Wellington Scoop

Chaos on the tracks

Not content with creating chaos across the Wellington train network from the last strike, it appeared today that all parties were doubling down on industrial action – with another train strike announced for Friday. And against this backdrop, stories are coming out about cancellations and maintenance problems creating chaos on the Wairarapa line.

Tonight the strike has been called off. But when it was announced, the union and new operators Transdev and Hyundai seemed to be still at loggerheads:

Wellington rail workers have again voted to take strike action as their employers refuse to deal with them fairly in bargaining a collective agreement. The industrial action will take place from 2am until 11:59pm on Friday.

“Despite going into mediated bargaining, there’s been no meaningful change from Transdev and Hyundai,” says Wayne Butson, RMTU advocate for the rail workers. “They’re not budging on clawing back long-standing provisions like overtime for working weekends and industry-standard allowances for tools and specialist technical work – contrary to what they’re telling the public. This is unacceptable to the people who go to work every day to make Wellington’s rail network run. So they’re taking the only action they can.”

You’d think that weekend overtime rates would have been a pretty fundamental thing which should have been protected in the contracts negotiated with the new operators by the Regional Council, when it took the contract away from Kiwirail last year. Apparently not. So the union’s contention that the “savings” generated by the new operators would be carried out at the expense of staff was looking more accurate by the day.

And while our regional train network looked threatened to return to the confrontational industrial relations model of the 1970s, the Wairarapa line is descending into unparalleled levels of service disruption. Reports are rife of the maintenance and operational delays and cancellations on the line. Here’s the texts from the Metlink updates from Friday, from a not very impressed passenger:

WRL: The 3.38pm svc from MAST to WELL is currently held at MAYM due to an air pressure fault.
WRL: The 4.25pm svc from WELL to MAST will be held at UPPE due to a broken down svc at MAYM.
WRL: There is a replacement locomotive unit on it’s way from UPPE to assist the the broken 3.38pm svc at MAYM to get passengers moving.
WRL: Please expect significant delays at UPPE due to the broken down svc at MAYM. We apologise for the inconvenience.
WRL: The broken down 3.38pm svc from MAST will be pushed to TREN where passengers will be able to offload on to limited buses into WELL.
WRL: Passengers from the broken down 3.38pm svc from MAST to WELL will also be able to board regular HVL services from TREN to WELL.
WRL: The 4.25pm svc from WELL to MAST is still suspended at UPPE due to the broken down svc at MAYM. Please expect ongoing delays.
WRL: The 3.38pm svc from MAST to WELL is now on the move from MAYM express to TREN running approx 1 hour behind schedule.
WRL: The 5.30pm svc from WELL to MAST has now departed WELL, running approx 26 minutes late. We apologies for this inconvenience.
WRL: The 6.18pm svc from WELL to MAST will be delayed departing WELL due to an earlier svc breakdown. Updates to follow.
HVL/WRL: we are still experiencing delays to WRL and HVL services due to the earlier breakdown. We appreciate your patience at this time.
WRL: The 4.25pm svc from WELL to MAST has no departed UPPE, running approx 1 hour and 45 minutes behind schedule.
WRL: The next WRL service from WELL to MAST now has an estimated departure time of 7.45pm. We apologies for the delay to this service.
WRL: The 6.18pm svc from WELL to MAST has now departed WELL and is running approx 1 hour 50 minutes behind schedule. We apologise for the delay.

And yes, this is exactly what train services look like in the Third World.

Apparently, this kind of maintenance-related chaos has become standard fare, with regular commuters talking of big delays on a weekly basis, as locomotives and carriages break down and as staffing issues take their toll. It appears to be a regular diet of maintenance done poorly or not at all, and – presumably – train staff no longer prepared to move mountains to keep things running because they’re embroiled in a dispute with their employer.

And where is the Regional Council in all of this? After all, they are the architects of this particular piece of chaos – they were the ones who decided to re-tender the train contracts, cut back the subsidies they pay for public transport, and raise fares into the bargain. Here’s what their website says:

Greater Wellington Regional Council has made further changes to simplifying fares and improving overall affordability after consulting the public on its proposed Better Metlink Fares package … Sustainable Transport Committee Chair Barbara Donaldson says “Overall, the public was supportive of the fare proposals, which we will move to implement next July.”

Of course, that was back in October. Since then we’ve had strikes, delays and problems, and yet the regional council has remained mostly silent. There’s no explanation and no sense of accountability from Barbara Donaldson, and not the slightest acknowledgement that things are definitely not well on Wellington’s train network.

We should expect better.

This article was written before the strike had been called off; it has been amended to reflect the new development, which was announced at 4.30pm.


  1. Neil Douglas, 30. November 2017, 16:26

    The Wairarapa Line is a bloody disgrace, strikes or no strikes.

    Last Friday, the 4.30pm train arriving Carterton 6pm was 90 minutes late, yes folks NINETY MINUTES late which meant it was late for longer than the trip should have taken!

    I’d driven to meet my partner at Carterton station to find the electronic platform sign saying “All trains suspended”.

    I asked a fellow picker-upper in the car park and he said “No they are just delayed as I’ve just rang the person I’m picking up”. So I went to the nearby supermarket and returned half an hour later and asked another picker-upper who said that they were likely to be delayed by an hour. So I went to the Region 58 Brewery where owner Gary Fisher let me use his phone.

    I learnt that there was nothing wrong with the train until Transdev decided to take off the loco to help the previous train which had some sort of air con problem. They were stuck at Upper Hutt with little info from Transdev. 90 minutes late it chugged into Carterton.

    Now tomorrow (Friday) there will be no service at all due to striking staff which actually is probably better than the rubbish service they provided last Friday (and had the cheek to charge money for).

  2. GillyT, 30. November 2017, 18:23

    National’s Alistair Scott is bemoaning the strike action. It was his government that brought in the PTOM (Public Transport Operating Model) in 2013 that forced the privatisation of Wellington’s public transport network. Result: higher fares (and lower patronage – more people travelling in cars!), along with the loss of our trolley buses and now industrial action by train drivers who are defending their wages and conditions. He should hang his head in shame at the vandalism wrought on what used to be a really good and reliable service. I’m no fan of the GWRC, but let’s not forget we’re dealing with the blowback from another one of the National government’s “legacies” here.

  3. Doug Watson, 3. December 2017, 17:10

    Yes, it is true that it is partly a legacy problem, but also poor management practice, initially by KiwiRail and then by GWRC. There has also been a lack of central government appreciation of the problem and inadequate resource allocation. Capping this off is an absence of pro-active forward planning for Wairarapa services by GWRC, creating a perfect storm of factors leading to the current state of affairs. Consequences? zero for the bureaucrats, lots of problems for the travelling public.