AT optimistic they can manage commuters impacted by rail closures

Source: 1News

Between 200,000 to 250,000 commuters are expected to be impacted by Auckland Transport’s plans for the rolling closure of its rail network until 2025, Auckland Transport says, as complaints around service cancellations continue to mount.

AT and KiwiRail today announced its plans for a $330 million rebuild project, which would see rock foundations under train tracks replaced across the city's 130km rail network.

It will see the Southern Line between Newmarket and Ōtāhuhu, along with the entirety of the Onehunga line, closed between late December 2022 and March 2023.

It will be followed by the closure of the Eastern Line between Britomart and Ōtāhuhu between March and December 2023.

Western Line services are not expected to be affected next year, but AT and KiwiRail have warned the disruption will see further sections closed in 2024 and 2025.

It follows two years of widespread repair work and line shutdowns after extensive damage was found on KiwiRail-maintained track in 2020.

Auckland Transport metro services group manager Darek Koper told 1News that on average, “less than 200,000 to 250,000” could be affected on weekdays by the closures.

He said while the disruptions will be “significant”, the “majority” of their rail customers “will still be able to use train services across the rest of the network”.

“There will be some buses provided, dedicated rail replacement buses, plus we’ll be communicating to customers how to use our scheduled bus services, particularly along the parts of the rail network where we have quite a good schedule for our services,” he said.

A map detailing track rebuild work on the Auckland rail network.

For areas with fewer bus services, AT will provide “dedicated rail replacement buses so there’ll be a mixture of different travel options depending on location and what other alternatives are nearby”.

Koper said while the transport agency is unable to guarantee there will be enough rail replacement services to meet the demand, they will be “doing our best to provide enough buses”.

“We have started developing those plans. We’re communicating those changes as soon as KiwiRail have finalised their plans so we still have quite a bit of work to do but in November, we’ll be able to communicate the level of rail replacement buses provided and where they’re going to operate.”

'We totally understand the frustration'

Koper acknowledged the ongoing challenges resulting from the widespread cancellation of services due to absences and winter illnesses but said they “will do our best”.

“We totally understand the frustration and we’re working hard in the background to ease that frustration and provide them with sufficient travel options and to help them get to where they want to go,” he said.

“At the moment, we’re focussing on restoring the service levels on our scheduled bus services.”

Around 1700 bus services, or 10%, are cancelled per day, he said, but the “situation is getting slightly better” following an increase in bus drivers’ wages.

“There is still a lot of work to be done and we’re working with them to improve the establishment and attract more people to work bus driving routes.”

He said work is currently underway to “understand what capacity exists within the operators to provide resources for replacement buses”.

“If that is not sufficient, we’ll be looking at alternative options to look beyond the typical public transport operators to provide alternative travel options,” he said.

Temporary bus lanes and an “express service for certain locations” are among the options under consideration.

“It is a challenge – definitely a challenge – but it is an opportunity to get a rail network that will actually allow us, finally, to deliver reliable, safe and many train services in the future, particularly as the City Rail Link goes live.”