It's standing room only for commuter 'sardines'

CALEB HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 05/02/2014

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Wairarapa

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Hundreds of commuters had to stand up for a smelly train ride into Wellington after KiwiRail suddenly reduced its capacity from six carriages to four, apparently because a spare part was not ordered.

The seat reduction coincided with the start of the new school term on Monday.

Now, Wairarapa commuters say they are tired of being treated like "suckers" by KiwiRail and Greater Wellington Regional Council, which contracts the company.

"We all turned up there like suckers yesterday and it was absolutely jam-packed . . . we were packed around the smelliest toilet, wedged in like sardines; it was stinking," Featherston commuter Helen McLeay said.

Online notices blamed a mechanical fault for the reduced seating on the 6.21am and 6.48am Masterton-Wellington and 4.25pm Wellington-Masterton trains, and said it would continue until further notice.

Tranz Metro manager Scott Brooks said there were two types of carriages used on the Wairarapa line, but they were not compatible and could not be linked.

The two generator vans for the latest set of carriages, brought in last year to increase capacity, needed a replacement part.

Mr Brooks blamed a supplier for the problem and said Tranz Metro was working on making the two types of carriages compatible.

He could not say why Tranz Metro did not have the part on hand, but expected repairs "over the coming days". Meanwhile, six-carriage trains would be reduced to four carriages on two morning services and one return service.

He said commuters were alerted last Thursday via websites, Twitter, text and email services.

Ms McLeay, a project co-ordinator, said it was outrageous to charge full price for standing-room only.

"You stand for an hour while you're thrown around, get to work completely bloody knackered before you've even started the day, and you've paid $23 for the privilege."

Ms McLeay told Metlink in an email yesterday that she was "sick and tired" of the poor service and that standing passengers should travel free. She had had no response by the afternoon.

Carterton commuter Daryl Gawn, who runs the "Wairarapa Commuters" Facebook page, said KiwiRail should have fit-for-purpose spare carriages to cover breakdowns.

"There's a consistent stream of things going wrong."

Mr Brooks said Tranz Metro's conditions of carriage were that "as long as a service is being provided, refunds will not be given".

Another KiwiRail representative said the council was responsible for any compensation.

Regional council transport spokesman Paul Swain said the problem was "annoying" and "frustrating", and particularly disappointing given the council's efforts last year to increase capacity on Wairarapa trains. He did not respond to a question about refunds.

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Mr Brooks said 83 per cent of Wairarapa line trains were on time so far this year, which he acknowledged was less than on other regional lines and attributed to timetabling and track works.

- The Dominion Post

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