Chorus fibre moved out of reach of Auckland City Rail Link contractors

Businesses in the Auckland CBD should finally be safe from broadband outages – or at least those caused by blundering City Rail Link contractors slicing through fibre laid near the $4.4 billion rail project.

“Over the past few nights, techs have prepared an alternative duct route from the Mayoral Drive Exchange and hauled in 300 metres of new 312-fibre cable. This now bypasses the CRL Aotea station site and removes the risk to the Chorus network,” a Chorus spokesman told the Herald early this week.

“Our fibre techs began cutting over customers onto the new cable last night, and this will complete tonight.”

This morning, Chorus confirmed all affected customers had been switched over to the new cable.

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On April 15, the UFB network fibre operator blamed a series of internet outages in the Auckland CBD the City Rail Link build – but also warned a permanent fix was about a week away.

“The [15-hour] outage on March 19 was caused by CRL contractors, who were working on the new Aotea station, damaging a 312-fibre cable,” a Chorus spokesperson told the Herald.

“Chorus relocated the cable out of the way of the works and put in place a temporary overlay to restore services. Subsequently, the cable with the temporary overlay was moved and again damaged.”

The temporary overlay being moved caused fresh problems from 4pm on Monday April 12, which continued into Tuesday for some customers.

Late Wednesday, the spokeswoman updated that, “Chorus is working with the CRL contractors to get access to the site in order to re-route the cable away from the works.

Chorus runs the UFB fibre network used by retail internet service providers including Spark, Vodafone, Vocus (Orcon, Slingshot), 2degrees and Trustpower.

In many places, Chorus fibre is the only option. However, the Auckland CBD has a number of networks. Vodafone, for example, said it uses a lot of its fibre in the area, allowing it to skirt Chorus’ issues. Many ISPs have been able to organise fall-back routes.

On April 13, Spark said six of its customers were still affected. The chief information of the organisations said while his company was able to get a backup service working in about 40 minutes, the recurring, open-ended nature of the problems was frustrating.

“What’s concerning is that this is a repeat of the same issue we and thousands of other customers experienced on March 19. That outage lasted for 15 hours for some businesses,” he said.

The guilty party

Chorus would not name the contractor.

But CRL Aotea Station manager Matt Sinclair said the party responsible was a member of the rail project’s primary contractor, Link Alliance (whose members are Aecom, Downer, Tonkin and Taylor, WSP and Vinci Construction. Downer is also one of Chorus’s main UFB contractors).

“Link Alliance unintentionally damaged this cable while constructing the foundation walls of Aotea Station near Wellesley Street,” on March 19,” Sinclair said.

“Immediately following the damage, Chorus made some repairs to the cable which were initially successful, but unfortunately these repairs have led to a further fault this week.”

While there was a significant amount of fibre cable within the station construction site, interference in the network was very rare, Sinclair said.

“Link Alliance is aware of all locations of existing fibre. However, occasionally underground conditions can lead to unexpected fibre damage,” he added.

“Link Alliance expects Chorus to request payment for the repair work required.It apologies for any inconvenience the damage may have caused.”

Earlier, an Auckland Transport insider told the Herald about half the cost of the $4.4b City Rail Link was moving existing infrastructure -including fibre optic cable – out of the way.

Aotea Station is being built beside the Bledisloe Building at the Albert St/Mayoral Dr/Wellesley St West/Wellesley St East intersection.

The station will be 15m deep and 300m long and be the busiest train station in New Zealand, once operational.

It will connect with tunnels to Britomart and another new station, Karangahape, and then link to a rebuilt Mt Eden station and Auckland’s wide rail network.

Aotea Station will be topped by a $452m, 21-level office, apartment and retail building – but construction on that project will not begin until after the CRL completes in 2024.

Whoops, I did it again

The Aotea Station snafus are the latest in a series of fibre cuts.

In November last year, thousands of South Aucklanders lost power – some for up to three days – after contractors drilling under a bus lane in Māngere town centre sliced through some Chorus fibre.

In June last year, Vodafone warned contractors to be more careful after roadworkers cut a cable near Matamata – and around the same time contractors removing trees near Napier also sliced through some fibre. The twin blunders meant thousands throughout the central North Island lost internet.

And the following month, Chorus finally fixed a bodged job – also in Māngere – that had seen bare fibre cables dangling over open footpath for months.

Although fibre – malleable and mostly laid underground – has proved resilient to natural disasters including the Christchurch quakes, the November 14, 2016, 7.8 Kaikōura quake caused six breaks in the a major fibre optic cable that runs from the top of the South Island, along State Highway 1 through Clarence and Kaikōura, to Christchurch.

Workarounds were put in place within 48 hours, and capacity on Vodafone’s Aqualink cable (which links the North and South Island and runs off the coast of Kaikōura was increased), but it took until February 22, 2017, to complete a combined Spark-Vodafone-Chorus effort to repair the damaged fibre.

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