PM gives the signal — Britomart goes live Shimmering, capacious, the vaulted hall echoed to the countdown.
Linked by live video, Prime Minister John Key gave the signal and back in Wellington Train Controller, Brian Green, hit the switch and energised the lines into Britomart Station.
With that simple action, the $500 million project to electrify Auckland’s rail network reached its most significant milestone.
The Prime Minister was quick to seize the moment. "The Government," he declared, "has invested $1.7 billion in the upgrade of Auckland’s metro rail network and new electric trains, delivering a reliable network with frequent services. This is providing a viable alternative mode of transport for many Aucklanders, will achieve increases in rail patronage and play a part in reducing congestion."
The move will enable the first electric train passenger services to operate between Onehunga and the city later this month and marks a major step forward for rail in Auckland.
KiwiRail CEO, Peter Reidy, emphasised the complexity and scale of this project which he said was comparable with recent rail upgrades in some of the world’s largest cities. "Today symbolises a step change for Auckland’s integrated transport network. What we have achieved through world-class engineering, construction capabilities and the deployment of new technology is a modern electrified network that will improve journey times and reliability and ultimately encourage more people out of their cars and onto trains."
He praised the commitment and expertise of the teams involved and made special mention of Rick Van Barneveld, Murray Hood and Nick French for the engineering expertise and leadership they had demonstrated in delivering such a highly complex and challenging project.
The project has an impressive safety and environmental record. In the more than 650,000 hours worked there were zero environmental issues and just two minor lost time injuries. "It is one thing completing complex projects such as these, but another entirely to do so while maintaining a proud safety and environmental record," said Peter
With safety and efficiency gains in mind, KiwiRail has also deployed state-of-the-art technology that will provide greater levels of automation and improve communications and safety across the network well into the future.
This includes the implementation of a new train control system that overrides drivers if they are travelling too fast towards red signal lights, and, advanced automated signalling equipment that is a ‘world-first’ for New Zealand and replaces equipment not upgraded for more than fifty years.
Around 80 people attended the official ceremony including the Prime Minister, Transport Minister, Gerry Brownlee, the Mayor of Auckland, Len Brown, the Chair of Auckland Transport, Lester Levy, and representatives of Transdev and construction consortium Hilor.
Students from Newmarket Primary School — one of the first schools in the country to start using the New Zealand Transport Agency’s new rail safety curriculum resources — attended as representatives of TrackSAFE NZ. The students performed a waiata and were also involved in starting the countdown towards switching the power on into Britomart.
Special thanks are also due to staff who volunteered to help on the day, from ushering and welcoming guests to assisting with the set up. Without their commitment the day would not have been the success that it was.
Over the next six months KiwiRail will progressively complete and commission other parts of the network to coincide with Auckland Transport’s planned rollout of electric passenger services.
The first electric train passenger services will run along the Onehunga Branch Line on 28 April.
The remainder of the network will be progressively commissioned over the next six months and Auckland Transport plans to roll out all 57 electric train units by the end of 2015.