KiwiRail looking at compo for passengers

Last updated 05:00 29/07/2009
Commuter Al Hughes says trains running on time is the exception rather than the rule.
ROSS GIBLIN/The Dominion Post
THE WAITING GAME: Commuter Al Hughes says trains running on time is the exception rather than the rule.

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Compensation is being considered for Wellington train commuters who have faced "third world" services, and travel delays in recent weeks.

Operator KiwiRail has blamed a lack of investment for repeated disruption to rail services that have caused peak-hour commuter chaos this month.

On Monday, a signal fault coupled with the breakdown of a train on the Paraparaumu line created chaos and led to more than a hundred train services being cancelled. Thousands of commuters were delayed for hours as they tried to make their way home.

Last week, a train hit a landslip and derailed near Upper Hutt, closing the Wellington-Wairarapa line for three days.

Earlier this month, 12,000 morning commuters faced travel delays of up to three hours when an error by a contractor halted trains.

The repeated delays have infuriated commuters, with some labelling the region's passenger train services "third world".

"Wellington train services are a complete debacle," a person calling themself "Rew" posted on the DomPost website yesterday. "What annoys me most is the complete lack of customer service shown by the operators ... If they want people to use the service, they need to start providing service. What a joke."

KiwiRail passenger general manager Ross Hayward said: "We are looking at means by which we can recognise the inconvenience passengers have suffered. We won't make snap decisions on such compensation because we need to ensure that we treat all passengers equally."

Mr Hayward said Wellington's rail system had suffered from a lack of investment in rolling stock and infrastructure but new investment was now under way.

"In the meantime, we have to continue to provide services with the core rolling stock aged between 26 and 50 years.

"As passenger numbers have increased over the past few years, we are now running at full capacity and don't have any spare trains at peak times."

KiwiRail has bought 48 new Matangi trains, which are being built in South Korea, with the first due to come into service next year. They will feature air-conditioning, passenger-operated doors, public address systems and electronic display screens.

"They will ... provide a more modern experience for passengers with upgraded comfort."

KiwiRail Networks' acting chief executive, Phil McQueen, said an upgrade to improve the rail network was also under way. It included building 11 substations, improvements to station platforms, and signal upgrades.

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Muri and Kenepuru stations are flagged for possible closure, according to a Greater Wellington regional council report. "We're spending more than $300m to improve the network and make it more robust and reliable.

"Essentially we need to work with the old system to upgrade it which can cause problems."

Mr McQueen said Monday's problems stemmed from a fault in the system which caused power to be cut to the signals at the Wellington railyard.

"A full investigation into the cause is being carried out but it may be difficult to determine why the cable failed."

Transport woes continued yesterday with a service from Taita in Lower Hutt being cancelled because of mechanical problems.

WHAT OUR READERS SAY:

Jenny Wood: In one of your [online] reports, a Tranz Metro spokesperson said: "What would happen if you were stuck in a queue of traffic and you couldn't move on the roads? Can you tell me what the difference is?" Well, the difference is that you would be in a clean, comfortable environment, and would certainly have a seat and be able to control the ventilation. And you wouldn't have to share your environment in a sardine-like way.

Howard Whiteley: The most depressing aspect for me is that this is only over until the next time. I have been catching this train since January 2001 and no one-off incident like this has ever been handled well. For KiwiRail to talk about circumstances beyond their control and to compare events like this to a traffic queue is to treat us like insignificant morons and is completely insulting.

Gail Clover: Yesterday [Monday] I made the mistake of catching a train. I hopped on the 1.30pm train at Wellington Station. By 2pm the train had not left the station and nor had any other trains. I eventually got to Paraparaumu at 3.35pm approx. The only reason given at any time was at Wellington station where we were advised that power was out at the signal box. Not once did anyone apologise.

Frustrated again: There was no explanation ... just a rude [KiwiRail] man yelling at people who were positioning for a place on a crowded train in bad weather trying to get home.

Jeanette: They no longer text people about problems (even though they still advertise for you to sign up for text messages if there are problems). A lack of information meant those who wanted to make alternative arrangements did not know what was happening ... People would have been far happier about the situation if they had just been told what was going on.

Tired: If a bus operator would put on a reasonably priced regular service that runs from Upper Hutt to Wellington including after 6pm I'll be on it, as would most of my colleagues.

Chris: The train isn't very competitive any more. From the coast it only takes a couple of people car-pooling to match the train expense these days. And the delays driving up the coast are nothing like they used to be now all the roadworks are complete and nothing compared to the train delays over the last few years which just seem to be more and more regular.

FR: We were crammed in like sardines and we still get our tickets clipped and then to thank us for putting up with the crap service KiwiRail put on a promotion for free rides but only during the off-peak hours. The people who travel during peak hours are the ones that suffer and yet we don't apply when it comes to the "Free Ride" day. Pathetic.

TRAIN OF COMMAND

The rail industry was unified in October last year after the former government bought Toll NZ's rail and ferry services.

The new entity is called the New Zealand Railways Corporation, although KiwiRail is its trading name.

KiwiRail operates Tranz Metro, the urban Wellington passenger service, under contract to Greater Wellington regional council.

KiwiRail Network known as Ontrack maintains 4000km of railway tracks, bridges and tunnels, as well as the signals that control the safe movement of trains.

- By DAVE BURGESS, Dominion Post

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