Compensation talk after Cup transport debacle

By Vaimoana Tapaleao, Yvonne Tahana, Lincoln Tan, Andrew Koubaridis, Nicholas Jones, Bernard Orsman, Michael Dickison, Mathew Dearnaley, James Wheeler, Newstalk ZB, NZ Herald staff, APNZ, Corrie Taylor

Waiting for a train ... the huge crowd outside Britomart last night as the rail system strained under the weight of numbers. Photo / Alan Gibson
Waiting for a train ... the huge crowd outside Britomart last night as the rail system strained under the weight of numbers. Photo / Alan Gibson

Auckland Mayor Len Brown is considering compensation to angry and frustrated Rugby World Cup ticket holders left out of pocket after last night's public transport debacle in Auckland.

Thousands of commuters had their night disrupted by trains, buses and ferries that were unable to cope with the number of people wanting to join in the festivities.

Mr Brown told One News he was seeking answers on why those problems occurred, especially with the city's rail system.

"I want to apologise to anyone inconvenienced by this. I've asked for urgent advice on compensation, we don't want people to be out of pocket," Mr Brown said.

At least 2000 people missed last night's opening ceremony at Eden Park as trains backed up on the tracks to Kingsland station.

Last night, huge crowds also built up at Britomart station in the central city as people waited for hours to catch a train home.

It was still full at 12.30am, so several trains stopped at a re-opened emergency station at the Strand, at the bottom of Parnell Rise.

Passengers then had to walk the rest of the way into town.

Mr Brown said about 200,000 people descended on the city, with
60,000 people tryng to use the train network. Ferry services were stopped when the waterfront reached capacity.

He said last night wasn't satisfactory and was seeking assurances Auckland will have a reliable service for the rest of the Rugby World Cup.

"We have one week to get it right," Mr Brown said.

Councillor Cameron Brewer said he had tried to warn organisers that they had underestimated crowd control problems.

"The waterfront was always going to come under enormous pressure, but the mayor and others didn't want to hear about it. We've got to do better for the grand-final weekend."

Long delays on buses - parents, children left waiting

Elsewhere there were reports of long delays on buses at Eden Park, and thousands of people, including children, were left waiting.

Police warned people to stay away from the city centre for their own safety because of the public transport disruptions and bad behaviour from some fans.

Some people had another inconvenience when they were unable to use their mobile phones because networks were overloaded.

Auckland Transport said it would review the train system after the night of chaos.

The general manager of train operator Veolia, Graham Siberry, said the delays were caused by several incidents, including three medical emergencies, causing trains to stop.

Drunken fights on trains

He said trains had been held up by people walking on the tracks in the Parnell tunnel and drunken fights had broken out on some trains.

In central Auckland, six pedestrians were injured in a Fanshawe St accident involving a bus and a car.

An Auckland City Hospital official said some of the injured were admitted to hospital, and two assault victims had also been brought in.

Around 200 officers were on the streets at the peak of the night - but the number of revellers stretched resources to the limit.

There were cases of pedestrians walking across intersections and blocking traffic on Queen Street, so police had to close surrounding roads.

Superintendent Brett England says the issues stemmed from the sheer number of people in town, rather than alcohol.

He says only a minority caused any trouble.

"There were some people that were jumping on top of vehicles and bus shelters, they were dealt with quickly," says Mr England.

He says some children were separated from their parents in the chaos, but they were all eventually reunited.

'We want trains, we want trains'

But it was the rail system that caused most of the night's problems. Frustrated passengers at Britomart station began chanting, "We want trains, we want trains", as they waited.

The situation was worse for those on the trains - some could not leave the station because a train ahead stopped in a tunnel after an emergency stop button was pushed.

Replacement buses were arranged, but had not moved half an hour later. By 7.45pm, it was estimated that at least 2000 ticketholders had not reached Eden Park

One passenger, who gave her name as Renee, said she had driven from Hamilton. She got a train at Orakei station and was stuck in a full carriage in Britomart. She said no one told passengers what was going on.

