3 Oct 2022

Auckland train lines to close for network track upgrades ahead of City Rail Link opening

6:24 pm on 3 October 2022
030314. Photo supplied. Auckland trains

Rail replacement buses will be available for affected train commuters during the rail upgrade. (File photo) Photo: supplied

Aucklanders who commute on trains are being warned parts of the network will be temporarily closed from next year for a major rebuild.

The work is part of a $330 million rail network upgrade and will mean the city's Southern Line between Ōtāhuhu and Newmarket and the Onehunga Line will remain closed beyond the usual Christmas/New Year shutdown period until late March.

Work will then move to the Eastern Line, which will be closed for most of 2023.

In a statement, KiwiRail capital projects chief operating officer David Gordon said rock foundations under the tracks needed to be removed and rebuilt so that rail lines could handle increased capacity once the City Rail Link (CRL) was in operation.

"We've been undertaking routine maintenance and replacing worn out track and sleepers and we're now moving on to something more fundamental," Gordon said.

"The Rail Network Rebuild involves replacing the rock foundations (formation and ballast) underneath the tracks, some of which haven't been renewed since the Auckland network started being built in the 1870s."

Replacing the foundations would also mean the removal of some speed restrictions, he said.

"For Aucklanders it will mean more reliable trains, faster journey times, and is crucial to enabling the more frequent trains to come with CRL one day."

Earlier this year, KiwiRail wrapped up work on the network which had also caused partial closures.

Gordon acknowledged the disruption to commuters but said it would take decades to get it done if they were to rely solely on holiday line closures.

"Even closing sections of line but allowing some peak services would push the completion date well beyond the start of CRL operations - which is unacceptable."

He said they were trying to work through improvements now so that any further major disruptions could be avoided, although maintenance would be ongoing.

Rail replacement buses will be available for affected train commuters during the rail upgrade, with Auckland Transport ambassadors expected to be on site at affected stations to help passengers.

Auckland Transport (AT) metro services group manager Darek Koper said while there were challenges around the bus driver shortage, they were working with rail operator Auckland One Rail to ensure passengers had a reliable alternative.

More information about alternative travel options for the Onehunga Line and Southern Line will be available from November.

It would be a challenge, but in the end Auckland will "finally get a world class rail network to operate our train services reliably and safely and a lot faster than we can today".

Planning is underway to ensure there are enough bus drivers to offer alternative travel options, Koper told Checkpoint.

However, Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance spokesperson Josh Van Veen said he had no confidence in AT's ability to provide reliable buses as a replacement.

It was in an impossible situation, given the ongoing shortage of drivers, he said.

The alliance was calling on the heads of AT to resign.

Koper said there was enough capacity on existing bus services, and there should be enough bus services to replace closed rail services.

The announcement didn't come earlier because AT was in discussions with KiwiRail about how to manage the disruptions. It initially did not support KiwiRail's plan, which included closing all the lines at one time, Koper said.

The timetable will be finalised in November.

The majority of the rail network upgrade is expected to be finished before CRL construction is complete by the end of 2024, but for other lines, like the Manukau - Puhinui Line, the Swanson - Henderson section of the Western Line, and the part of the rail network between Newmarket and Britomart, it is expected to be completed after CRL is open.

Parts of the Auckland rail network will be temporarily closed from 2023 for a major rebuild.

Parts of the Auckland rail network will be temporarily closed from 2023 for a major rebuild. Photo: Supplied / KiwiRail

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