Government funding supports up to 100 KiwiRail apprentices

KiwiRail will employ 100 new apprentices, thanks to government funding from the Regional Apprenticeship Initiative.

The New Zealand infrastructure manager and rail operator will receive $4 million to support the employment of up to 100 apprentices who will have a pathway into employment in the rail industry.

Apprenticeships will involve areas such as mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, electricity supply, rail operations, building/structures, and track infrastructure. Job roles will include signals and electrical specialists, train drivers, and track staff.

To facilite the training component, KiwiRail will also establish four new apprenticeship qualifications, taking the total number of qualifications to six.

KiwiRail group chief executive Greg Miller said the apprenticeships would not only ensure the trainees’ future, but the longevity of the company.

“The new qualifications will make rail more than just a job – they will make it a rewarding career – and help ensure KiwiRail has the new blood and skills it needs for a strong future,” he said.

With the funding support from the government, which KiwiRail will match with in-kind and cash contributions, will expand the depth of the rail industry workforce.

“This government support for apprenticeships will help us attract more young people into rail, including through a school gateway programme, and it will allow us to create a clear, sustainable pathway for them to learn skills and progress in the businesses,” said Miller.

Apprentices will be employed in the regions, however applications are open to anyone. Some apprenticeships will be offered to existing staff for upskilling, but most will be delivered to new staff.

“There is a wealth of experience and knowledge among KiwiRail’s staff and I want to see that passed down to the next generation,” said Miller.

“KiwiRail is committed to delivering an efficient and effective rail system for New Zealand – that can help take trucks off our roads and reduce our carbon emissions – but that can’t be done without people.”

Apprentices who are employed by KiwiRail will have a workforce development adviser assigned to them to provide pastoral care and ongoing support to enable the apprenticeship to be successfully maintained.

NZ rail continues during lockdown

Rail services have continued in New Zealand despite the reimposition of lockdown measures to control the spread of new cases of COVID-19.

Auckland is now in level 3 restrictions while the rest of the country is under level 2 restrictions after cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on Tuesday, August 11 with no known source of transmission.

In Auckland, rail services are continuing during the lockdown to their existing timetable for those who need to access local services and businesses and travel to work and school when that cannot be done at home. Physical distancing of two metres must be maintained on public transport.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff advised commuters to follow health guidelines.

“Maintain physical distancing, wear a mask when in public and follow good hygiene practices and we will get through this together.”

Auckland Transport will be cleaning trains regularly and will be making changes to timetables as needed.

KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller shared Goff’s advice to wear face masks when using public transport.

“The health and safety of our staff, and the public, is the company’s main priority as we maintain essential services, just as we did successfully earlier this year.”

KiwiRail has suspended the TranzAlpine service that was to run over the weekend of August 15-16. The Capital Connection service between Wellington and Palmerston North will run as normal.

Freight services will continue with appropriate precautions instituted.

In Wellington, which is under level 2 restrictions, public transport is also continuing as normal.

General manager of Wellington transport operator Metlink Scott Gallacher emphasised the need for passengers to take care when travelling.

“We’re asking passengers to keep a 1-metre distance on board trains, buses and ferries and keep a 2-metres distance while waiting at bus stops, train stations and ferry wharfs,” he said.

“The government has made it clear that people should wear face masks where physical distancing is difficult and we encourage passengers to follow this advice on public transport. These measures will help keep passengers safe across the whole network.”

Metlink will accept cash payment, however Auckland Transport is only accepting payments via the AT HOP card.

Rail track. Photo: Shutterstock

Urgent track upgrades lead to Auckland-wide speed restriction

Urgent upgrades to track around Auckland have led to KiwiRail imposing a 40km/h speed restriction across the entire network for the next six months.

Testing conducted on the network found that track wear was more widespread than previously understood, leading KiwiRail to bring forward repair work, said KiwiRail group chief executive Greg Miller.

“Following our testing we are accelerating our programme of replacing the most worn sections of rail and resurfacing less damaged sections.”

The speed restriction and need to access the track will disrupt commuter services, with services running every 20 minutes during the day instead of every 10 minutes during the morning and afternoon peak. Journey times will also increase, said Mark Lambert, executive general manager of integrated networks at Auckland Transport.

“We hope to add some extra services at peak times to ensure that we can meet passenger demand, but this speed restriction will unfortunately mean longer journey times for all our customers of up to 50 per cent for this temporary period.”

