Recent prohibition on Te Huia travelling through the Auckland metro network to central Auckland has been lifted. The Hamilton-Auckland commuter service is expected to now resume travelling to The Strand by Monday, 7 August.
KiwiRail and Waikato Regional Council have welcomed the lifting of recent restrictions by rail regulator NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi last night – and there will be free tickets for a week to mark its return.
Since 11 July, Te Huia has carried passengers only as far as Papakura after Waka Kotahi required a specific piece of equipment (European Train Control System or ETCS) to be installed, which would take years to achieve.
The decision by the Waka Kotahi followed an incident last month where Te Huia passed a stop signal near Penrose, and a further minor incident on 10 July where an empty Te Huia train passed a signal in Waikato, outside of the Auckland metropolitan network.
Waikato Regional Councillor and Future Proof Public Transport Subcommittee Deputy Chair, Angela Strange has welcomed the news.
“This is an excellent outcome. We’re looking forward to getting Te Huia back on track into central Auckland for our passengers as quick as possible, and I’m excited to announce free travel for all passengers for a week from the date of re-launch of the full service.
“It’s been really heartening to hear just how much Te Huia is valued by our communities, as well as nationally as a symbol of the potential for regional passenger rail.
“I want to acknowledge the loyal passengers who’ve continued to travel with us through this interruption to our full service, and am optimistic that our passenger numbers will continue to steadily climb again off the back of today’s news.”
Executive General Manager Operations, Paul Ashton says KiwiRail has worked constructively with Waka Kotahi on alternative safety proposals which have now been accepted.
“We know that commuters have wanted this to be resolved. We look forward to welcoming passengers back on board – we will get you from Hamilton to Auckland safely, comfortably, with coffee in hand and wi-fi on your device, and you won’t have to find a park when you arrive.”
Ashton says KiwiRail agrees with the regulator that ETCS should be installed on Te Huia, if its running rights are extended beyond its current five-year contract.
“We are also planning to instal this technology on all our mainline freight trains operating in Auckland, but this will take time.”
Alternative safety measures are being used for Te Huia. “We have installed Electronic Train Protection (ETP) on Te Huia, which automatically stops the train if it passes a red signal. This safety measure is bolstered by a very safe rail system design, which causes other signals to turn red if one is passed, to stop all trains in the area. ETCS is a predictive system, which slows a train as it approaches a red signal.
“KiwiRail took both incidents seriously, and has worked closely with the rail regulator to resolve its concerns. The rail network is safe and well managed, and we want to assure the public of this.”