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Options for ballast replacement in Auckland

R S Grant made this Official Information request to KiwiRail

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From: R S Grant

Dear KiwiRail,

I understand that the upcoming widespread closures of the rail network in Auckland are due to the need to replace ballast under the tracks.

Please can you provide all information (including but not limited to internal analysis, discussion documents, reports, briefings, and board papers) that canvass the various options that exist to undertake this work without widespread closure of the railway. Please ensure you include any information you have regarding analysis you will undoubtedly have carried out as to how overseas railway systems can accomplish the same maintenance work without widespread and long-term closure of the railway network, and why Kiwirail rejected the use of such options for the renewal of the Auckland network.

Yours faithfully,

R S Grant

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From: Dave Allard
KiwiRail

Good afternoon

Thank you for your enquiry, our response is as per the below.

The Rail Network Rebuild is not light, routine maintenance, which can and is done at night and on weekends and it's not just replacing ballast. Ballast replacement or regular maintenance is routinely carried out over weekends, or designated blocks of line such as those over the Christmas holiday period.

The work we are undertaking now, is focussed on replacing the foundations (known as formation) under the tracks, and improving surface drainage. This is the kind of work that has to be done every 50 - 100 years, and in some parts of the Auckland network the track foundations haven't been renewed since the network started being built in the 1870s.

It involves removing the rails and sleepers then digging out the ballast and rock formation underneath the tracks. This can be up to two metres deep and has to be removed by diggers. New formation is then put in and compacted, then the ballast and tracks replaced. To do so, we are using a number of different machines to speed the work along. There is a video on our website which shows this type of work:
https://www.kiwirail.co.nz/our-network/o...

As a general rule, 60-70% of top faults (e.g. with rail or sleepers) are actually due to weaknesses in the formation, often caused by poor drainage. Additionally, our rail network was originally built for freight; not modern, frequent passenger services which require the rail network to be of a higher standard to operate reliably.

The Rail Network Rebuild is designed to address these issues and raise the rail network to a modern metro standard. This work is essential if Auckland's rail network is to accommodate the increase in the number of trains facilitated by the opening of the City Rail Link. Our whole approach with the Rail Network Rebuild is to minimise overall disruption to commuters, while doing as much work as possible before CRL is completed - so Aucklanders will see more frequent and reliable trains from Day-1 of CRL. That's why we're only closing one section at a time, so commuter services can continue operating on the rest of the network. A completed section will then be reopened before we move onto the next, and we are aiming to complete each section as quickly as possible, including working at nights where possible.

The supporting documents covered under your request have been already been publicly released and can be found on KiwiRail's website - here https://www.kiwirail.co.nz/who-we-are/pu...

I trust this answers your query, but any further questions please get in touch.
You have the right to seek an investigation and review by the Ombudsman of this decision. Information about how to make a complaint is available at www.ombudsman.parliament.nz or by calling free-phone 0800 802 602.

Kind regards
Dave

Dave Allard  | Senior Government Relations Advisor
Level 4, Wellington Railway Station, Bunny Street, Wellington 6011 | PO Box 593, Wellington 6140, New Zealand

www.kiwirail.co.nz

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From: R S Grant

Dear Dave Allard,

Thank you for your prompt response to my request. However, while it was helpful it did not fully address the question I was asking.

I was specifically interested in information that Kiwirail possesses that discussed “the various options that exist to undertake this work without widespread closure of the railway”.

I also asked to be included in the release “any information you have regarding analysis you will undoubtedly have carried out as to how overseas railway systems can accomplish the same maintenance work without widespread and long-term closure of the railway network, and why Kiwirail rejected the use of such options for the renewal of the Auckland network”.

I don’t believe those matters are addressed anywhere in the documents that have been released via your website. If they are, then I would be grateful if you could point out exactly where. If they are not, as I believe, then please could you release the relevant information to me, or advise if it doesn’t exist.

With that said, it would be surprising if the information does not exist as it would hardly be credible that you would have contemplated shutting down the rail network in New Zealand’s largest economic centre for months on end without thoroughly examining how other railway companies manage to avoid such disruption, including railway companies whose track was laid at least as early as Kiwirail’s was in Auckland. I am thinking of the massive London commuter network for example.

As far as I can tell, the closest any document got to discussing the options for how the required work should be undertaken is the Single Stage Business Case dating from 2019, but even that does not properly address the questions I have asked. (I also note that that document is a draft - please can you also provide the final version of that business case.)

Thanks again for your response.

Yours sincerely,

R S Grant

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From: Dave Allard
KiwiRail

Good afternoon Grant.

If you have a look at document three under the release, I think you will find that will answer your query about the various options looked at to undertake this work without widespread closures of the network. I.e it discusses the options around how the necessary track access could have been achieved, but the various costs and timeframes around that.

In terms of overseas networks and any comparisons done, there are no specific documents.

However, there are no networks overseas that I am aware of that would be able to complete the necessary works without the total closure of the line for extended periods. As noted in our previous response, the Rail Network Rebuild is not light, routine maintenance, but replacing the formation below the tracks.
It would be like trying to replace the foundations of a building which still allowing the occupants to live in it.

Doing a quick google search I found this release.

https://www.networkrailmediacentre.co.uk...

Note they are closing the line completely for the re-sleepering work, and note the same issues that KiwiRail face – i.e not closing the network completely would cause much further delays.
And that is re-sleepering which KiwiRail completed in much the same fashion and timeframe – as noted earlier, this is a much more complex job.

As FYI - the business case noted as draft is the most recent version that exists - hence the release of that version although noted as draft.

Kind regards

Dave

Dave Allard  | Senior Government Relations Advisor
DDI: 027 201 8182
Level 4, Wellington Railway Station, Bunny Street, Wellington 6011 | PO Box 593, Wellington 6140, New Zealand

www.kiwirail.co.nz

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From: R S Grant

Hi Dave,

First, can I thank you for your prompt and helpful reply, once again.

I see that document 3 does address options for track access. The aspect I was more interested in was what work may have been done to examine options for the work itself. The documents seem to assume that replacing the track formation is the only possible solution, but I believe that alternatives could have been considered. For example, was Slurry Injection Stabilisation considered? There is an interesting analysis at the link below of such an approach, which looked at work undertaken by Queensland Railways. Was no analysis done of alternatives to replacing the formation?

http://railknowledgebank.com/Presto/cont...

Yours sincerely,

R S Grant

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From: Dave Allard
KiwiRail

Hi there - to be honest, I have no idea if ideas like that were explored.
Let me ask the project team and get back to you.

Cheers - and have a great Christmas

Dave

Dave Allard  | Senior Government Relations Advisor
DDI: 027 201 8182
Level 4, Wellington Railway Station, Bunny Street, Wellington 6011 | PO Box 593, Wellington 6140, New Zealand

www.kiwirail.co.nz

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