The works will involve replacing 100 kilometres of track and are expected to take six months. Miller said that KiwiRail had the local capacity to complete the upgrade.

“We are equipped and ready to resolve the issue with the necessary rail already in the country and staff available to lay it. Specialist rail grinding equipment, which will be used to remediate some of the rail, will arrive from Australia shortly.”

While the track upgrade work was anticipated, the move to level three restrictions in Auckland due to cases of COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for KiwiRail to begin sooner.

“We are working closely with Auckland Transport to arrange optimum access to the track so we can get to work as quickly as possible while managing operation of services,” said Miller.

“The faster this work can be completed, the sooner the network can be back to operating safely at full speed as we continue our work to deliver a resilient and reliable rail network for Auckland.”

The works form part of the NZ$1 billion upgrade package for Auckland’s rail network, which includes electrification from Papakura to Pukekohe.

“This is part of the critical upgrade of the rail track infrastructure in Auckland as we plan and prepare for significant increase in services when the City Rail Link is open, and dramatically reducing travel times across the region,” said Lambert. “We are working closely with KiwiRail to ensure the track infrastructure is ready for the future demands that will be placed on it that will continue the transformational journey of rail in Auckland with the opening of the City Rail Link.”

scenic

KiwiRail expands scenic train services

All of KiwiRail’s scenic services will return this summer, and the operator will add the Northern Explorer to its range of services.

To meet the demand for domestic rail touring KiwiRail is looking to expand its scenic fleet for charter services.

KiwiRail group chief executive Greg Miller said that the state-owned enterprise has been investing in upgrading the rollingstock used on the scenic routes during the COVID-19 lockdown period when all scenic trains stopped running.

“We had to carry out maintenance work on the carriages we use, and that work was delayed by the COVID lockdown. We prioritised the TranzAlpine, which runs between Christchurch and Greymouth, so it was the first service to resume,” said Miller.

Miller outlined that KiwiRail was expecting to make significant investment in its tourist trains, including in rollingstock.

“Pre-COVID, rail touring was enjoying a resurgence throughout the world and, with the support of a promised $80 million of government funding, KiwiRail was planning an ambitious upgrade of its scenic fleet and services,” he said.

“The indefinite closure of New Zealand’s borders to international tourists, and the re-purposing by the government of some of the proposed funding means that, for now, we are hibernating some of those plans and instead concentrating on designing viable timetables and services for the domestic market.”

KiwiRail ran the TranzAlpine service from Christchurch to Greymouth during the winter school holidays and will resume the service in September. The Coastal Pacific from Christchurch to Picton and the newly instituted Northern Explorer between Auckland and Wellington will begin running in the spring.

“In addition to these scheduled services, we are looking to expand our fleet to offer enhanced charter services throughout the year,” said Miller.

As part of the New Zealand government’s significant investment in rail, KiwiRail will acquire new rollingstock for its scenic services. A request for proposals was released to the market last September, however now suitable bids were received. KiwiRail is also in the process of acquiring new mainline locomotives.

“It looks like all New Zealanders will be holidaying at home this summer and as people plan their breaks, we urge them to demonstrate their support for environmentally friendly travel and choose to sit back and connect with the landscape on their national rail network,” said Miller.

Funding assures new rail maintenance facility in Christchurch

Christchurch’s damaged rail maintenance facilities will be replaced with a newly built $39 million ($36m) site.

The funding comes from the New Zealand government’s $3 billion post-coronavirus (COVID-19) recovery fund, which allocated $708m for transport projects.

Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones said that the Christchurch facilities were in need of a major overhaul.

“KiwiRail’s maintenance facilities in Christchurch are tired, earthquake-damaged and spread across the city. This $39m investment will mean KiwiRail can complete the build of a new, modern, fit-for-purpose facility at Waltham which will be used to maintain the South Island’s locomotives and wagons,” said Jones.

Construction is already underway at the site and is expected to continue into 2023.

KiwiRail groups chief executive Greg Miller welcomed the government’s announcement.

“This funding announced by the government today enables us to proceed with confidence to complete the new South Island maintenance depot for locomotives and wagons,” he said.

“The project goes to the core resilience of the network and the continued strength of our South Island operations.”

Miller said that the future facilities would improve KiwiRail’s operations.

“This funding enables us to construct brand new facilities that are consolidated in one place, with all the advantages that brings in areas like energy efficiency and improved working conditions for staff,” he said.

