In August 2020,
KiwiRail applied a blanket temporary speed restriction across Auckland’s metro
rail network system following discovery of accelerated wear and tear (rolling
contact fatigue) of the railway lines.
restrictions lasted several months, with already lengthy train journeys taking much
longer than usual, and entire lines had to be shut down as KiwiRail undertook
A report that
has just been made public attributes the wear and tear to the following:
under investment in the track asset prior to 2014 up to September 2020
rail grinding from 2015 to 2020
design of the electric trains
existence of multiple sites where the track condition is sub-optimal in engineering
factors known to accelerate the growth of rolling contact fatigue.
singles out a 2014 evaluation which concluded that investment of around
$100 million was needed to Auckland’s metro rail network to ensure it
would be fit for purpose for the proposed electric trains. This investment was
not approved, and the parties instead relied on increased inspections for
safety, track speed restrictions, and accepted the infrastructure would provide
lower levels of service.
The report does
not state who vetoed the investment proposal. KiwiRail owns the network and
infrastructure, and Auckland Transport pays an annual fee to use it.
have been costed in the order of $200 million.
This debacle highlights the deadweight loss of sweating
critical assets and even running certain assets to failure. This practice is
likely to generate further debate in the near future, especially as the
resource management system moves to legislating for outcomes, which will
include infrastructure and infrastructure services.