Wellington's aging rail lines on verge of closure before Budget funding boost
Wellington's aging railway infrastructure is in such a state that commuter trains may have ground to a halt within four years had the Government not stumped up $98 million in the Budget to keep them going.
Transport Minister Simon Bridges said the money set aside on Thursday would go towards upgrading and improving reliability on the Hutt Valley, Melling and Johnsonville rail lines.
It will help pay for the replacement of 1274 timber poles, which support the overhead wires that deliver power to the trains.
Greater Wellington regional councillor Barbara Donaldson said the funding was a big win for the region because without it, the rail lines could have deteriorated to the point where trains had to stop running altogether.
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"Funding pole replacement is essential for safe operation on the rail network. Without it, we could have faced the prospect of having to close routes within four years as they continue to deteriorate," she said.
"This investment ... means there will be no service disruptions as the poles deteriorate. Instead, there will be a proactive and comprehensive replacement programme."
While Greater Wellington owns the region's commuter trains, the Government owns the rail lines and traction poles.
A large number of wooden traction poles across the region have been replaced in recent years, but many remain and are at the end of their life, increasing the safety risk to rail passengers, the public and railway staff.
Since 2007, there have been 13 incidents where deteriorated traction poles have failed in service. The worst incidents have involved trains colliding with failed poles.
While the great majority of affected poles are on the Upper Hutt and Melling routes, all Wellington metro rail network electrified lines still utilise timber traction poles.
The need to replace the poles was also holding up other train improvements in the Wellington region, including adding an extra track to the train line between Trentham and Upper Hutt.
KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy said the Wellington funding was a welcome acknowledgment of the importance of rail in New Zealand.
"Our infrastructure teams work incredibly hard to keep the system running smoothly but today's announcement will allow the completion of a major upgrade of the capital's network."
Planning and procurement will now begin to ensure the last of the poles are replaced before they fail, he said.
The boost for Wellington's rail links is part of a wider $548m package to upgrade the national network, support freight movement, exporters, tourism and public transport.
KiwiRail will receive $450m of that funding over the next two years.
Bridges said restoring the South Island Main Trunk Line was a key priority for the Government.
"KiwiRail has been making excellent progress clearing slips, obstructions and reinstating the rail track so that this essential connection can open by the end of the year."
Together with the Government's funding of Auckland's City Rail Link (CRL), the Budget has contributed almost $1 billion towards rail infrastructure.
Last year the government announced it would fund half of the expected $2.8b to $3.4b cost for the CRL.
The 3.4 kilometre double-track underground rail line will run from Britomart station in downtown Auckland through the CBD to connect with the existing western line at Mt Eden station, Bridges said.