“It ensures we have the capability we need to maintain a modern locomotive fleet and builds on the investment that is already underway in facilities to work on our scenic carriages.”

The upgraded facilities at Waltham will support KiwiRail’s Network Transformation Project which includes investments in large numbers of rollingstock such as locomotives and flat wagons.

300 people are expected to be employed during construction with priority given to local civil contractors and material suppliers in addition to KiwiRail’s own staff.

“Not only will the work at Waltham support hundreds of construction jobs, once finished the new facility will help us attract and retain the staff that we need for rail to play the part it should in New Zealand’s transport network,” said Miller.

West Coast

West Coast to Christchurch line to be upgraded

New Zealand will spend $13 million to upgrade the rail line between Christchurch and the West Coast.

The funding will go towards improving the resilience of the rail line, which was closed for over a month after a 100-metre slip at Omoto in October 2019. KiwiRail will conduct the upgrades, which will involve the installation of drainage and strengthening the hill side at Omoto.

NZ Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones said the project was critical to ensure resilient and reliable connections to the West Coast.

“The rail line to Greymouth brings more than 80,000 tourists into the region each year and gets the equivalent of 50,000 truckloads of exports to port. It’s a vital part of the regional economy.”

Regional Economic Development Under-Secretary Fletcher Tabuteau said that the program would benefit the local economy during construction and once complete.

“The work at Omoto will also support about 20 local jobs. It’s important that the West Coast sees maximum benefit from government investment. Not only does the Omoto work give certainty for the future, KiwiRail is focussed on using West Coast civil contracting firms and suppliers to carry out the work wherever possible.”

KiwiRail group chief executive Greg Miller said he was delighted that funding had been secured.

“Everything we can do to make rail freight more reliable helps New Zealand lower its emissions, helps make KiwiRail more sustainable, and reduces truck numbers on the country’s roads,’ he said.

“Every tonne of heavy freight delivered by rail results in 66 per cent fewer emissions than the equivalent freight being carried by road, so KiwiRail is working hard to encourage companies to make that shift.”

Horizontal drains between internal layers of hillside will remove water, and in-ground piles/retaining structure will tie the top sliding layer and the bottom layer of the hillside together.

Work is expected to be finished in 2021.

KiwiRail

KiwiRail selects site for Palmerston North freight hub

KiwiRail have announced the preferred location for the Regional Freight Hub near Palmerston North.

The intermodal Hub will be located between Palmerston North Airport and Bunnythorpe and occupy a 2.5km long site. The length of the site will allow it to accommodate 1.5km long trains, much longer than what is now possible on the KiwiRail network.

Designs are currently being finalised and KiwiRail hopes to have the land designated for rail use from September 2020. When complete, the site will be a focus point for freight in the central and lower North Island, said KiwiRail group chief executive Greg Miller.

“It will be New Zealand’s first, truly world-class supply chain logistics precinct – including capacity for a log yard, bulk goods silo, container terminal (including free trade zone capability for exports), significant warehousing for freight partners, and KiwiRail’s operations.”

Due to the efficiencies provided by the Hub, the site will help remove trucks from roads in the region.

“Integrating all of these services, on this scale, creates efficiencies and cost savings that will set the standard for New Zealand logistics and support the growth of Palmerston North as a distribution centre well into the future,” said Miller.

“The Hub is designed to enable our trains and heavy trucks to work efficiently together, while helping to get trucks out of already congested parts of Palmerston North city.”

Public consultations are now beginning and KiwiRail has been in contact with affected landowners. Miller will be leading public meetings in and around Palmerston North in the coming weeks.

The Regional Freight Hub has been financed through a $40 million investment from the NZ government’s Provincial Growth Fund.

“The Regional Freight Hub is designed to meet the freight needs of the Manawatu and the surrounding regions for the next 100 years. Announcing the preferred site is a major milestone in this important regional project,” said Miller.

drought

KiwiRail supports NZ farmers struggling through drought

While New Zealand is having a significant drought, one of the worst in decades, farmers and rail operators have come together to deliver much needed grain to agricultural communities in Hawke’s Bay.

KiwiRail is currently transporting up to 10 40-foot containers full of hay from Ashburton on the South Island to Napier on the North Island. Each day from Wednesday, June 17 a wagon load of wrapped silage, a type of preserved fodder, will be transported north from Timaru.

KiwiRail group chief executive Greg Miller said that the initiative was about supporting KiwiRail’s customers.

