Rugby World Cup 2011: The Devil Is In The Execution


Are there any lessons to be learnt from yesterday’s train meltdown?

Are we ready for the RWC?

Do we need a rail overlord in Auckland?
As trains resume normal schedules, do we remember what normal actually means for Auckland trains? It’s not a guarantee everything will go right.

What we have forgotten is, for all the holiday work, the transport minister’s announcement last week on an electrification contract and the opening of the wonderful new Newmarket station, the reality is this: electrification will not be with us when the RWC tourists pour in.
That happens from 2013.
So the thousands of rugby fans we’re assured will come, will be climbing on our old trains and may well be coping with the stresses and pressures of the present train system, that continue to plague us, thanks to a lack of investment in the infrastructure for 40 years.

The extensive intense rail work done over the holidays, especially the Newmarket Junction signalling, was complex and to a very difficult time schedule. There were 24 hour shifts and workers brought in from other parts of the country. They worked in gruelling heat.

I have huge admiration for them, seeing them at close hand on a daily basis and chatting regularly to a number of them as I took photos for all of us to share. Those who organised the operation did an incredible army-style operation.
Anyone who has project managed knows how easy it is for things to run over time or unexpected hitches cause last minute delays to the rollout.
That’s what happened.
You can’t release something as crucial to safety as signalling when there is any doubt.
As the CBT group put it, this week’s signalling issue is a hiccup that will pass. It’s especially sad for someone like me who has seen daily over the Christmas holiday period the incredible progress made to transform the Auckland train landscape and get ready for electrification.
It’s a little puzzling though, why, for a problem discovered on Saturday night, no decision and announcement about Monday’s disruption was made until most commuters were in bed after 10pm on Sunday night and media newsrooms off air leading to confusion, frustration and I have to say, some chaos on Monday as commuters fumbled around trying to work out what was going on.

Now, if the RWC is such a big deal that millions are being spent to make it happen, including on some rail -related projects, we have to make sure everything is going to be right on the day, because in the eyes of tourists and the international media, we’ve going to get only one go at it.
Already some locals have their eyes on other prizes, including a Commonwealth Games bid.

What the devil is going on? An early morning commuter yesterday at Newmarket

We will be in front of the international media, which thrives on looking for bad news.
A UK journalist, interviewed on local TV about covering Prince William’s visit here during the weekend, made no secret of how the UK media were interested only in what makes news in their eyes - something unscheduled, accidental or unfortunate that may happen.

Look through any coverage of major international sporting events in the last decade and note the obsession about local PR disasters - venues not finished, cost over-runs, accommodation, hotel, transport infrastructure buckling under the pressure of all the tourists arriving.
And tourists, after a few beers at Eden Park, will not be pleased to find any meltdown in the train system when they head off for a night on the town to drown their sorrows of the team losing a game.

Does anyone remember last April’s meltdown at Eden Park when - dare I raise it - a signalling fault stranded hundreds of rugby fans and announcements were made over the ground speakers to tell people the trains weren’t available to take them home.
Let’s just remind ourselves of how it played out on the night:
Friday night – rush hour and the offer of a free train ride for those with tickets to rugby’s Blues game at Eden Park.

5.30pm, middle of rush hour and all signals fail stopping trains in and out of Brit.

6.30pm Signals fixed.

A few minutes later – signals fail again.

9pm- signals fixed but Eden Park patrons told any trains would probably only run to Newmarket.

Sound familiar?

Rugby fans attending last year's Bledisloe clash cram Kingsland's platform

The RWC is a ticking timebomb. Whether we care about the actual games or approve all the money being spent, we are hopefully passionate enough about New Zealand to not want to be a laughing stock in front of the world and ribbed by our friends overseas.

If there are any lessons to be learnt from anything that happens between then and now, let’s be humble enough to learn from them and get a solution.

Or if there’s something extra we need to do, let’s put out hand up and insist it happens.
The number of bodies involved in Auckland rail does my head in when I try and work out who to contact about a particular issue.
Kiwirail, Ontrack, ARC, ARTA, Auckland City and so on.
Leading up to the RWC, and as well as the changes happening with Auckand local government, I wonder if, with so many people and bodies involved in the rail area, we need someone specifically concentrating on just a helicopter overview of what’s happening.
An Auckland Rail Czar.

Some who cares about making sure we get it right without getting involved in often the petty politics and in-fighting that goes on as people and bodies protect their patch.
That Czar would be independent and be empowered to clash heads together when, pardon the pun, things look as if they’re going off track.
Just a thought as I stand here on the platform waiting for a train this morning!

Eden Park's looking grand today. How's everything else?




  1. Joshua says:

    At least our stadiums and general construction are looking good, and actually ahead of time. The only problem is the train system, which under Match mode will be easier to handle I would imagine, as trains are really heading in one direction a simple man with a walky talky on each junction communicating with each other and the drivers would surely be good enough as a back-up.

    Eden Park is looking great!

  2. jarbury says:

    Very good idea Jon. One would think that whoever’s the head of the new Auckland Transport Agency would take on that role, but they’re actually not even in charge of rail operations.

    Most of the problems faced seem to start with KiwiRail, so they really need to lift their game. However, when it comes to getting the message across about what’s happening, the current mess of KiwiRail/ARTA/Veolia needs to be simplified. Now.

  3. JX says:

    Excellent points Jon, especially about event disasters - and indeed the press will jump at any opportunity to highlight something that goes wrong.

    I agree we are on a ticking timebomb here, for while your excellent suggestion of creating a Rail Czar should be explored it will not be.

    Instead we will be relegated to the crazy framework of entities that make up Auckland Rail - Kiwirail, Ontrack, ARC, ARTA, Auckland City etc. This system is rife for lack of accountability with each able to blame the other and no-one being responsible.

    No, come RWC time - the nonsense that goes on everyday on our rail system and I mean every day, isn’t’ going to take a holiday for the RWC - expect our city to be front page news around the world as we strand, screw-up or delay Rugby fans.

  4. Brent C says:

    If the trains fail during the RWC and make world wide headline, making NZ (particulary Auckland) look bad, maybe the government will wake up and investest more into the rail system.

    The ATA will remove some of those rail bodies, but not enough

  5. Chris R says:

    Love the headline - that’s what we need - an execution!!!!

  6. JX says:

    Actually Jon - they should give you the Rail Czar job!


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