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Full speed ahead as track upgrades gain momentum

Off-peak trains are expected to return to Masterton with no speed restrictions in place by next January, KiwiRail has confirmed.

KiwiRail is undertaking a massive upgrade project on Wairarapa Line, rerailing and re-sleepering the tracks between Masterton and Upper Hutt.

Currently, work is taking place north of Carterton, and 91 per cent of the project’s re-sleepering and 77 per cent of its rerailing are complete.

Off-peak weekday travellers on Wairarapa Line have been subject to bus replacements between Masterton and Wellington since June 2021 – as of May, off-peak trains resumed as far as Featherston.

Peak travellers have been able to take a train for the whole journey but have faced delays of 15 minutes or more to the 1-hour and 40-minute journey because of 40kmh temporary speed restrictions imposed while the work takes place.

Sometimes the speed restrictions drop as low as 10kmh when rerailing occurs near level crossings.

KiwiRail chief planning and asset development officer David Gordon said commuters can expect all project-related speed restrictions to be lifted by January 2024 – three and a half years after work started.

He said KiwiRail intends to replace the rail, sleepers, and ballast in the Maoribank and Remutaka tunnels over the next two Christmas shutdown periods in 2023/24 and 2024/25.

Preparations for that work will begin before the end of the year.

After January, the track reconstruction will be finished, but KiwiRail will continue its upgrade project; the remaining work will be far less disruptive to travellers than the current works.

That work includes a proposal to improve safety by installing barrier arms and flashing lights at 25 crossings between Featherston and Masterton.

The risk of level crossing collisions was demonstrated last Friday when a train and a car collided at the Norfolk Rd level crossing, which does not have a barrier arm yet.

Controversially, KiwiRail has also proposed to close five level crossings in Carterton and Masterton, turning the roads into dead-ends.

The five level crossings proposed for closure are Judds Rd in Masterton, and Brooklyn Rd, Victoria St, Pembroke St, and Rhodes St in Carterton.

Community groups have been set up to work with KiwiRail to look for alternative solutions to closing the roads.

Other work will include building new crossing loops to enable trains to pass each other, and a new signalling system between Featherston and Masterton.

The work is in preparation for the arrival of new trains at the end of the decade, which are expected to shave 10 to 15 minutes off the journey time.

In April, the government announced it will fund 90 per cent of the $847 million to buy 18 four-car, tri-mode diesel-electric-battery trains and associated infrastructure for Wairarapa and Manawatu lines.

They will replace the 50-year-old diesel trains currently used, which will reach their end of service life in 2028.

Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age who regularly writes about education. He is originally from Wellington and is interested in environmental issues and public transport.

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