Delays force timetable changes
There are no improvements in sight for off-peak commuters on Wairarapa’s troubled rail line, with timetables being adjusted to reflect the frequency of delays.
Off-peak trains to and from Wellington and Masterton are meant to be up to 10 minutes faster than peak-time services, but various factors mean that is rarely the case.
That is because increased patronage on the services, including many elderly passengers and people with prams or bikes, are creating longer wait times at stations, while repair and upgrade work done off-peak is also slowing things down.
The repair works are exacerbating speed restrictions already in place on the line because of aging tracks that are in need of an estimated $60 million upgrade.
A Greater Wellington Regional Council spokesman said adjusting the timetable was the only viable option until the track was upgraded.
A proposal to eliminate some of the Hutt Valley stops on the route to speed up services was considered, but ultimately rejected because so many people used them, he said.
The council, together with track owner KiwiRail, will this week submit a business case for a $90 million renewal of track infrastructure to be included in next year’s Government Budget.
Most of that money would go towards improving the Wairarapa line.
Other changes being considered include charging a premium for Hutt Valley commuters using Wairarapabound trains instead of Hutt trains, which share the same track. The aim would be to have fewer Wairarapa trains stopping in the Hutt Valley.
Testing of modified carriages, which were expected to increase capacity, had also started, the spokesman said.
The changes, which come into effect on November 19, will affect mid-morning and afternoon services on weekdays, and morning and evening services on weekends.
They will result in journey times between and four and six minutes longer than is currently scheduled, with the biggest change on the midmorning service from Masterton.
That will leave 19 minutes later, at 10.44am, and arrive at 12.24pm, a travel time increase of six minutes.
Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson said the Wairarapa community had been crying out for rail infrastructure investment for the past decade.
‘‘At the end of the day, this service can’t be improved 100 per cent if we can’t get the investment in the track that the Government hasn’t funded.
‘‘A lot of [the delays] are due to the track repairs.’’
South Wairarapa Mayor Viv Napier said public meetings held by the regional council in Wairarapa earlier this year had given people an opportunity to have their say on the service.
‘‘I’m hopeful the feedback that was put forward in the meetings has been taken into consideration.’’
Napier was also hopeful the much needed track improvements would go ahead.
The council spokesman said there had been previous timetable adjustments over the years, and more powerful locomotives with greater acceleration speeds had been introduced.
The council’s sustainable transport committee chairwoman, Barbara Donaldson, could not be reached for comment.
A timetable change will mean off-peak Wairarapa train services should now be on time.