Frustrated Wellingtonians have unleashed on protesters who blocked a central city this morning, with one person even trying to drive past the blockade via the footpath.
Restore Passenger Rail protesters have been removed from the road by police this morning after they blocked traffic near Parliament.
The group was sitting on The Terrace, between Bolton and Bowen Sts. Members of the public had gathered to watch the spectacle and heckle protesters, calling them idiots and swearing at them.
Five people were arrested and are facing charges.
“I don’t care, just f***ing let us get on with our lives,” one man shouted at the protesters.
One driver tried to squeeze his SUV past the protesters, driving on to the kerb to get past - however police arrived just as he got past and blocked his exit.
One woman in her car could be heard calling out the window that commuters are “just trying to get to work to feed our kids”.
It’s the sixth protest within six weeks in whiich the Restore Passenger Rail protesters have blocked or attempted to block traffic. A police spokesperson said they were aware of the planned protest and intended to monitor it and react accordingly.
Throughout April the protests have disrupted traffic on State Highway 1, Adelaide Rd and Vivian St - and attempted to block traffic on Johnsonville Rd but were stopped before they could start by police who happened to be driving through the area.
Acting Wellington District Commander Nicholas Thom said police have a rapid response team ready and waiting for the protesters on weekday mornings.
He said the protest action presents a huge risk to the general public – and the protesters themselves.
“They’re putting themselves at risk of being hit by cars that don’t see them and they’re also putting other motorists at risk of causing some sort of vehicle collision because they are walking out in front of cars that are moving and it is 100 km/h area.”
Several of the protesters have been arrested - some repeatedly - for endangering traffic and breaching bail. They appeared in the Wellington District Court last week.
They demanded that the Government restore passenger rail services and make public transport free – however, after what they described as a failed meeting with Transport Minister Michael Wood in December 2022, they threw paint across several Labour MPs’ offices.
This move spurred Wood to rule out meeting with the group again, and earlier this month the same decision was made by Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau.
Whanau had extended an offer to the protesters to meet with her and find a productive way forward – but when they once again blocked roads – this time Adelaide Rd in Newtown – she withdrew her offer.
“They have not moved forward in good faith, they have disrupted Wellingtonians, they have disrupted the lives of normal people instead of the Government’s.”
Train disruption begins this morning
This morning’s protest comes one day after the Government announced 18 new hybrid trains will be deployed throughout Kāpiti Coast and the Wairarapa, replacing the old and dated trains.
The hybrid trains will reduce emissions - however, Restore Passenger Rail spokesman James Cockle says it is only the beginning.
“Funding the Capital and Wairarapa Connections are a positive step and this proves the Government can take action, but only when they are pressured to do so,” he said this morning.
“As the climate continues to heat and we see the devastating effects here and around the world, we must continue to put pressure on our Government to honour their promise to tackle climate change. As we hurtle towards a 1.5 degree warmer world our Government is still on a highway to climate hell with its foot on the accelerator.”
This morning’s protest also comes at the same time as hundreds of thousands of train passengers are faced with intense disruption due to a fault on the train lines.
Currently, trains are operating under a 70km/h speed limit restriction and a reduced timetable due to the fault. KiwiRail’s only specialist track evaluation car, which measures tracks across the country so trains can operate safely, has a fault.
Inspections on the Kāpiti, Hutt Valley and Wairarapa lines are overdue, making them non-compliant, so temporary speed restrictions have been imposed until the evaluation car is fixed.
The restrictions will affect hundreds of thousands of passengers - and KiwiRail executives have been called before Parliament this morning to explain the failure.
KiwiRail said on Saturday it was aiming to fix the fault in days rather than weeks - but Transport Minister Michael Wood wants an explanation.
The Government has invested $8.6 billion since 2017 on improvements to provide a more resilient and reliable transport network.
Greater Wellington Regional Council chairman Daran Ponter said KiwiRail’s safety equipment failure showed an abysmal lack of accountability and management.
“To be clear, this is a monumental failure by KiwiRail. The poor maintenance of this essential piece of equipment is holding the entire North Island’s rail network hostage.”