Editorial: Rail sums must add up as 158 jobs go

By Dylan Thorne


This week we reported that KiwiRail has instructed rail workers not to stand on rail bridges or rail sleepers marked for replacement.

An internal memo was distributed after a worker fell through a decaying sleeper this month.

New Zealand First MP Brendan Horan has once again raised concerns about the state of the rail network.

He points out that a locomotive weighs 93 tonnes - a lot more than the weight of your average worker.

It's a valid point.

He goes further, adding that in his view KiwiRail is putting lives at risk by not keeping up maintenance of the lines.

The "golden triangle" network that involves the Bay of Plenty, including the 6km of rail in the Kaimai Ranges where a speed restriction is currently in place, is in dire need of repair work, he says.

He questions how this will be carried out when KiwiRail is to shed 158 jobs nationally.

In response, KiwiRail says it has invested significantly in improving the performance of the "golden triangle" line but will not say how many speed restrictions there are.

The work has included laying new track, building new passing loops and upgrading bridges.

KiwiRail intends to spend $750million on the entire rail network over the next three years.

That is four times more than what was spent in 2005.

A total of 42 sleepers on 14 bridges, representing 2 per cent of all wooden sleepers on bridges, in the Bay of Plenty have shown various signs of decay, it says.

Those figures are not surprising - and are about what you would expect for general wear and tear.

As with any large network, components will degrade over time and that can only be addressed through regular maintenance.

You cannot ignore the fact that KiwiRail has actually increased the amount of money it is spending on the national network.

However, I agree with Mr Horan that the large-scale redundancies could have a major impact if they dramatically reduce the number of frontline workers maintaining the tracks.

The company says it has got the balance about right between "resourcing levels" and its revised work programme over the next three years.

We have to hope they have calculated correctly because - regardless of whether it is spending more money on the network - KiwiRail still needs to have the manpower on the ground to keep the tracks in a good state of repair.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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