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Fast-tracked look at widespread KiwiRail disruptions

The government is launching a rapid review into KiwiRail after a breakdown of critical equipment led to major disruptions for Wellington passenger rail users.

The review will ask whether KiwiRail is appropriately focused on the delivery of reliable commuter services, if its engagement with stakeholders about the breakdown was adequate, and what changes are needed to prevent reoccurrence.

“The disruption of Wellington train services this week is not good enough and follows other similar instances of service disruptions to commuters on KiwiRail’s network,” Minister of Transport Michael Wood said.

“The government is committed to making rail more accessible and more affordable for commuters, and events like this are not acceptable.”

The KiwiRail equipment failure involved its one-and-only specialist rail track evaluation car breaking down, resulting in inspections due on the Kapiti, Hutt Valley, and Wairarapa lines being delayed – and the lines becoming non-compliant with safety standards.

This forced Metlink to impose blanket 70kmh speed limit restrictions on the Wairarapa and Kapiti lines and run fewer passenger rail services across the Wellington region from May.

KiwiRail has subsequently announced the specialist car has been repaired and began evaluating the Kapiti track on Monday night, while Wairarapa’s track will be assessed this week.

State Owned Enterprises Minister Duncan Webb said he requested a rapid investigation into the management of the event to make sure KiwiRail learns from the episode and prevents it from happening again. He expects to receive the findings of the review next month.

KiwiRail chair David McLean said in a statement yesterday that the enterprise would “cooperate fully” with the government review, while chief executive Peter Reidy said KiwiRail accepts full responsibility for the disruption.

“We take safety extremely seriously at KiwiRail and the speed restrictions mean potential safety risks are being managed.

“However, we know Wellingtonians want this situation resolved as soon as possible and to never happen again,” Reidy said.

Greater Wellington Regional Council chair Daran Ponter said he remains concerned that issues like this could arise again in the future, noting there have been fragility issues in relation to slips on the line, which have sometimes affected Wairarapa but have been a persistent issue for Kapiti.

Ponter said trains were left out of action for days last winter because of slips, some of which had been hit by trains.

When tracks are closed, Metlink has to “scramble” to find buses to replace the train, which is a struggle during peak commuter hours.

“We never have enough buses,” Ponter said.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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