Saggy wires halted trains


The peak-hour shut­down of trains in the Welling­ton re­gion on Tues­day last week was caused by old equip­ment and sag­ging wires at Welling­ton Rail­way Sta­tion.

Some of the equip­ment hold­ing up the wires is up to 70 years old, and the older fixed ten­sion wires are not sup­ported by a mod­ern bal­ance weight sys­tem.

The af­ter­noon out­age oc­curred when a train’s pan­to­graph – the de­vice that sits on top of the train and con­nects it to the pow­er­lines – be­came en­tan­gled in wires near the en­trance to Welling­ton Rail­way Sta­tion.

‘‘We don’t know the ex­act cause, it’s go­ing to be one of two things,’’ Ki­wiRail gen­eral man­ager as­sets Dave Gor­don said.

‘‘It will ei­ther be in some way the pan­to­graph ... worked its way loose and tan­gled the wire, or the other way round – in which the wire got loose and sagged and en­tan­gled in the pan­to­graph.

‘‘The more prob­a­ble of the out­comes is that, with the heat of the day, the wire sagged and got caught in the pan­to­graph.’’

The wires were sig­nif­i­cantly dam­aged in the in­ci­dent. They have since been re­stored, but Ki­wiRail said it was look­ing at how to im­prove ‘‘ro­bust­ness and ease of main­te­nance’’.

‘‘It re­in­forces the need to get on and re­place the old stuff,’’ Gor­don said.

The equip­ment sup­port­ing the wires ranged in age from the 1940s and 50s. The wires them­selves have a life­span of about 15 years, but the clips and poles that hold them are a mix of ages from 40 or more years ago.

Train lines across the net­work are cur­rently made up of two sys­tems: an old sys­tem of fixed ten­sion wires, and newer wires that are sup­ported by a mod­ern bal­ance weight sys­tem.

Ki­wiRail is plan­ning a tem­po­rary so­lu­tion of ex­tra sup­port poles and struc­tures to re­duce the risk of sag­ging wires. It will up­grade all older wires across the net­work with a mod­ern bal­ance weight sys­tem over the next four years, with $98 mil­lion al­lo­cated for the pro­gramme last year.

Ki­wiRail is about 60 per cent of the way through a ma­jor net­work over­haul an­nounced in 2014, which will re­place all old equip­ment.

Six Ki­wiRail staff are work­ing to de­ter­mine the cause of Tues­day’s out­age. Train op­er­a­tor Trans­dev is car­ry­ing out a sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The is­sue of a pan­to­graph be­com­ing en­tan­gled in wires also oc­curred less than two weeks ago, on Jan­uary 19 at Lin­den sta­tion. There was another fault in Oc­to­ber last year in Porirua, which was caused by a fail­ure of the wires.

Greater Welling­ton Re­gional Coun­cil, which sets lo­cal train fares, has re­fused to re­fund or pro­vide a free af­ter­noon of travel to com­muters af­fected by Tues­day’s out­age.

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