Get it right - heat on KiwiRail over signals

By Mathew Dearnaley

Pressure was on KiwiRail last night to have new signals working at Newmarket so full services to resume this morning, after thousands of passengers were left without trains yesterday.

Unexpected difficulties in matching a modern electronic system through Newmarket's railway junction to older track circuits operating through the rest of Auckland also left the retail district's gleaming new $35 million station in the lurch on its first day of business.

Only a few western line trains and shuttle services running between Newmarket and Britomart were allowed through the junction, where the new system has been installed at the end of KiwiRail's $65 million reconfiguration of the tracks.

Buses had to continue replacing southern line trains between Otahuhu and Newmarket, in an unintended extension of a holiday timetable needed to allow the junction to be upgraded and to lower tracks beneath several bridges and the long Parnell rail tunnel for Auckland's $1 billion rail electrification project.

KiwiRail electrification project director Murray Hood said late yesterday that although hundreds of workers had completed almost twice as much as had been achieved last summer, they ran out of time on the last hurdle in commissioning the new signals, the first to be installed under a $90 million Auckland-wide contract.

"We are very disappointed not to have been able to deliver [the new signals] in time," he said.

"We apologise for the inconvenience but signalling is critical to the safe movement of trains."

Mr Hood said most "interface" problems at Newmarket had been resolved overnight on Sunday, leaving only the southern end of the triangular junction to be completed last night.

That had given signalling staff and contractors "quite a high level of confidence" of finishing the job in time for full services to run this morning.

But he added: "Notwithstanding that, there are still things that could trip us up."

He urged commuters to check the Auckland public transport website for availability of services before setting out this morning.

Signalling specialists returned to the junction by about 8.30pm for what they hoped would be only about five hours of work to bed in the system.

Mr Hood said they had worked in shifts in a round-the-clock operation since Wednesday to try to make the system work, before having to clear the site yesterday to let western line and shuttle trains through.

He said the signals could not be installed until tracks through the junction were relaid from the Christmas-New Year construction drive, for which KiwiRail and its contractors had about 500 workers on the job and the Auckland Regional Transport Authority another 120.

"Signals commissioning, especially for a complex new system such as the one being introduced at Newmarket, needs to involve thorough testing of every element."

Among yesterday's disappointed passengers was Newmarket Business Association chief Cameron Brewer, who lined up with a small group at Britomart at 5.23am to catch the first train to the new two-storey station, commissioned by the transport authority and opened last week by Transport Minister Steven Joyce.

But what was supposed to have been a seven-minute hop turned into an hour-long trial, in which the train was replaced by a shuttle service at 5.55am before being delayed for about 20 minutes on the northern approach to the Parnell tunnel by a compulsory stop sign.

"We were then told the driver had to ring Wellington to get clearance, which took forever," Mr Brewer said. "We were very pleased to see the Newmarket station." ON THE WEB

- NZ Herald

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