“We move dairy products, beef, lamb, horticulture and viticulture for the rural sector so it is one of our most important customers, and we’re pleased to support it now at this time of need,” he said.

“We’ll carry the feed and we’ll carry the cost because everyone who’s seen the parched farmland can understand how hard this is on rural communities.”

The initiative began when Nicky Hyslop, a farmer near Timaru, recognised the need of farmers in the Hawke’s Bay region.

“We started making enquiries about how we could get it to Hawke’s Bay and it was looking really difficult until I got a call saying KiwiRail was offering to help. That was the game changer.”

Federated Farmers’ South Canterbury provincial president Jason Grant said that farmers in his region were donating where they could, and that the program wouldn’t be possible without KiwiRail’s assistance.

“Cartage is a big cost and it’s hugely appreciated that KiwiRail is donating space on their freight trains. We wouldn’t be able to do this otherwise and we appreciate it down here, as I know they do in Hawke’s Bay, too.”

Miller said that there was capacity for KiwiRail to help with the drought as freight volumes pick up following coronavirus (COVID-19).

“While our freight volumes are still recovering in the post-COVID period, we have some limited northbound capacity that we’ll be using when available, along with providing containers, to get this vital feed supply from Timaru and Ashburton up to Napier where it is needed.”

Northland Line

Upgrades begin to allow more freight on Northland Line

Major works on New Zealand’s Northland Line have begun to enable more freight to be carried by train and faster passenger services.

The $204.5 million worth of works include replacing bridges, improving tunnels, and upgrading the rail line to Whangarei. Once complete, hi-cube containers will be able to be pulled on the Northland Line, enabling more freight to be carried by rail.

Services have been halted between Swanson, west of Auckland and Whangarei to allow for track occupancy and major civil works. Over the route, five bridges will be replaced and tracks will be lowered in 13 tunnels.

KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller said that works are hoped to be completed by the end of the year.

“The work will be completed in stages, with the first objective being able to carry hi-cube containers through the tunnels between Whangarei and Auckland by Christmas.”

“Being able to carry hi-cube containers will also allow freight that can currently only come in and out of Northland by road, to instead go by rail. That additional transport option could help cut transport emissions and reduce the number of trucks on the roads,” said Miller.

Miller said that the delayed start was due to restrictions imposed by coronavirus (COVID-19).

“While our teams were able to continue design and planning work during the lockdown, COVID-19 halted most work on the ground. We’ve also been waiting on the arrival of specialist track laying equipment which has been held up by pandemic disruptions,” he said.

“This type of work can only be done while the line is shut. I regret the inconvenience for our freight customers and thank them for their patience. Once the line is upgraded, we will be able to offer more reliable train services to better meet their needs.”

Local businesses will be involved in the upgrade works, with Northland subcontractors tapped to provide supplies and carry out works.

“Local firm United Civil Construction has the contract to replace two of the bridges, all the ballast materials for the track upgrades are being supplied by Clements in Whangarei, and Busck, also in Whangarei, are supplying thousands of concrete sleepers,” said Miller.

In 2021, works on the Northland Line will continue, including the reopening of the line between Kauri and Otiria and the construction of a container exchange at Otiria.

Interislander

RFP begun for new, rail-enabled Interislander ferries

KiwiRail has released a request for proposal (RFP) for new Interislander ferries with 300 per cent greater capacity for freight rail wagons.

The announcement is the next step in the process of replacing the current three ferries with two rail-capable ships. KiwiRail group chief executive Greg Miller said the ferries form a critical link in the country’s rail network, transporting goods along the Main Trunk Line.

“The new ships will strengthen and enhance the vital transport link between the North and South Islands and represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the Cook Strait crossing.”

Each year, the Interislander ferries move 800,000 passengers and up to $14 billion worth of road and rail freight between the North and South Islands.

The NZ 2020 Budget allocated $400 million towards the purchase of the two ships, following a request for information process that was completed in February 2020.

“Our new ferries and the associated port infrastructure will provide greater resilience for this crucial link that unites our country and will serve New Zealand for the next generation and beyond,” said Miller.

The new ships will be significantly larger than the current ferries. The ships will be 40 metres longer and 5 metres wider and can carry twice as many passengers, trucks, and other vehicles. At full capacity, the ship will carry 42 rail wagons.

KiwiRail has also stated that the ships will be more environmentally friendly and produce fewer CO2 emissions, with the ability to run on battery power at times.

KiwiRail expects to identify a builder before the end of 2020.