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Safety fears put brakes on trains

By Mathew Dearnaley

Photo / Natalie Slade
Photo / Natalie Slade

Cash squeezed KiwiRail may slow train speeds as one way to reassure users about the safety of its network.

A KiwiRail business plan which the Government organisation released yesterday after abandoning a bid to suppress it through the courts includes a 50 per cent slowdown in track renewal work by 2015, after which it hopes to recover gradually to existing levels.

Chief executive Jim Quinn assured reporters safety would never be compromised, and KiwiRail would use speed restrictions or close lines rather than endanger staff or the public.

He said there would be no impact on Auckland passenger services, as the latest document involved KiwiRail's $4.6 billion freight-focused "turnaround plan", to which the Government is contributing $750 million.

But the document, over which KiwiRail initially gained a temporary High Court suppression order after it was leaked, foreshadows delays in providing a third set of railway tracks for freight trains along Auckland's southern line to reduce interference with passenger services.

Although some preparatory work is already being done through Wiri, with contributions from Auckland Transport in association with a depot it is building for the region's new electric trains, the rest of the project from Otahuhu is expected to be delayed.

The business plan says the latest date by which all stages of the third-rail project to Wiri must be completed if freight and metro passenger services are not to clash would be January 2015, when the last of Auckland's 57 electric trains are expected.

Auckland Transport is counting on these to provide services every 10 minutes.

Mr Quinn said KiwiRail had sought the injunction, which was lifted at its request yesterday afternoon, for several reasons, including the risk of frank language used internally for robust decisions to be misinterpreted by outsiders.

KiwiRail still planned to spend $1 billion on its network in the next three years, despite having to "cut its cloth" against reduced revenue projections by $200 million with the loss of 181 jobs.

The business plan warns KiwiRail's network will suffer "falling performance and carry a higher disruption-risk profile" which it hopes to manage to limit the impact on premium corridors, such as Hamilton to Pukekohe.

The document makes various assumptions about the fate of branch lines, including that the main rail connection from Auckland to Whangarei will remain but the final 11km of the branch to Dargaville will close, and almost 100km of tracks from Wairoa to Gisborne will be mothballed.

Rail and Maritime Transport Union secretary Wayne Butson blasted it as a "blueprint for the systematic destruction of KiwiRail".

- NZ Herald

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