Auckland's struggling rail network is under the microscope to see if it can cope with the city's bulging population.
A series of failures and growing numbers of delays with the current network is raising alarm bells and fears failure to deliver a reliable and resilient network over the next decade will erode public confidence in rail and public transport.
A broken piece of track caused a train derailment inside the underground Britomart station in May last year and the patience of rail passengers is wearing thin with regular faults and cancelled services.
A recent focus by the NZ Transport Agency(NZTA) on maintenace and inspection of the track has found many faults and resulted in speed restricitons and temporary closures on some lines.
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The rail network has become a victim of its own success with patronage growing from 2.5 million trips when Britomart opened in 2002 to 17m trips in 2017.
With further investment in the $4.4 billion City Rail Link(CRL), new trains, a third line from Westfield and Wiri and electrification from Papakura to Pukekohe, plus an additional 300,000 people over the next decade, rail use is expected to boom to up to 80m passenger trips a year.
The exciting but challenging future has prompted Auckland Transport to lead a high level review of the city's rail network. KiwiRail, which maintains the network, and Transdev, which runs the trains, are also on board.
The review by Opus is looking at the condition of rail assets, maintenance standards and plans to determine if they are "fit for purpose" for the future.
The engineering consultants are having to factor in the impact of more train services, narrowing gaps between services and what failures mean for commuters.
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"It is critical that the railway infrastructure is capable of safely and reliably delivering on this growth.
"Failure to deliver a safe, reliable and resilient network will undermine both the confidence and achievement of the targets that Auckland Transport has for rail and more broadly public transport in Auckland," says a brief for the review.
A draft report of the review, commissioned in April this year, has been received by AT. A final report is due by Christmas. A separate safety report is being prepared by the NZTA.
Mark Lambert, acting AT chief executive, said the review is looking at the current state of the rail track and getting a professional engineering opinion of what work needs to be done, if any, when the CRL opens in 2024 alongside a significant increase in train services.
He said the draft report had not thrown up anything unexpected, but would help package up some upgrade work to apply for funding from NZTA.
"In summary what it really says is the track and infrastructure is currently fit for purpose for the volume of service operating on it.
"However, it has recommended that upgrades of track prior to CRL opening and the maintenance regime should be enhanced from the point that we operate more services," Lambert said.
He said AT is looking for more funding, which will come from the NZTA's transitional rail improvements fund.
Mayor Phil Goff supports the review, saying it will help to cost and scope the work required to ensure the future reliability of the track prior to the CRL coming on stream.
"The CRL will double rail capacity and enable a significant increase in services which will necessarily require work to enhance track condition and other 'below-track' improvements on the rail network to support that growth," Goff said.