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Delays to Ease for Train Commuters

Delays to Ease for Train Commuters

Tranz Rail expects significant reductions in the delays to commuter trains following good progress during meetings with the Minister of Transport Paul Swain, and the Land Transport Safety Authority

Tranz Rail Managing Director Michael Beard said the company now expected a rapid lifting of restrictions on sections of track that had already been subject to remedial heat buckling work.

“We were able to give the Minister and the LTSA the information and assurances they wanted to enable us to lift restrictions on areas of track that have already been repaired and that means a good result for commuters,” says Mr Beard.

“That is particularly so for Wellington and Wairarapa commuters who will have their trains back to normal by Christmas.”

Mr Beard said the risk in relation to Continuously Welded Rail (CWR) is the lowest it has ever been as the company has better quality track and better information about the risk areas than ever before.

“Since 1994 this issue has been managed by the imposition of a speed restriction of 40 kph following the activation of a heat alarm. During that time not a single passenger train has derailed because of heat buckling and not one passenger has been injured under that regime.

“More than 800 kilometres of track has been repaired in that time and we have new equipment and a fresh programme lined up that will deal with the remaining 550 kilometres or so within five years. The Wellington network, including the line to Masterton will be all but complete before Christmas, the Auckland network completed by next summer and the Midland line, that hosts the Tranz Alpine, will also be complete by next summer.

Mr Beard said Tranz Rail and the LTSA agreed to the current restriction on the movement of passenger trains late last summer as a temporary measure while the LTSA assessed Tranz Rail’s CWR repair programme.

Following further extensive remedial work to the network over winter Tranz Rail was seeking a return to restricted running at 40 kph at defined sites following alarms.

Heat alarms are activated when the rail temperature reaches 40 degrees and indicates the existence of conditions that may lead to a heat buckle in Continuously Welded Rail (CWR). Heat alarms are placed on sections of CWR that may be at risk of buckling when the temperature rises. Speeds are then reduced to safe operating levels of 40 kph.

Mr Beard said that the use of recently available specialist measuring equipment has resulted in Tranz Rail placing twice as much track under Heat 40 (H40) watch as at the same time last year.

“We are getting a very accurate picture of the overall state of the network and can target remedial work accurately. However, in the meantime that means more of the network under H40 watch. As there are temperature restrictions on the use of this equipment and any ensuing repairs the necessary repair work takes time to complete.

CWR, the current world-wide standard for rail installation, was first introduced to Tranz Rail’s network in 1975 with the bulk of the work carried out in the late 1980s and early 1990’s. He said records from that period were incomplete but it was clear significant areas of that work had not been carried out to the required standard.

“About 1350 kms of rail was welded prior to privatisation in 1993 and we have welded about another 700 kms since then. Unfortunately it became quickly apparent that much of the work carried out prior to 1993 was not to specification while records from that period are not very detailed or accurate.

“We have been methodically working our way through that legacy of 1300 kms of CWR at a rate of 100kms to 120 kms per year. We have inserted hundreds of thousands of rail anchors and added additional ballast to reduce the problem. We have also laid heavier rail in some sections, we are replacing wooden sleepers with concrete and we have had an ongoing de-stressing programme to ensure CWR is installed at the appropriate stress levels. We have about 550 kms of rail left to complete.

“That programme has already reduced heat buckles from a high of 150 in 1994-95 to an average of 68 per summer in recent years.

“Since April we have spent about $1.4 million on a de-stressing programme featuring the new state-of-the-art measuring equipment that is giving us an accurate and reliable picture of the extent of the work required.

“We know this current programme will bring the issue of heat buckling down to minimal levels. However, there will still be heat alarms and the occasional heat buckle. They are a fact of life for CWR.”

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