Wellington's trains to be run by French company Transdev after KiwiRail loses contract

Wellington's commuter trains are likely to be operated by the same company that runs Auckland's trains from July 2016.
GREATER WELLINGTON REGIONAL COUNCIL

Wellington's commuter trains are likely to be operated by the same company that runs Auckland's trains from July 2016.

KiwiRail looks to have lost its bid to keep running Wellington's commuter trains, as the regional council turns to a company that has previously talked about new innovations like "quiet carriages" and free wi-fi.

But whether or not French company Transdev can squeeze any more juice out of the network and get the region's trains running faster remains to be seen, with transport commentators unsure if much will change in that department.

Greater Wellington Regional Council on Thursday selected Transdev Australasia as its preferred future operator for the passenger rail network that services Wellington, Hutt Valley, Porirua, Kapiti and Wairarapa.

The global transport giant, which runs Auckland's passenger trains, will partner with Korean company Hyundai Rotem, which built Wellington's electric Matangi trains.

The council will now begin negotiations with the joint-venture to finalise terms before putting pen to paper on a 15-year contract in March, which will take effect on July 1.

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Chief operating officer for Transdev-Hyundai Rotem Alan Bannister gave little away on Thursday about the company's plans for Wellington rail, except to say customers would be at the centre of its decision making.

"We know that using public transport in Wellington is very much a part of its residents' DNA, but there is significant room for growth."

In April, Transdev surveyed Wellingtonians on things like carriages where no phone calls or noise from electronic devices is allowed, and tools that show which carriages have empty seats and free wi-fi.

The new rail contract will require Transdev to offer employment to 400 employees of KiwiRail's Wellington passenger rail company Tranz Metro on the same or more favourable conditions.

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But some job losses are possible, with regional council chief executive Greg Campbell confirming "a very small number" of staff were excluded from this agreement. He declined to say exactly how many.

Transport Blog editor Matt Lowrie said the quality of Wellington's rail service going forward would boil down to how "strong" Transdev's contract was, with incentives for good performance and penalties for under-achieving.

"It really is a wait and see thing. Will it get any worse? Probably not. But will it get any better? It's hard to say."

Wellington public transport advocate Tony Randle said there was a risk with having Transdev looking after the trains and KiwiRail continuing to maintain the tracks, as they could point the finger at each other when things went wrong.

"Transdev can only work with what its got," he said. "The trains aren't going to change for the next 20 years, they can't go any faster, so I'm not sure what they're going to do that will make a significant difference."

Transdev was selected from a short-list of three bidders, which included a joint-venture between KiwiRail and Gold Coast light rail operator Keolis Downer, as well as Serco, which recently lost the contract to operate Auckland's Mt Eden prison.

KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy said losing the Wellington rail contract was disappointing, but the company would focus on building its freight, Interislander, Scenic Journeys, property and infrastructure aspects.

There would be no immediate changes to the Wellington rail timetable, he said. KiwiRail would also continue to maintain and operate the track and signals in Wellington, as it does in Auckland.

Wellington's Tranz Metro network appeared to be one of the better-performing areas on cash-strapped KiwiRail's books, generating $54 million in revenue and a $4m operating surplus in the last financial year. 

Greater Wellington chairman Chris Laidlaw said the new rail contract would mean better services for customers by providing strong incentives for the operator to grow patronage by making public transport "easier and smarter".

KIWIRAIL'S REPORT CARD

Percentage of services that arrived within five minutes of their scheduled time

2011: 90 per cent
2012: 91.6 per cent
2013: 93.9 per cent
2014: 94.3 per cent
2015: 92.4 per cent

Incidents on KiwiRail's watch

May 2013: A train derails near Kaiwharawhara, forcing an air compressor up through the floor. Four passengers are treated for minor injuries. An investigation finds a "safety-critical" part of the brakes was left unsecured for more than 70 days before the derailment.

May 2014: A train pulling into Melling station crashes into a barrier. Two people are taken to hospital. The driver returns a positive drugs test afterwards but it is not known if this was the cause.

April 2013: A train fails to stop on time at Melling and hits the safety barrier. One woman is thrown to the ground.

September 2010: Two trains driven by a father and son collide near Plimmerton after torrential rain causes a slip.

 - Stuff

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