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Off-peak train passengers will go by bus

Bus replacements for off-peak Wairarapa train services will continue for the next two years while upgrades are made to the train line. PHOTO/FILE

Wairarapa commuters wanting to use off-peak train services for up to the next two years can expect a seat on a bus instead, while upgrades are made to the train line.

Off-peak train services were disrupted last week as part of a combined KiwiRail, Metlink and Transdev Wellington two-year rail upgrade programme to improve the Wellington Region rail network.

Transdev confirmed to the Times-Age on Tuesday that buses would replace off-peak Wairarapa train services for that entire period while the train lines underwent refurbishments.

“It’s in that year and a half to two years of bus replacements where [KiwiRail are] doing the large portion and bulk of the work during the middle of the day,” a Transdev spokesperson said of the off-peak disruptions.

Off-peak services are the 10.30am and 3.38pm trains to Wellington, and the 8.21am and 12.45pm trains to Masterton, Monday to Friday.

The upgrades would include 35 kilometres of track renewal and replacing 71,000 sleepers, and 25 kilometres of rail between Upper Hutt and Masterton.

Renewing three bridges, upgrading 12 level crossings, and drainage and vegetation work along most of the section would also be included.

KiwiRail’s proposed schedule indicated the work would be completed in mid-2023.

KiwiRail said the upgrades were in preparation for a projected increase in commuter numbers during the next 25 years as Wairarapa’s population continued to grow.

Although the disruptions would cause some inconvenience to those who regularly used the off-peak services, Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty said they were necessary to improve future train services for the region.

“One of the first things this government announced once first elected in 2017 was to fund the upgrade of the Wairarapa Line and double track from Upper Hut to Wellington,” he said.

“This was a proud day, as it is something that this community was screaming out for over decades.

“It was signalled at the time that this would mean disruption in some services while the work is being done. However, we would commit to limiting this as much as possible.”

McAnulty said that balance had been achieved by ensuring commuting services to and from Wellington were maintained while off-peak services were replaced by buses.

“It gives the work crew the time and space to perform the upgrade,” he said.

“I acknowledge that this has caused some inconvenience to those that regularly use the off-peak services, especially the elderly. However, the elderly can still access free travel via the alternative bus service.”

People have suggested to McAnulty that the works be done in the evening to prevent any disruptions.

However, he said that would see a significant jump in costs and that workers would be limited to what could be done at night.

Despite being in full support of the upgrades, McAnulty said he had taken the comments on board and would look for a pragmatic solution to speed things up further.

“I have written to the Minister of Transport proposing that KiwiRail consider completing the section between the tunnel and Featherston first, with an eye to recommencing off-peak services between Featherston and Wellington, with a bus service from Masterton to Featherston to connect people to that service,” he said.

“On the whole, I know that Wairarapa people welcome this upgrade, and I think most people would acknowledge that a balance has been struck here.”

Greater Wellington Regional Council Wairarapa representative Adrienne Staples could not be reached for comment by time of publication.

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