The number of rush hour trains on Auckland’s Western train line will be cut in half next week as KiwiRail completes rebuild work on parts of the route.

It comes as Auckland Transport (AT) warns traffic congestion and public transport crowding have returned to pre-pandemic levels as March Madness travel hits.

Between March 11 and April 24, Western Line trains will only be able to run on one of the two tracks while the other is being worked on.

Over this period, trains on the line will run on a revised schedule – every 20 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes in the evening. Trains usually run every 10 minutes during rush hour.

KiwiRail chief asset development officer David Gordon said the agency had managed to avoid a full closure of the line as some of the “most invasive work” had already been carried out.

“We have made excellent progress upgrading the Western Line to New Lynn since work began on Labour Weekend. Over the Christmas network-wide shutdown, when trains weren’t running, we are able to get much of the most invasive work done.

“This was focused on digging down and replacing the ageing track foundations around Mt Albert station, and around the suburbs of Morningside, Kingsland and Grafton.

“We now need to finish the job. From March 10, we will return to the Western Line to complete drainage improvement work, replace ballast – the stones the tracks sit in, and replace any sleepers and rail as required.

“This will include some work during the day, and a lot of work at nights and on many weekends.

“In previous rail network rebuild stages, we have had to close sections of the network for months at a time. We have been able to avoid this high level of disruption for the Western Line work, but we do appreciate that reduced services are an inconvenience for commuters.”

Train commuters in Auckland experienced weeks of delays due to track restrictions and other issues over parts of January and February.

AT public transport and active modes director Stacey van der Putten said today the rebuild work being carried out “is essential” to the train line.

“We continue to be grateful for our customers’ patience and flexibility. This time the main disruption is only for seven weeks, and two of those weeks will be school holidays when trains will be quieter,” she said in a joint KiwiRail media release.

“Our teams at Auckland Transport have worked closely with KiwiRail and our rail operator, Auckland One Rail, to make sure trains can continue to operate on the Western Line while this work is underway.

“Because our Western Line train frequencies will be reduced during this period we do expect there will be times when services are very busy, especially during the morning peak when both workers and students are travelling at the same time.

“To help manage this demand, all our Western Line trains will have six carriages at peak times, and we’ll also run extra buses to help make it easier for customers complete their journeys.”

Additional rail replacement buses will stop at all stations between New Lynn and Newmarket every 10 minutes from 7am until 8:30am on most weekdays during the disruption period.

There will also be more buses on the 22N route, which connects Western Line stations between New Lynn and Kingsland with the city centre, according to AT.

Commuters have been urged to use the AT Mobile app and journey planner to help plan their usual journeys.

March Madness ‘patronage spike’

Patronage on Auckland’s public transport has been returning to pre-pandemic levels over the past several weeks as schools and workplaces resume.

AT growth and optimisation manager Richard Harrison said last month that the system had been carrying record numbers of passengers in the later parts of February.

“As Aucklanders return from their summer break, often having used up their annual leave, we see more people back at work and therefore more people out on the roads as well as catching public transport,” he said.

“This further picks up towards March as schools and universities start up again.

He continued: “Where available, we’ve deployed bigger buses to increase capacity where there is high demand.

“Our buses are fully staffed and we’re running extra services on routes we know will be the busiest, so even if a bus is full, it will only be a short wait for the next one.

“To help make sure we are getting the most out of our buses, we’re encouraging passengers to move down the bus and use every seat when it is busy.”

“We’re committed to keeping Auckland moving, but it is already getting busier out on the roads and on public transport. Driving and catching public transport could take a bit longer than normal, particularly in the morning and in the mid-to-late afternoon.”