Manukau's new $98 million rail link faces a seven-month delay because Auckland Transport says it and KiwiRail are too busy to open it on time.
Although work is well advanced on laying tracks over a 2km route from the main trunk line to a 300m trench in central Manukau, the council-controlled body says it has too much other work to complete a new below-ground station by July, as hoped earlier.
Auckland Transport's latest opening date for the station, which it announced yesterday, is February.
That is despite strong support for the project by Auckland Mayor Len Brown, who lobbied hard for KiwiRail to get cracking on it during his term as Manukau's mayor.
Auckland Transport spokeswoman Sharon Hunter denied that not enough trains would have been available to open the new branch line on time, as she acknowledged bloggers had suggested on a transport-related website. "There's plenty of trains."
But Auckland Council transport committee chairman Mike Lee said only four more refurbished carriages and a diesel train due to arrive in the next few weeks were on order to tide Aucklanders over before electric multiple units (EMUs) start arriving in 2013.
That is despite a 20 per cent annual increase in rail patronage to more than eight million trips, a figure which continues to rise as high fuel prices prompt more and more commuters to switch to public transport.
KiwiRail last week deferred to Auckland Transport to answer queries from the Herald about progress on the project, even though it is responsible for laying tracks and building platforms at a new station in the trench just west of Manukau's civic centre.
Auckland Transport is responsible for above-platform development, which includes making allowances for buildings to be developed above the station by the Manukau Institute of Technology as part of its new Hayman Park campus.
One of two planned sets of tracks has already been laid and workers were yesterday lining up concrete sleepers in the trench.
Reinforcing steel had been placed along the top of both of the station's platforms, ready for a final pour of concrete, and stairs were in place for passengers descending from street-level.
Initial earthworks were also in progress above ground for the new tertiary education campus.
Auckland Transport chief infrastructure officer Kevin Doherty reported to his board a fortnight ago that a contract for fitting out the station had begun, although escalators would not be constructed until more progress had taken place on the tertiary campus.
Ms Hunter said there was just too much happening elsewhere on the rail network to complete the Manukau link before February.
That included activities relating to the Government's $1 billion rail electrification project, such as signalling work by KiwiRail and the development of a depot for new electric trains due to start arriving in 2013.
Railway workers were also being kept busy by new track works and signalling at Morningside Station, to reduce any risk from having trains leaving in the same westerly direction on both sets of tracks after Rugby World Cup matches.
That included a crossover to allow trains leaving Morningside on the right-hand side to rejoin left-hand tracks further down the line.