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Two different Te Huia drivers responsible for temporary ban

The new Hamilton to Auckland passenger train service called Te Huia will start in early April 2021.
Photo: Supplied / Waikato Regional Council

Two different drivers are resposible for Te Huia currently being unable to operate in Auckland, KiwiRails says.

On Tuesday, it was announced Waka Kotahi has temporarily banned the train from entering the Auckland metro area because of recent Signal Passed at Danger (SPAD) incidents.

KiwiRail's executive general manager of operations Paul Ashton said the incidents took place on 17 June and the most recent, on Monday.

The incident on 17 June happened when a Te Huia service was heading to The Strand in Auckland's Parnell and went past a red signal near Penrose.

"Whenever a train passes a red signal, all other signals in the area turn red," Ashton said.

"This reduces the risk of collision by stopping all trains in the area. So, in this case any other trains in the area were stopped automatically."

The most recent incident happened just north of Hamilton when the train "stabled" and went a "short distance" past a blocking entry board - equivalent to passing a red signal.

"There were different drivers for each of the incidents and a full investigation is undertaken any time a train passes a red signal. These investigations have not been finalised yet."

Ashton said KiwiRail took the recent incidents seriously and had fast-tracked getting an Electronic Train Protection (ETP) onto the train.

It is similar to European Train Control System that Auckland Transport trains have, he said.

"[ETP] is an enhancement to the operating system which was in place when the 17 June incident occurred. However, the rail regulator Waka Kotahi has been clear its wants ETSC installed before it will allow Te Huia to travel within the Auckland metro network."

"We also have a safety case, that allows Te Huia to run, which is approved by Waka Kotahi. It does not require ETCS."

Ashton said KiwiRail was continuing to work with Waka Kotahi to try and resolve the safety concerns it held, so Te Huia can start travelling to The Strand again.

A regular Te Huia train user - and national coordinator of the Public Transport Forum - said new restrictions would kill the service.

Chris McKellar questioned the fact that Waka Kotahi oversaw the safety and funding of the service.

McKellar also said commuters would stop using the train if they could not go past Papakura.