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Leaders rail against ‘off track’ train service

Frustration continues for commuters on the Wairarapa Line [WRL], thanks to various mechanical and infrastructure issues.

Three WRL services were interrupted on Tuesday afternoon due to a mechanical issue with the shunt used to “safely guide the carriages used on Wairarapa bound services onto the track”, delaying the departure of the 4.25pm, 5.30pm, and 6.18pm services from Wellington.

No bus replacement services were available for commuters due to the “evening peak”, and the 4.25pm service departed 74 minutes late, while the 5.30pm and 6.18pm services left 38 and 13 minutes late respectively.

Metlink group manager Samantha Gain told the Times-Age an extra locomotive has been added to selected WRL services to “try and reduce the turnaround time at each destination station”.

Although this may provide some relief for WRL commuters, another issue looks like it’ll take much longer to resolve.

As reported on Monday, a 60kmh speed restriction has been implemented on the WRL after it was found that new tracks had been laid 4mm narrower than they should have been, causing vibrations and “rough riding”.

KiwiRail’s metros general manager Jon Knight said the state-owned enterprise is working with Greater Wellington Regional Council [GWRC] to fast-track a solution for commuters.

The options available include grinding the tracks or re-profiling the carriage wheels, but it is not known how effective grinding the tracks will be.

The prohibited fire season is currently preventing KiwiRail from grinding the tracks because the machinery involved generates a lot of sparks that pose an extreme fire risk.

“Once fire bans are lifted, KiwiRail is committed to conducting a trial grinding programme in sections of the track to evaluate how effective grinding is in reducing rough riding and vibration,” Knight said.

“Once the trials are completed and results verified a decision will be made on a proactive programme to alleviate the issue.”

Wairarapa leaders are less than impressed by the ongoing disruptions to the WRL service.

Wairarapa MP Mike Butterick said he is “concerned and frustrated” by the way the issues seem to be “impacting commuters and businesses daily”.

Trust with passenger rail transport has broken down, Butterick said, and he understands that delays will be impossible to avoid while undertaking extensive track work.

“I have had a number of conversations with KiwiRail and GWRC over recent months,” he said.

“I have their assurances that the quality of their communications will improve and that the project teams will look at commuter and business impacts when works are planned.”

Butterick said he has been keeping Transport Minister Simeon Brown updated on the frustrations experienced by Wairarapa commuters as a result of the issues with rail services.

“I expect ongoing updates from KiwiRail and GWRC, and I will be looking for answers if delays and poor communication continue as they are,” he said.

South Wairarapa Mayor Martin Connelly said he also understands the frustrations of commuters and suggested that “Metlink is at the mercy of KiwiRail to provide an efficient service”.

He said he isn’t sure what more Metlink can do other than provide good communication to commuters.

“I would certainly encourage all three of our local MPs to take the opportunities they have to examine the way that KiwiRail is treating the Wairarapa,” Connelly said.

He also observed that “unfortunately, there is no sort of salvation we can offer anybody in the short term”, given that fixing some of the track issues includes grinding the tracks, which cannot be done during a prohibited fire season.

Masterton Mayor Gary Caffell called the ongoing delays and disruptions a “comedy of errors” and said he will continue to advocate for the people of Wairarapa for a reliable transport system.

“It’s just another nail in the coffin for Wairarapa commuters,” Caffell said.

“I can understand completely why commuters have had a gut’s full.”

Caffell admitted that, as a local government representative, he doesn’t get much of a say but said he is happy to jump on the bandwagon and put pressure on KiwiRail and GWRC for change.

“But they need to listen.”

Carterton Mayor Ron Mark described the situation as a “circus” on the Morning Report yesterday.

He also agreed that the constant disruptions are frustrating for Wairarapa and questioned the logic behind new rails on new sleepers not being married up to the wheels on carriages correctly.

“How long’s it going to take this new minister to throw his hands up and say, ‘You know what? You guys are a joke, you’re off, you’re gone’ and start sacking some people on the board and in management at KiwiRail,” Mark said.

“It’s more and more taxpayer money going down the toilet while KiwiRail continues to prove that the one thing they are good at is being dysfunctional.”

Further potential frustrations are looming for commuters as the GWRC transport committee is expected to vote today on starting a project that would introduce paid parking to train stations.


  1. The unreliability of the Wairarapa train services has worsened almost annually in the decade I have lived here. I am a regular but not daily user.

    A question, and please forgive me for not being a rail engineer .
    How does “the new tracks had been laid 4mm narrower than they should have been, causing vibrations and “rough riding” relate to
    ” options available include grinding the tracks or re-profiling the carriage wheels”?
    Surely if the new tracks are 4mm too narrow, grinding them further is not going to help?
    S McLeary, Martinborough

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