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End of the track

By Beckie Wilson

[email protected]

Wairarapa train commuters hoping for a better service any time soon might have to think again.

Ongoing maintenance work has meant constant delays on the Masterton-Wellington service recently, frustrating passengers who are sick of spending several extra hours per week on the train.

But even bigger works are on the cards – including replacing the track along the entire length of the Rimutaka Hill tunnel.

And while funding hasn’t yet been secured for the multi-million-dollar job, the end life of the 62-year-old track means the work has to be done within the next five years.

Greater Wellington Regional Council acting public transport manager Paul Kos said large sections of the track from Upper Hutt to Masterton were reaching their “end of life”.

This includes the almost 9km track through the Rimutaka tunnel, with original infrastructure dating back to 1955.

“The cost of this work will be significant – investment of $10 million is required just to replace the track in the tunnel,” Mr Kos said.

The priority at the moment was renewal work required in the Hutt Valley section of the line, as this affected the largest number of services, including Wairarapa trains, he said.

“No-one is satisfied with this performance, which is why we are working both to ensure maintenance is continued and to agree funding for the longer-term development of the line.”

Regional council deputy chair and chair of the Sustainable Transport Committee, Barbara Donaldson, said she was working closely with Kiwirail to improve punctuality issues.

“But the reality is that there’s a backlog of work to do and tens of millions of dollars to be invested in upgrading the line — I’m afraid significant improvement will take some time to achieve.”

No decisions had been made on when the hill tunnel work would begin, she said.

“Issues of funding are yet to be considered before any decisions are made on a full works programme — meanwhile, we will continue to provide the best service we can.”

Featherston resident Gail McKenzie said it was all very well and good putting money into the tracks, but “it’s only just getting it up to scratch”.

“I would like to see more carriages and better timetables,” she said.

The thought of more delays to upgrade the aged infrastructure “does not increase my confidence” in the train service, she said.

Carterton resident Debi Lodge-Schnellenberg said maintenance delays would always be a factor in taking a train, but the lack of carriages was a bigger issue in the meantime.

The region’s population had been growing for some time, therefore the regional council could have predicted that growth and scheduled more carriages to match it, she said.

Recent figures show that the number of Wairarapa passengers increased by three per cent this year already, on top of a five per cent increase in 2016.

Wairarapa’s regional councillor Adrienne Staples, who takes the train up to two times a week, said KiwiRail had not put the ideal amount of maintenance into the track.

The regional council owns all the region’s trains and stations with government-funded KiwiRail owning the tracks.

2 COMMENTS

  1. The Govt sunkall the transport funds into a handful of roads at the expense of our rail network. Now we are paying for that with a backlog of maintenance so we can have faster trains.

    This year l’m changing to NZ First as l’ve had enough of National.

Comments are closed.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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