A fairly stunning result for Wellington yesterday with the derailment at the throat of the main Railway Station. It makes it harder for pro-rail enthusiasts to get the message across that Rail is better, when an event like this takes out all of the Metlink lines that pass through there. You know the story by now: that a freight train derailed right at the key points on the tracks and then continued along for another couple of hundred metres, ripping up the points and tracks. Some 25,000 train commuters were stopped from travelling – the whole system ground to a halt and no one got to work on time. It was only just being put back together by 5pm when it was time to go home again.
Apparently there were next to no buses to spare, so lines could not just say “take the bus instead” and everyone was in the same boat, so to speak. I just decided to take the easy way out and stayed at home instead, and I presume that many others did as well. Fair enough.
But then I started to think – why did the system collapse so badly, on all three lines? Could the trains not have continued as far as the edge of the derailment, let the passengers disembark off the train, and then the train could reverse away, back up the track. Why couldn’t this have worked? The trains can be driven from either end. The tracks have numerous cross-over points, so there should be no worry about ending up on the wrong lane. There could have been 25,000 people getting to work a bit late, having walked from the Stadium, instead of not getting to work at all.
Sure – there wasn’t a convenient station to stop at with a level platform to disembark on – or is there? What about Kaiwharawhara ? The station is not usually used, but the platforms are still there. Buses could have been readily repurposed from elsewhere to ferry passengers the short distance into the town, instead of having to reroute people into buses further up the valley into the deepest darkest Hutt. If we really want to be resilient, we want to have people who can think on their feet and react to an emergency, instead of curling up in a ball and hiding under the desk. This was a problem which might not have been foreseen, but should not have been the end of the world. Wellington – we can do better than this!
Wellington, as a city, has more than it’s share of natural hazards, and contingency planning for significant public utilities should be something we excel in.
In this case, the effective impact of the event was that Wellington Railway station was out of commission. Which you would think is a prime scenario for Civil Defense to have studied and laid down pre-plans to mitigate. And this was a golden opportunity to have pulled out those pre-plans and tried them out. Instead, we got “take the buses – oh whoops, there’s no buses”
Which leads me to my other point. Outsourcing does tend to reduce the fat in a system. Too much fat is obviously unhealthy, but having a bit around can help you through a disaster. I have a suspicion that if this event had occurred before the busastrophy there would have been more spare buses available.
It’s a question I immediately thought too. Why not just use the closest platforms and shuttle people. The Waikanae service wasn’t even going to Tawa when it could have easily and perhaps helped a few people.
The response showed a very rigid view of the transport system, and a more systems thinking approach could have seen that only one station on the network was out and the rest could have all continued to function.That may have allowed more busses to be diverted to help.
A peek back into the dark ethernet of November 2013 shows what a dumb move it was to close Kaiwharawhara instead of Ngauranga.
They will be kicking themselves for having closed the station, especially in this dire situation. There is even a bus depot right next door now, which would have helped with the bus changeover, no sweat. (Well, less sweat than having no buses at all!)
Problem is there aren’t numerous crossovers any longer. The crossovers at Ngauranga (removed about Ten years ago) would have made for a lot of resilience if they were still there. On the Waikanae line the only crossover south of Porirua is Yaws, currently unusable to my knowledge.
Tawa, not yaws. Bloody auto correct
So not these ones then? Genuinely curious.
https://www.google.co.nz/maps/@-41.2616594,174.788762,74m/data=!3m1!1e3 (Kapiti line)
https://www.google.co.nz/maps/@-41.2632606,174.7866101,53m/data=!3m1!1e3 (Hutt line)
Thanks Mason – I was getting all excited to hear of Yaws, thinking it was some new feature or place i’d never heard of….
(I’ve found that auto-correct often changes Metlink into Melting….
Although i’m not hopeful that Metlink and KiwiRail are regular readers of Eye of the Fish, i do hope that they get to read this – or to come to the same conclusion, about building more redundancy into the situation, so that our city can cope. Must have been a hugely frustrating day for everyone.
To provide a usual service north of the derailment needs rolling stock, where the rolling stock is stored overnight is a limiting factor. Those sitting in the Wellington yards couldn’t be used. There’s some stored at Paekakariki and Waikanae (I’m not familiar with the Upper Hutt line). Does anyone know the numbers stored at each location?
The comments in the Scoop article Seamonkey links to are interesting. Regarding Kaiwharawhara, Dave B says: “Fred, I believe the plan is to retain the platforms for emergency use only and shepherd evacuated passengers across the tracks and out through a gate, in the absence of the footbridge.” So much for that plan!
Hey, Leviathan your premonitional power were bang on….
“Metlink has revealed a contingency plan was in motion to deal with a breakdown such as Tuesday’s near Wellington Railway Station, but was due to be completed early next year.
The plan is to reinstate the train station at Kaiwharawhara, near the Interislander ferry terminal, so passengers can be dropped off there if the entrance to the main station is out of action.
Buses could then transport passengers the short distance to Wellington station.”
“Greater Wellington Regional Council rail operations manager Angus Gabara said the back-up station would have been invaluable on Wednesday.”
Thanks William, Mason, greenwelly and seamonkey (sorry – your queries were held up because there was two links in the message so it was waiting for me to approve it). It’s good to hear that they have thought about having a contingency plan – a pity they did not implement it in time – I have this feeling that if this was to have occurred 40 years ago, when there were human beings in signal boxes, that someone along the line would have been able to sort this out. I have a picture in my head of people at head office staring at a big screen with all the stations flashing red, and noone was able to put two and two together. Anyway – let’s hope this never happens again!
No, not those crossovers sea monkey, if you stand on the platform at ngauranga and look towards Wellington, you will see two closely spaced signals, the crossovers were there. Was also a crossover at north end of ngauranga too. As for storing trains, quite a few are stored in upper hutt over night. Twelve from memory.
Seamonkey, of the four tracks in those aerial views, the two centre tracks are the Kapiti Line (NIMT) and the two outer tracks are the Hutt line. The crossover in the first link connects the two north bound lines so wouldn’t be of use in allowing a south bound train to go back to where it came from.
I’m merely an observer with no special knowledge but I think all the crossovers in those two views are there to allow freight trains entering/leaving the Wgton goods yard to get to/from the track they need to be on. The entrance to the goods yard is just south of the Aotea Overbridge, north of the diesel engine maintenance shed. If I’m correct then those crossovers are the points that got damaged by the derailed wagons the other day so couldn’t have been used.
William is correct, and another factor is that the electric supply in the area had to be turned off. I don’t know how far the electrical sections extend, but they relevant ones could include Kaiwharawhara.
Hindsight says that freight trains crossing all the main line tracks to/from Wellington, where most units are stabled, should be recognised as a high-risk environment. From Dave B’s comment quoted by William that risk was recognised when Kaiwharawhara was closed, but was not acted on sufficiently to enable a workable contingency plan.
Let’s hope that the reinstatement of Kaiwharawhara is not just as an emergency stopping place: reopening it as a proper full-time station clearly makes sense.
And no, Levi – people in signal boxes couldn’t have sorted this out any better than actually happened.
And… Greg Pollock to the rescue. I’m sure he is a regular reader of this blog. :-)
“The plan is to reinstate the train station at Kaiwharawhara, near the Interislander ferry terminal, so passengers can be dropped off there if the entrance to the main station is out of action. Buses could then transport passengers the short distance to Wellington station.”