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Kiwirail could face penalties for poor performance on the Wellington rail network, as the main funder moves to overhaul its contract with the train operator.
Greater Wellington regional council is looking to increase KiwiRail's accountability for train reliability by restructuring its contractual agreements to include service and timeliness measures.
The move comes after months of KiwiRail failing to meet its self-imposed on-time performance deadlines of 95 per cent of trains within three minutes of the schedule – and after timetable changes in February caused a spike in complaints about overcrowding.
A report going before the council's economic well-being committee today says the move is to shift the focus of the existing contracts from "risk management" to "performance".
"Greater Wellington currently lacks an effective mechanism by which to hold KiwiRail accountable for system-wide performance."
Performance measures are still being discussed, but the Greater Wellington public transport group general manager, Wayne Hastie, did not rule out penalties for missed targets. "The new agreements are still being developed so specific performance measures and penalties have yet to be created."
Council chairwoman Fran Wilde said she did not want to pre-empt discussions, but penalties were possible. "In my view there needs to be a carrot and a stick."
KiwiRail "understand we need to have some changes", she said.
At present there are three contracts between the parties, for network access, rolling stock activities and rolling stock maintenance, which end in 2016.
The new contract would be an over-arching document addressing service reliability and timeliness.
KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn welcomed the contract review, and said the two parties would continue to work together.
The move was first signalled when a new Rail Package with central Government was announced in March, with ownership of the rolling stock and responsibility for maintaining stations other than Wellington station, car parks, and the electric train depot going to Greater Wellington.
Ownership of the network remains in Government hands.
Mr Hastie said a new contractual agreement would better reflect the new arrangement.
The contract negotiations come after timetable changes in February saw overcrowding on trains cause long delays and about a $260,000 loss for Greater Wellington, as ticket collectors were unable to collect tickets.
The changes also resulted in a surge in the number of complaints regarding heavy loading, to the Metlink call service, which takes calls about trains, buses and ferries in Wellington. In February just eight of the 412 complaints were about overcrowding, compared with 45 of the 438 complaints in March.
Ms Wilde said the increase in complaints about overcrowding reflected problems caused by the timetable shift, after it was underestimated how many people would want to catch some services.
The problem would be lessened as more of the new Korean-made Matangi units came into use.
Greater Wellington has bought 48 of the two-car units, at a cost of $235 million, part of a $500m upgrade of the network.
There are now four in service, and a fifth being used for training. Contracts are also being reviewed as part of a Transport Ministry-led project dealing with the procurement of buses in main centres.
HOW BIG CITIES MEET THE CHALLENGE
Run on time, or pay the price – around the world, cities take a harsh line on tardy trains, doling out fines to operators who repeatedly pull into the station behind schedule.
In Melbourne, the Metro service can be fined up to $1 million a month if trains are late. In a particularly bad spate last year, it was fined the maximum of $3m for the April to June quarter.
In Boston, the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad is fined US$500 for every train that is more than five minutes late for a reason attributable to the railroad.
In January alone it was fined $488,000. In 2008, Queensland Rail copped a $6.7m fine after recording its worst on-time performance for four years.
- The Dominion Post
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