What delays trains
We realise that there is nothing more frustrating than arriving at the train station to get to work or home and the train is late. There are a number of things that can impact on our ability to run your train service on time. When a train is delayed we come up with a plan to manage it – this could mean running with reduced seating, cancelling it and replacing train services with buses.
Ice on the overhead wires
During the colder winter months ice can form on the overhead wires which supply electricity to each Matangi carriage. The ice can cause arcing (bouncing and sparking) or limit the amount of power being provided to each carriage causing fluctuations in the power supply. Matangi have software designed to safely protect them from these electrical fluctuations by temporarily blocking power to prevent any damage to the train. If this happens repeatedly then the train needs to be reset which can cause delays.
The Hutt Valley Traction Upgrade project will improve reliability of the overhead wire electrical supply in extreme weather as the tensioning will be upgraded from fixed to auto-tensioning. This will make the overhead power supply more reliable in extreme weather, both hot and cold. The Kapiti Line already has auto-tensioning.
The Wairarapa services do not experience issues with ice on the overhead wires as they are hauled by diesel locomotives so do not depend on the overhead wires to run.
Hot weather can create issues for the rail network. Rails in direct sunshine can be as much as 20°C hotter than air temperature. Because rails are made from steel, they expand as they get hotter, and this can cause misalignments. The rail network is monitored by a remote system, which measures the temperature of the track and the air temperature. When these reach a certain point, usually 40°C, heat inspections are carried out. Temporary speed restrictions are introduced in selected locations as a precautionary measure.
Work is done throughout the year to prepare the rail for warmer weather in summer and to minimise the impact of speed restrictions due to heat. An extensive amount of heat de-stressing takes place across the network each year. Heat restrictions are a common problem with rail networks around the world.
Trains need traction with the track to work. Falling leaves can stick to damp rails, and passing trains compress them into a smooth, slippery layer that reduces the ability grip. Dew, ice, frost and salt spray/waves can also cause tracks to become slippery.
When the tracks are slippery train drivers have to brake earlier when approaching stations and signals to avoid overshooting, and accelerate more gently to avoid wheel-spin and ensure your safety. Our signalling system also uses electric currents in the track to locate trains but leaves can make this system less accurate by interrupting the connection between the wheel and the track. Again, for safety reasons, we need to leave longer gaps between trains, which also means delays.
Disruptions and delays impact on trains, rosters and staff, and there are often flow-on effects to later services. Trains and staff may be left in the wrong locations or lines may be blocked. When we replace trains with buses we do try to follow the train timetable, buses may get stuck in traffic.
We will do our best to keep you up to date with your train service. We send out alerts and service updates and keep the website updated.
There are a number of ways you can subscribe to receive alerts:
- Set up a My Metlink account and subscribe to receive emails or text messages on your favourite service
- Download the Metlink Commuter app. Set up your favourite services and you will receive notifications via the app.
- Follow us on Twitter – @metlinkwgtn (external link)
- If you are in the station keep an eye on the Real Time Information messages
We know you can't beat Wellington on a good day but we also know that we are very exposed to winds and storms. Train services can be disrupted by snow, slips, floods, fallen trees, and other debris on the tracks. In severe storms we have had issues with flooding at stations as well. We do monitor severe weather warnings and we aim to give advanced notice where weather has the potential to impact on our train and bus services. Hot weather may see speed restrictions in place if tracks become heated and there is a risk that they are out of alignment. Cold weather can mean that ice forms on the tracks causing slipping or on overhead wires meaning that they arc. The software on the Matangi can recognise some of these issues and slows the train to a safe low speed.
If you are waiting on a platform for a delayed train, sometimes it may seem frustrating if you see trains going past without stopping, for example express services. However, there are often complex reasons why trains cannot change their original schedule. These can include:
- The technical complexity of stopping diesel locomotives
- The flow-on effect of unscheduled changes and delays to passengers further down the line
- Trains may be full or near full, meaning they cannot collect any more passengers due to load restrictions
Break downs can also have wider impact on the network and often block the line meaning there will be flow on effects to later services across the network. We work hard to keep passengers in the loop via PA announcements and service updates when these unforeseen events take place.
We conduct regular inspections of our trains and have structured maintenance programmes for our fleet. There may be occasions when a higher number of trains require maintenance and repairs. This may cause services to have fewer than normal carriages or on rare occasions, a service to be cancelled. You will see "reduced seating" in some of our alerts or service updates. This is likely to be due to a reduced number of carriages, more crowding and you may want to wait for a later service.
Disabled freight service
We share the rail network that runs through the Wellington region. KiwiRail operates freight and passenger services. A disabled freight train can cause delays as the Metlink services may not be able to pass. Sometimes the freight service will need an additional locomotive which takes time to organise and dispatch.
