and Kapiti lines from today.
On Saturday however, KiwiRail chief operations officer Siva Sivapakkim said the delays on the network would be days, not weeks as initially thought, and Wairarapa would be unaffected.
He said the track evaluation car would leave the Auckland workshop early yesterday morning and arrive in Palmerston North last night.
Track inspections would begin on the Kapiti line today, with the aim to have all inspections on the Wellington network completed by Friday night, May 5, at the latest – two days before the Wairarapa line assessments are due.
“Once the TEC assessments are complete, we will be able to lift the 70kmh blanket speed restriction on the Kapiti line and avoid the need to place blanket speed restrictions on any other lines in Wellington,” Sivapakkim said.
After a scathing assessment of KiwiRail’s TEC breakdown – calling it “an abysmal lack of accountability” – Greater Wellington Regional Council [GWRC] had something to celebrate, with the government’s pre-budget announcement to fund a fleet of hybrid-electric trains.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson confirmed the government would kick in to help fund the purchase of 18 four-car, tri-mode trains and associated infrastructure for the Wairarapa and Manawatu lines on Saturday.
Stuff reported the government was expected to provide 90 per cent of the funding for the $847 million business case, and regional councils would front up with the remaining 10 per cent.
GWRC chair Daran Ponter said he was thrilled for commuters and the climate, noting the current 50-year-old diesel fleet was nearing the end of its working life.
“The new trains will revolutionise life for commuters in the Wairarapa,” he said, with the new trains expected to double between Masterton and the capital on the Wairarapa line.
Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty called the announcement “massive” for Wairarapa.
“What we need is more reliable and regular services. We need new trains.”