Eventually, she tried to get a bus, but then caught a taxi and arrived at the stadium at 8pm.

"It cost me $13 to get a taxi and I should have done it from the start.

"I am outraged. I did everything I was told to do and it still didn't work," Renee said.

Nelson man Robert Paul said he had been in a train carriage at Britomart for 40 minutes waiting for it to leave for Eden Park. He had arrived in good time to get to the All Blacks v Tonga game and was upset he would not make it in time.

"We want our money back. We are not going to make it to the opening ceremony," he said.

He said some frustrated passengers got out of the train and began walking up the tracks towards Eden Park.

Meanwhile, buses operated well and moved 8900 people to Eden Park, the spokesman said.

Extra buses were also brought in to clear the post-match crowd.

Authorities were forced to close parts of the city to transport, including part of Queen Street.

Many people planning to ferry into the city found themselves stranded as ferries were unable to berth and offload passengers in the central city from about 6pm.

Public transport calls backfire

Before yesterday, Auckland Transport officials made repeated calls for people to use public transport, but this backfired as the system failed under the load, while motorway traffic around the city and Eden Park was reported to be running smoothly.

"The roads have been as quiet as Christmas Day but the trains have been unbelievably bad," said one rugby fan, who gave up waiting for a train at Newmarket and drove in.

One rugby ticketholder said he was able to travel to the ground and find parking easily.

Dozens of people rushed off trains and ran to Eden Park from Kingsland station just before kick-off - missing the opening ceremony.

Sharon Yeh was one of those in the rush. She said the chaos on the trains - she was stuck on one for 90 minutes - had been hard to take.

"It was terrible. It was hot and there were people crying."

Queens Wharf

Thousands were crushed at the gates to Party Central during a three-hour wait - including a woman carted out by paramedics - and several frustrated party-goers jumped the fence.

Queens Wharf was the venue of choice for the full opening night celebrations starting at 4pm - and a capacity crowd was queued outside its gates before it even opened.

Loudhailers warned the crowd to come in "slow and smooth" - advice that was generally followed.

But 20 minutes after the gates were flung open, an alert was sent out to media that the wharf was full.

People streamed in for another 30 minutes before an organiser received advice to close the gate.

The gates were closed for the first time soon after, and were intermittently opened during the next three hours.

Malcolm and Laura Campbell vented their frustration after a five-hour wait.

Mr Campbell shouted at security guards, "Where is your crowd control?"

Mrs Campbell said authorities had a lot of lessons to learn from the organisation of Party Central.

"This has been badly, badly, badly planned."

There was plenty of space left on Queens Wharf, and the exact number inside could not be determined because cellphone networks struggled to relay information.

A woman was taken away on a St John ambulance cart after being crushed.

After all the drama, simply arriving on to Queens Wharf was an achievement met by hearty cheers.

Jamie Swan, who had been waiting since 11.30am, said he was exhilarated to get through.

"So many people would want to be here tonight," Mr Swan said.

But tensions continued to rise through the afternoon. A teenager was in tears as she was pressed against the fence, and an empty whisky bottle was kicked out from the crowd. Beer bottles followed.

Several people jumped the fence and made a dash for the big party. The first few got through, but more police and security guards appeared.

"It's a mess," said a Dutch visitor. "But it's almost cute in a way. The event is too big for Auckland."

A police officer muttered: "Is this going to get a good kick in the paper tomorrow? Well, they f***ing deserve it."

At 6.35pm, the police announced by loudhailer: "There are too many people in here. Please find another place to watch the fireworks."

It was a long while before anyone budged, but eventually the crowd thinned out.

For those who got in, the party at Queens Wharf was all that had been promised.

"It's brilliant. The beer is good, there's still space, it's not too overcrowded," said Nigel Le Breton.

Only about 2000 of the 12,000 people let on to the wharf could get on to the stage area, but screens all around gave everyone a look in.

