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‘No silver bullets’ for rail

PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

Independent report offers few new solutions

BECKIE WILSON
[email protected]

There are “no silver bullets” to solve Wairarapa’s train problems, an independent investigation has found, but the service is nevertheless improving.

And commuters agree.

Greater Wellington Regional Council commissioned the report after a spate of problems during November and December last year, when passengers experienced overcrowding, poor communication during disruptions, an all-day strike and significant engine failures.

But since the report was commissioned, there has been a 19 per cent reduction in rolling stock failures, and increased reliability of the Wairarapa service, regional council rail operations manager Angus Gabara said.

The Wairarapa line’s peak punctuality was at 74.3 per cent in April, nearly twice as high as the same time last year.

Peak patronage had also increased by four per cent year to date in April.

The council’s summary of the report, which will be tabled at the Sustainable Transport Committee today, said while “no silver bullets” were found to solve the line’s failures, it shed light on where improvements could be made.

Rail commuter advocate Greg Kerr said the service today was “completely different” to what it was 12 months ago.

“The communication is better, with text messaging if there is an issue.

“The ride is more comfortable, with the air-conditioning being fixed.”

He said the main issue was capacity, and he agreed with the report’s assessment that “there is no silver bullet at this point”.

Kerr said commuters were still waiting for the nine-car solution to be figured out.

He said with 120 people standing on a service at one time, about half would be seated if a new car was added to the line.

“It’s fair to say we’ve had some fairly good wins – but capacity is still the issue.”

He said new subdivision developments in Wairarapa would likely stress the service even more.

Kerr said focused lobbying had improved the service.

“We, the commuters, have got more out of Greater Wellington [Regional Council] and out of Metlink than our elected members have.”

The global rail consultancy company, SNC-Lavalin, report was officially commissioned to produce the report in March.

Last year, there were 38 carriage-related failures on the line, and one December afternoon, a service broke down near Maymorn and passengers were forced to trek along the tracks to reach buses to take them home.

SNC-Lavalin investigators were asked to look at the rolling stock [carriages and locomotives], and make recommendations to improving reliability.

Gabara said after a period of sustained mechanical issues, the council wanted to better understand the issues involved.

The report makes several recommendations, including improving access time for carriage maintenance, and to set up a Wairarapa Operator Forum to improve communication between providers.

It also highlighted the need to improve communication between all parties – but suggested it was unrealistic to expect zero breakdowns, and therefore the ability to improve overall performance of the Wairarapa service through a sole focus on rolling stock maintenance was relatively minimal.

“Many of the recommendations have already been implemented through an ongoing work programme with our rail operators which has seen improvements,” Gabara said.

“The council will continue to work with our rail operators to find ways to improve our service to Wairarapa passengers.”

A trial of a nine-car train on the busiest peak services is expected to run this month.

The three business cases that could solve the Wairarapa train issues, costing $500 million, have all been confirmed as top priorities in the regional council’s Regional Land Transport Plan.

The plan will go through council this month, and if approved, a decision is expected from NZTA in September.

2 COMMENTS

  1. A long-term, and better, plan would be to electrify to Masterton (beyond Upper Hutt). Outer-suburban EMU’s could be provided (similar and compatible with the Matangis). Also the log trains from Wairarapa to Wellington could be hauled by electric locomotives, as could any other freight to/from the Wairarapa. Also extend the 1,500V DC wires to Palmerston North. The class 30 electric locomotives could be refurbished and retro-fitted for the two different voltages (Main Trunk 25KVA AC OLE). More electric dual-voltage locomotives would be needed under this scenario, but dual/multi current locomotives are common, particularly in Europe. Japan’s main railway system is the same 3ft-6in gauge as ours, so there may be secondhand locomotives that could be obtained from that source. This is, possibly, at 10 year plan (financially), but it would transform the southern North Island railway system and allow for a joined up operating compatability sadly lacking for years in this area.

  2. So, was last year particularly bad and we have returned to situation normal now? When you are comparing one year to the next or different time periods it is difficult to understand if there have been improvements or not. Just saying. Three percent rise in fares nearing, things needed to improve.

Comments are closed.

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