Wellington Scoop

Standing room only

After spending $500m on rail upgrades, they’re now short of trains. Sunday’s extraordinary announcement from the Regional Council makes the admission that there aren’t enough trains to carry peak-hour Wellington commuters on the upgraded lines.

Overcrowding has been the subject of complaints for weeks, since new timetables were introduced to mark the start of the Waikanae service in February. It was a new era when all problems were supposed to be ended.

But the planners under-estimated. They under-estimated the numbers of people who would want to travel on the new services. They under-estimated the number of car parks that would be needed for park-and-riders at the upgraded Waikanae station. And they under-estimated the time it would take to introduce the new Matangi units.

We learn from Sunday’s announcement that only one four-unit Matangi train is so far in service, and that’s been only for a few days. Several more are needed before peak-hour problems start to be resolved.

But things move slowly in the world of public transport. It’s taken six weeks for any official plan to be announced to deal with the overcrowding. And Sunday’s media release is unfortunate in that it doesn’t really explain whether the train operators are embarrassed by the shortage of carriages, or whether they’re taking belated action only because they’re missing out on collecting fares.

The DomPost reckons they’ve lost about $260,000 because conductors can’t push their way through the standing-room only passengers to click the tickets.

Of course, the idea of paying someone to walk through the carriages clicking tickets is a cumbersome and old-fashioned system which doesn’t happen on commuter services in any major cities. But the upgrades don’t seem to have included included a budget for automatic checking by passengers as they enter the stations. The temporary measures – everything is temporary – are to include checking tickets on the platforms before travellers can board the trains at peak hours. This will cause further delays so passengers are asked to arrive earlier than usual.

It’s only temporary of course. But the temporary plans – which include putting buses on to the overcrowded roads to replace overcrowded trains on the trip from Melling into Wellington – are said to be lasting for at least the next two months.

Things to come?
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1 comment:

  1. Brent Efford, 6. April 2011, 10:23

    Yes – puzzling and disappointing, and an outcome of the culture of a minimalist commitment to rail vis-a-vis the multi-billion dollar plans for state highways. It has to be remembered that, for all the hundreds of millions spent on it, the Wellington Regional Rail Programme was only ever a catch-up to restore the functionality of the rail system to what it was several decades ago after an intervening period of neglect. It was not the step-change necessary to make the rail system complete and competitive to driving on the ever-expanding state highways.

    The Waikane extension was an unexpected extra, imposed by the previous Government when the Regional Council only intended to extend electrification to a car park at Lindale. The obvious need and previous plans to extend the rail spine south through the Wellington CBD were ignored, and the Matangis were specified as heavy rail units, not the tram-trains as proposed in the 1990s – what I refer to as the Matangi Mistake.