As I noted a couple of days ago it has been a pretty horrific year for Auckland’s train system so far, with signalling failures, points failures and train failures seemingly occurring on a daily basis (quite literally actually). In that previous post I questioned whether the $11 million cutback to the rail contract was behind many of these problems (the train breakdowns, the daily signal and points failures are KiwiRail’s fault). It seems that trains running in Auckland this evening on the Western Line were subjected to another typical “day at the office” - a points failure leading to 45 minute delays.
I think it’s worthwhile doing a bit of a comparison between how the rail problems faced by Auckland and Wellington in recent weeks have been dealt with. Let’s start with Wellington, where a couple of weeks ago there were some serious problems relating to electric wires that were not properly fixed during overnight maintenance, causing huge problems. KiwiRail got blasted in the Dominion Post Editorial, which had this to say:
On Tuesday 369 people were stuck on a train to Upper Hutt for two hours after a power failure halted all trains in and out of the capital. “No one told us anything,” complained a passenger. “We were locked up and were going nowhere. We were not allowed outside.”
The previous day 2000 commuters were delayed for up to two hours when another power fault brought services to a standstill. Some passengers waited more than an hour for replacement buses to show up. Others walked to work along the lines.
This week’s breakdowns are just the latest in a string of problems that have infuriated passengers over the past 12 months as historic under-investment in the commuter network and a $600 million upgrade have coincided to create what KiwiRail project manager David Gordon calls a “perfect storm”.
Passengers have been delayed by power faults, equipment failures, slips and contractor errors and, last winter, were left to shiver in carriages without working heaters.
Faced with such a difficult operating environment, KiwiRail might have been expected to do its utmost to retain customer loyalty by informing passengers of the cause and likely length of delays and having alternative forms of transport on hand to minimise inconvenience.
Instead it has operated as if its customers have no choice but to put up with its erratic services.
In response, KiwiRail actually did something. There was a free day’s travel as compensation for the problems and a real commitment to sort things out it would seem. Rail is taken seriously in Wellington and the trains are expected to work, so when something goes wrong because there’s only one agency involved (KiwiRail) things can be sorted out.
Meanwhile, back in Auckland, it’s arguable that we suffer (on a smaller scale, but far more frequently) significantly more problems with our rail network. As I have mentioned in previous posts, there were 406 signal or points failures on the Auckland rail network in the last year alone, and in January only 36% of Western Line trains reached the destination less than 5 minutes late, while 10% didn’t even reach their destination at all. And yet what have we heard from ARTA or KiwiRail about these horrific problems in Auckland?
Instead, we get bombarded with media releases about fun, nice to have, events and promotions that ARTA’s running. Like tomorrow’s Walk2Work promotion, which I’m sure is a good idea, but how about we sort those trains out? Or a “one-stop-shop” calendar for finding out about sustainable travel events, or some promotion with the Blues rugby team, or the refurbishment of the Maxx Website (without actually updating the horrifically outdated mapping system behind the scenes) or the bizarre “Make a Change” campaign. These are all “nice”, but once again please can we get the basics right first? Can we get more than two out of five trains running on time on the Western Line, can we ensure that 10% of trains don’t fail to make it to their destination? Can we get some progress updates on how integrated ticketing is coming along? Can we start implementing a paper-based integrated fare system like was promised “within a few months” back in 2008?
Now I imagine ARTA will throw their hands up in the air at all of this and say “but it’s not our fault, it’s KiwiRail/Veolia/ARC/City Councils/NZTA’s fault….” Which is probably true, but in a nutshell is the problem.
And having a massive Transport CCO is only going to make things worse, as they’ll be even less accountable while we’ll still have the dis-integration between KiwiRail, Veolia and the new Transport Agency. This isn’t throwing the baby out with the bathwater, it’s throwing the baby out but keeping the damn bathwater.