Hamilton, August 8, 2023
New Zealand Transport Agency (Waka Kotahi) has lifted the prohibition notice issued to KiwiRail on 11 July preventing the Te Huia passenger rail service from entering the Auckland Metro area, following two Signal Passed at Danger (SPAD) incidents involving the service this year.
KiwiRail and Waikato Regional Council have welcomed Te Huia being allowed to resume running into central Auckland and there will be free tickets for a week to mark its return. The Hamilton-Auckland commuter service has now resumed travelling to The Strand effective from Monday, August 7, 2023.
The first day of the service on Monday saw a positive response from the members of the public with many planning their trips with the train service.
Waikato Regional Councillor and Future Proof Public Transport Subcommittee Deputy Chair Angela Strange welcomed the news. “This is an excellent outcome and it has been really heartening to hear just how much Te Huia is valued by our communities, as well as nationally as a symbol of the potential for regional passenger rail. I want to acknowledge the loyal passengers who have continued to travel with us through this interruption to our full service, and am optimistic that our passenger numbers will continue to steadily climb again off the back of this welcome news.”
Since July 11, 2023, Te Huia has carried passengers only as far as Papakura after Waka Kotahi required a specific piece of equipment (European Train Control System or ETCS) to be installed, which would take years to achieve.
Executive General Manager Operations Paul Ashton said that KiwiRail has worked constructively with NZTA on alternative safety proposals which have now been accepted. “We thank the regulator for their engagement and consideration. We know that commuters have wanted this to be resolved. We look forward to welcoming passengers back on board for the full service. We will get you from Hamilton to Auckland safely, comfortably, with coffee in hand and Wi-Fi on your device, and you would not have to find a park when you arrive.”
Mr Ashton says KiwiRail agrees with the regulator that ETCS should be installed on Te Huia if the running rights are extended beyond its current five-year contract. “We are also planning to install this technology on all our mainline freight trains operating in Auckland, but this will take time.”
Alternative safety measures are being used for Te Huia. “We have installed Electronic Train Protection (ETP) on Te Huia, which automatically stops the train if it passes a red signal. This safety measure is bolstered by a very safe rail system design, which causes other signals to turn red if one is passed, to stop all trains in the area. ETCS is a predictive system, which slows a train as it approaches a red signal. Before resuming the service, we will ensure all of our Te Huia drivers do further route training.”
Mr Ashton acknowledged the decision by the regulator following an incident last month where Te Huia passed a stop signal near Penrose, and a further minor incident on 10 July where an empty Te Huia train passed a signal in Waikato, outside of the Auckland metropolitan network.
“KiwiRail took both incidents seriously and has worked closely with the rail regulator to resolve its concerns. The rail network is safe and well managed, and we want to assure the public of this.”
Waka Kotahi, as the Rail Safety Regulator, has lifted the prohibition order following the implementation by KiwiRail of several risk mitigation controls to support the safe passage of Te Huia through the Auckland metro rail network.
In addition to the ETP being installed, The service’s locomotive engineers are also undertaking additional training and are being provided with additional support to navigate the complexities of the Auckland metro rail network.
Waka Kotahi Director of Land Transport Neil Cook said the controls being implemented by KiwiRail have provided Waka Kotahi with the assurance needed for the notice to be lifted.
“We understand that the regulatory action taken earlier this month has caused disruption for people using this service. We do not take decisions like this lightly, and prompt action was needed to ensure the ongoing safety of everyone using the Auckland Metro rail network.
“We are pleased that KiwiRail is taking the urgent action required to prevent further incidents, and have provided us with satisfactory evidence of the measures being taken to ensure that the safety risks have been adequately mitigated,” Mr Cook said.
Praneeta Mahajan is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Hamilton.