Points allow the trains to be guided from one track to another to change direction or route. These are used at some stations, railway junctions and sidings. When a set of points stop working they require the train crew or KiwiRail to electrically isolate and manually operate the points to ensure it is safe for the train to proceed over them. This process must be repeated for each set of faulty points and this can cause significant delays. The train crew may have to restore power to the defective points and manually return the points to their previous position after the train has passed over them leading to further delays.
A signal relays information to the train driver on the state of the line ahead. These are red, yellow and green lights which provide direction on speed or tell the driver to stop. If a signal stops working the train staff follow procedures to safely pass. The driver may have to contact the control centre and get the okay to proceed. The train is also likely to travel slower through the area controlled by the signal as an additional safety measure. If a driver passes a stop signal it is a serious safety breach. The service is halted while the driver is replaced and an investigation is conducted.
Overhead Power Fault
Matangi trains are electric and powered by overhead lines. If there is a power cut or something hits the overhead lines, the trains won't run. We do have auxiliary power supplies which will mean that the trains will continue to operate even if there is power cut in the suburb they are passing through. If a vehicle carrying a high load hits the power lines these will need to be repaired before services can resume. We ask you to remain inside the carriages until we are certain that there is no danger of live power lines.
The Wairarapa services and KiwiRail passenger and freight services are diesel which is why they can continue to operate when we have a power failure.
Train drivers are instructed to reduce speed on some parts of the track or the whole track if there is damage or repairs are underway. This is to ensure passenger and train crew safety. It often means that services don't run to the scheduled timetable and impacts on later services on the line. Matangi trains can travel at speeds of around 100km/h. Speed restrictions can reduce speeds to 40km/h or slower. After an earthquake or weather event the trains may be instructed to reduce speed to 40km/h to ensure there has been no damage to the tracks.
Current speed restriction notices:
- Wairarapa Line: There are ongoing speed restrictions on the Wairarapa line while maintenance work on the track continues. We are working with KiwiRail to reduce the ongoing impact to customers, but it is likely that there will be speed restrictions on the line for the foreseeable future. To reduce the impact on journey times we have recently removed the need for trains to stop at Maymorn and Matarewa stations unless there are customers on the platform or want to disembark from the train.
Trains are machines and they do break down. We have a regular maintenance programme for each vehicle but they do sometimes break down when in service. It can be a compressor failure which means the brakes lock or doors won't open or close properly. We get repair crews, replacement trains or buses out as soon as we can. At peak times we operate as many of our vehicles as possible to meet growing demand and can't always send replacement trains quickly.
Your safety is top of mind and you need to follow the instruction of the train crew on waiting inside the vehicle until it is okay to move to another train or bus. If you are stuck on board a train during a disruption pleased be assured that you are in the safest place you can be, the train crew and Network Control must ensure that the track and surrounding area (including the overhead power lines) is safe before evacuating a train and passengers will only be moved from a train as a last resort – we will always look to getting the train moving again rather than evacuating a train. Depending on where the breakdown has taken place it could some time before the train gets moving again or before the train is evacuated – in these situations the train staff will constantly be keeping you up to date with progress and if you have any concerns please feel free to speak to any of our on-board staff.
The Wellington rail network is closely monitored, particularly when we have earthquakes. We use GeoNet’s MM rating (Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale), which measures the intensity of a quake. The base shaking data comes from 300+ strong motion accelerometers which have been installed as part of the EQC-funded GeoNet programme. Any seismic activity which records an MM rating of over 6 means that the National Train Control Centre contacts local staff for an assessment of how the quake was felt in the area and what measures should be taken to ensure the safety of everyone on the network (both customers and staff). We have developed response criteria for levels of ground-shaking based on rail damage from previous earthquakes as well as research with GNS. A response plan is developed and agreed.
If the earthquake intensity is severe, the initial response plan may include immediate stopping of all trains to allow a review of the Peak Ground Accelerations (PGA) measurements and damage inspections if necessary. Lesser intense earthquakes may require speed restrictions to be temporarily put in place.
Emergency services incident
If there is an incident near the track, the Police, Fire and Ambulance can close the line. These incidents might include a trespasser, a car crash or spill, or medical incident involving a passenger or one of our staff at a station or on board a train. It may include turning the power off in that section of the line. We need to give them the space to do their job, and once they are finished we need to make sure the track is undamaged and safe to use before services can return to this section of track.
Give us feedback
Did we do a good job of keeping you informed during your delay? Could we have done better? We really value your feedback on Metlink services. So please let us know if we got things right or about areas where you think we can improve things. You can complete our Online Feedback Form, email us directly, or call our Customer Service Centre. Metlink will record any feedback you may wish to make about your public transport journey and follow up with the appropriate team.