Mr Brown took the stage early in the proceedings.

"The world is in the house. Oh yeah," Mr Brown yelled.

The crowd responded with huge cheers for Christchurch and saved their biggest to applaud a haka.

Vai Leo stood on the concourse between Shed 10 and the Cloud.

"When you look around at the lighting and everything, it's spectacular," Ms Leo said.

A group of friends had taken the whole day to make sure they could get in, and the wharf was worth the commitment, she said.

Eden Park

For the thousands in the stadium, the match with Tonga was almost an afterthought to the occasion - the Rugby World Cup at home.

Shaun Armstrong, from Kohimarama, said it was something special for his three boys, who would be able to tell their grandkids about the experience. "We may not get another one."

Outside the ground, a sea of black was broken up with the colours and fans of most competing countries.

On one corner an impromptu crowd formed before a band and sang and danced to Bob Marley.

Groups of Tongans dotted the streets, dressed in church clothes and the red and white that has dominated Auckland's suburbs of late.

As one group sang church songs, a rowdy group of Argentinians belted out "vamos pumas" as they passed.

Lesley Naidu of Mt Roskill - who had no match ticket - summed it up when she said, "it's not about the rugby".

Inside, the opening ceremony enthralled the 60,000 spectators.

Sheets laid on the field formed a canvas for video projections, and the choreography between those, beating drums and performers had the crowd stunned at times.

In one instance, stylised moko-based projections shot out from a lone woman calling a karanga - making an already powerful voice fill the stadium completely.

New Zealand and the tournament's story was told through a series of "chapters".

It started with the Maori myth of the separation of earth and sky, and the centrepiece was a spine-tingling haka amidst columns of fire.

The ceremony also touched on the Canterbury earthquakes in a dream sequence.

A young boy clad in Canterbury colours scored the try of dreams, fending off a hundred opponents - usually confined to the imagination of the backyard.

Asked earlier if he was nervous about performing in front of a TV audience of a billion, Ethan Bai said, "nah, it's sweet as, ay".

To cheers from the crowd, All Black great Jonah Lomu joined Ethan on the tryline, casting the crowd's memories back to his own epic try-scoring feats.

The tournament's anthem World in Union was performed by New Zealander Ria Hall, surrounded by hundreds of jubilant dancers and the 60,000 in the stands.

As a final haka reverberated, the ground was ringed by fireworks - the cup was finally here.

Afterwards, "awesome" was a word consistently used to describe the ceremony.

Aldas Palubinskas said Ethan Bai's dream sequence was "inspirational".

"I think every boy in the house was up there with him. Young and old."

After the big party ... it's on to the next one

The rugby was over, but crowds wandered through the heart of Auckland into the small hours of this morning, looking to keep on partying.

Queens Wharf was closed to further entry, but a lively crowd already there danced in front of the stage to a series of bands.

In Shed 10, only stragglers were left standing among piles of crushed plastic cups.

Outside, giant screens on Quay St teased the crowd with a live feed of the entertainment on the wharf, while simultaneously advising, "No more entry".

The Viaduct was buzzing as people squeezed past one another in the crowds.

"I've lived here all my life, but I've never seen the city like this," said Ryan Frische.

"It's amazing. Everything has been brilliant."

Car-free Quay St was carpeted with broken glass, over which young people formed circles, with joyful shrieks and shoving.

"We'll just party on the street - have fun," said Pit Kafemann.

The streets were liquor-free only in theory - many revellers drank openly, and many of the smashed bottles had contained alcohol.

Some people, having taken photos of themselves with the giant rugby ball and giant screens, posed with policemen - who were cordial and happy to oblige.

The effervescence spread through Queen St and sideways out on Customs St, the streets swamped with pedestrians even where cars shared the road.

With Party Central closed to newcomers, nobody quite knew where to go. The Viaduct was a common destination. Otherwise, groups sat in bus stops, on benches or in the middle of alleys.

- NZ Herald

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