KiwiRail apologises as passengers left on platforms while full trains zoom by, week of disruption ahead


Wellington rail commuters say full trains are leaving passengers, including school students, waiting on platforms, as the region grapples with disruption caused by broken equipment.

KiwiRail has had to cut back some services on its Wellington metropolitan network following the break down of a specialist rail track evaluation car.

The equipment failure means only half as many trains as usual are expected to run at peak times this week and speed restrictions are also in place.

Passengers arriving at Wellington train station have told RNZ trains are not even stopping at some stations because they are full.

Transport Minister Michael Wood has summoned KiwiRail for a "please explain" meeting today about the failure of the equipment.

KiwiRail's executive general manager for operations, Paul Ashton, told Morning Report the company was very apologetic for the disruption to commuters.

"We have to accept that this is not a great look ... I'd like to apologise to all the commuters in Wellington for the disruption this will cause them this week. It is something we're not proud of, and we take full responsibility."

He said the equipment had been repaired, and track evaluations on Wellington's metropolitan network would start tonight, with services on the network hopefully back to normal by the end of Friday.

Ashton said the evaluation car which had broken down was used to inspect tracks in the Wellington metropolitan area three times per year.

The equipment was 40 years old but had proved reliable until now.

"Unfortunately, over recent weeks, we've had some mechanical failures with it and we worked over the weekend to rectify those particular issues."

He said a tender process was underway to obtain a new machine, but that was not expected to arrive until 2026 or 2027.

"They are a very expensive piece of machinery."

It was not a process that could easily be sped up as the build and delivery time for the equipment was about two-and-a-half years, he said.

Ashton said he understood the minister was disappointed about KiwiRail's performance in relation to the equipment failure.

Transport Minister Michael Wood has summoned KiwiRail for a 'please explain' meeting about the failure of a specialist track evaluation car which has led to disruption on the Wellington metropolitan network.
Transport Minister Michael Wood has summoned KiwiRail for a 'please explain' meeting about the failure of a specialist track evaluation car which has led to disruption on the Wellington metropolitan network. Photo credit: RNZ

He said the company needed to "just take that on the chin" and to work on putting more robust systems in place to ensure future track inspections could be carried out in a timely manner.

"We will be undertaking an internal investigation as to why we ended up in this situation, because where we have maintenance regimes on these machines we need to get them done on time and without any disruption," he said.

"This is a failing on this occasion."

'These rail lines are the arteries for Wellington'

Wellington Regional Council said the move to reduce train speeds had thrown the system into chaos, leaving many commuters unable to get into the city.

Council chair Daran Ponter told Morning Report he was livid there was only one car that could do the inspection work.

"These rail lines are the arteries for Wellington, this is where we bring our CBD workers into the city and this sort of event is just causing chaos."

He said the council was notified on Thursday of the breakdown and it had been working hard to adjust timetables.

The equipment which had failed was important, Ponter said, and he was concerned there was only one available in the country.

"They do find problems with the track and in fact when this vehicle goes over the tracks there will be gangers available to fix and remedy any of the situations that are exposed as a consequence of the assessment."

He said he hoped any issues picked up by the rail track evaluation car in the coming days would not be serious enough to cause any further delays over the next few weeks.

"We're hanging on a very thin thread here if we are depending on one car to do this service throughout the country."

Ponter said the council would be asking KiwiRail for a meeting also, to try and understand the systems and processes that had led to "this particular debacle and ensure that those aren't revisited upon us in the future".