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Auckland’s rail network needs $200 million of work as a result of inadequate maintenance, increasing failures and a long list of repairs – some urgent – which will continue to disrupt services for several years, a report reveals.
The scale of failures on the network has been rising annually by 20 per cent in recent years, reaching 410,000 passenger hours over three years.
Consultant Opus estimated nearly $200 million worth of repairs and future-proofing, is needed over four years, to be ready for another step-up in services when the City Rail Link opens in 2024.
Poor track alignment, wooden sleepers beyond their lifespan, and failing, worn rails have combined with reducing opportunities to do repairs, underinvestment, and the absence of Auckland based track-welders.
The backstory to a just-commenced six-month programme of the most urgent repairs, is revealed in a 2019 report commissioned by Auckland Transport (AT), and obtained by Stuff.
“Whilst rail in Auckland has enjoyed a resurgence on the back of significant investment in rolling stock and electrification, investment in the underlying networks assets, maintenance systems and approaches, has not,” said Opus.
Opus said the emphasis had been on re-active work, rather than looking ahead and “led to a backlog of renewal activity, and a gradual deterioration of the underlying asset to undesirable conditions”.
Timber sleepers have an expected life of 35-40 years, but the assessment found a significant number were 40-60 years old.
KiwiRail workers fit new rails to track on the Manukau line, in south Auckland.
“Not only are sleepers in poor condition, but the track that is laid on top of them is in poor condition too,” said Opus.
“KiwiRail has placed TSRs [speed restrictions] due to ageing track assets, where more of these locations have been identified as needing the train tracks to be completely replaced.”
Opus found maintenance work that has been identified is taking too long to complete, with only a “small proportion” of track faults “addressed within desirable time frames”.
KiwiRail has portrayed the urgent work it announced in August as the result of “recent testing” without reference to the detailed assessment by Opus on the history of under-maintenance.
A graph showing the rising impact of delays through failures on Auckland's rail network, measured in "passenger minutes" and notes “Temporary Speed Restrictions” or TSRs.
KiwiRail announced with four days notice on August 13 that speed limits across the Auckland network would halve to 40 kmh, and ”track closures will be required from time to time.”
A week later it announced the Eastern Line would close completely for a fortnight from August 24, and second fortnight shutdown is scheduled during the school holidays from September 28.
A quarter of the rails on the 190km network are expected to be replaced over the next six months, and other sections to be smoothed with a grinder.
KiwiRail is accelerating the repairs and upgrades, which Opus said needed to be done before further increases in service frequency, further narrowed opportunities to do maintenance.
Opus' report was the business case for the eventually-approved funding, and it estimated $5 worth of benefits for every $4 spent, with the biggest benefit being fewer delays for passengers.
A graph showing the decline in available maintenance "windows" on Auckland's rail track network.
The $191 million cost is part of a broader $1 billion programme of work, that includes electrifying the line from Papakura to Pukekohe, building a third track on the southern line, and new stations around Drury.
KiwRail owns and is responsible for maintaining Auckland’s tracks, on which it runs freight services, while AT runs its expanding commuter rail services.
The pair, with NZTA as an observer, have formed a Programme Governance Board to oversee the work, which is now fully funded.
The wear and tear on Auckland’s rail network is no mystery. Commuter rail was all but extinct by the start of the 1990s, and in its revival, patronage grew from 36,000 trips in 2006, to 20 million in 2018.
The opening of the City Rail Link in 2024 will allow trains to loop through the city centre, effectively doubling the network capacity and AT conservatively project rail patronage of 35 million by 2028.
This article first appeared on www.stuff.co.nz
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