KiwiRail has leased an additional freight ferry to provide capacity and resilience on Cook Strait.
According to KiwiRail Group Chief Executive Greg Miller, the Valentine is completing technical due diligence in England now, ahead of sailing to New Zealand. It is due to arrive in mid-December and Interislander crews will familiarise themselves with the ship before Valentine begins working the Cook Strait, likely later in December.
“Having another ferry will ensure capacity and provide resilience on this important link in the New Zealand supply chain,” Miller said.
“KiwiRail’s role is to ensure the SH1 and main trunk rail connection between the North and South Islands stays open, and Valentine will provide us with the ability to make sure that happens during the busiest period of the year for New Zealanders taking summer holidays.
“Unfortunately, Kaiarahi requires major repairs to its gearbox after its sudden failure, and those repairs are expected to take at least until March. Our remaining two Interislander ferries, Aratere and Kaitaki cannot serve the market alone during that period, because that would leave New Zealand’s supply chain vulnerable and under capacity pressure.
“The inter-island connection is vital for our customers so we have been working hard to secure a replacement ferry. We looked at 26 vessels around the world, then shortlisted six for more detailed assessment. The Valentine was the best option available right now.
“The freight-only ferry will free up space for passengers and their vehicles on the other ferries, ensuring New Zealanders can travel during the summer holiday season.
“KiwiRail is an essential service and we have worked through lockdowns to get New Zealand’s freight to where it needs to go. With Valentine in place, we are able to give certainty of capacity to our customers and other New Zealand businesses, supporting them as they recover from the impacts of Covid.”
Miller said the Interislander fleet is aging and more prone to breakdown.
“Old ships tend to have mechanical problems and this has been highlighted with the current mechanical issues on Aratere. While she has now resumed service, we know that disruption is bad for us and our customers,” he said.
“Valentine will help mitigate the impact on freight movements across the Cook Strait, in the event of any further unexpected mechanical disruptions.”
Valentine is being leased for an initial 12 months.
Valentine has been working in the English Channel and is well-suited to KiwiRail operations.
Miller said the move shows KiwiRail’s determination to support the movement of essential supplies in New Zealand through increased capacity, collaboration, and improving scheduling and resource planning.
“On the rail side of our business we have mobilised more than 1000 track workers and up to 2500 contractors to lift the quality of our track and we are ready for the Christmas peak season,” he said.
“That is part of our investment of around $400 million per year in network activity. This is concentrated on our most heavily used lines (Auckland-Tauranga; Auckland-Christchurch).
“We are also improving our rolling stock fleet, which lifts the reliability of our services, so we can better align them with our customers’ needs.
“We’ve upgraded our yards with better equipment and increases to their capacity. This allows us to help ports cope with congestion issues by providing them with space for containers.
“These are challenging times for the supply chain, but we are working hard for our customers, and working hard for New Zealand.”