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More train delays possible

KiwiRail’s track evaluation car has completed its assessment of the Kapiti line and is due to come to Wairarapa “over the next few nights”, but Greater Wellington Regional Council [GWRC] thinks more service delays are still possible.

KiwiRail’s one-and-only specialist rail track evaluation car – which measures whether lines are compliant with safety standards – broke down last week, resulting in inspections due on the Kapiti, Hutt Valley, and Wairarapa lines being delayed.

This forced Metlink to impose blanket 70kmh speed limit restrictions on the Wairarapa and Kapiti lines and to schedule half the usual number of passenger rail services across the Wellington region this week.

KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy announced yesterday that the blanket 70kmh speed restriction on the Kapiti line has been lifted, allowing “Metlink to return commuters services across Wellington to their normal weekday timetable”.

However, GWRC chair Daran Ponter said the evaluation identified four areas of the Kapiti line that will remain subject to speed restrictions and delays until remedial work is completed by KiwiRail.

Although Wairarapa services have run as normal so far, the machine needs to assess the track by May 7 to ensure it is compliant with safety standards.

According to Reidy, “over the next few nights, the track evaluation car will be assessing the Hutt Valley and Wairarapa Line, the Johnsonville Line and the Melling Line”.

Ponter said these evaluations mean more speed restrictions and delays are possible.

In a letter to KiwiRail’s board, Ponter said he is concerned the track evaluation car failure is “the tip of the iceberg in terms of the critical risks and issues on the Wellington metro network and, in particular, those that are a single point of failure that could take down the whole or a significant part of it”.

“The failure of this critical asset and its potential impact is something that we would expect KiwiRail would have been aware of several weeks ago,” Ponter wrote.

“The lack of timely communication has put the Metlink rail service under severe pressure this week. I welcome the Government’s review of KiwiRail … to look into these matters.”

GWRC has now sought a set of assurances from KiwiRail, including that the state-owned enterprise will:

  • Identify and manage critical points of failure impacting the Wellington metropolitan rail network and the operation of Metlink services,
  • work with GWRC urgently and in a transparent manner to identify current and future funding requirements to address key risk areas for the network,
  • progress its asset management processes at pace to ensure the network improves rather than declines, and to complete, in full and on time, the existing programme of network upgrades to enable the benefits of the new trains to be purchased.

Reidy said he wanted to apologise to the people of the Wellington region for the disruption, and insisted that KiwiRail is “making changes … to make sure this situation is never repeated”.

He also iterated his thanks to his staff, whose hard work he said had resulted in what could have been weeks of disruption being “resolved” in a few days.

“I’d also like to thank Metlink and Transdev Wellington for their professionalism and close collaboration,” Reidy said.

“This situation has put their staff under significant pressure, and I really appreciate how responsive they have been.”

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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