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.

DAS

“This is for our grandchildren”: Why KiwiRail’s C-DAS is about more than saving fuel

KiwiRail tells Rail Express how its adoption of driver advisory systems (DAS) from TTG Transportation Technology is delivering benefits now and over the long term.

When representatives from TTG Transportation Technology first contacted KiwiRail with their new system, the New Zealand rail operator couldn’t believe what they were hearing.

The Sydney-based manufacturer was introducing their driver advisory system (DAS), Energymiser to KiwiRail and were suggesting that the state-owned enterprise could save 10 per cent of their fuel bill. According to Soren Low, technology and customer innovation leader at KiwiRail, it would take a change of management for the offer to be taken up.

“We struggled at first to get any interest in installing Energymiser, but a couple of years later there was renewed interest and the group general manager at the time said ‘Let’s give it a crack and do a trial and see what happens, if nothing comes out of it that’s great, at least we can say we tried.’”

KiwiRail chose to test the system on a freight line that took wood pulp from the mill at Karioi in the middle of the North Island to the Port of Wellington.

“We did a trial over three or four months and what became really clear is that the numbers that came out of this trial were too good to be true,” said Low.

The initial figures promised by TTG were being delivered and led to the DAS modules being rolled out across the entire network.

“We used the trial to write a business case to justify the investment to roll out Energymiser across the business,” said Low.

A few years later, the onboard systems were in the cabs of KiwiRail’s fleet of 180 locomotives and 350 train drivers were trained how to use the system. Now, across KiwiRail’s 4,500km network the DAS technology delivered by TTG indicate to drivers when to increase speed, when to brake, and when to coast to enable the most efficient runs possible.

The DAS system enables KiwiRail to make the most of a 150-year-old narrow gauge network with many tight corners and steep inclines. Whether hauling bulk freight, logs for export, and dairy during the milking season, Energymiser is enabling KiwiRail to cut fuel costs and significantly reduce emissions.

CHANGE THE WAY YOU DRIVE
While the figures from the trial convinced KiwiRail’s management of the benefits of the DAS technology, there was another group who needed to come on board.

“When we first started talking about DAS to the driver union representatives, there wasn’t much support for it,” said Low. “There was a straight-out view that no technology can tell a driver how to drive a train better than they can. In time, the Rail & Maritime Transport Union representatives came on board, and really helped us sell it to our people. Being able to pull together a small team of committed drivers who believed in what we were doing really helped us test, tweak and deliver the system.”

Until the incorporation of Energymiser, KiwiRail drivers had been trained to travel at the maximum track speed. Now, the DAS onboard screen was telling drivers that they could travel below the track speed and coast on downhill sections and they would arrive at their destination at the scheduled time.

To communicate this change in practice, KiwiRail enlisted the help of a senior driver, Robin Simmons. Having someone with Simmons’s respect within the organisation helped to win over resistant drivers.

“Simmons really quickly bought into this,” said Low. “He really quickly said, ‘You know what, this is actually a really good thing.’ To this day, he is our DAS champion. He has been pretty much working full time on DAS. The training program that we built was very heavily influenced by Simmons and in the early days he did most of the training himself. The fact that he’s a locomotive engineer and train driver was really good in terms of his credibility.”

Another important factor said Low is to ensure that the information that is displayed in cab is not in conflict with conditions on the track. For example, during summer some parts of the KiwiRail network have speed restrictions due to heat. This function was not inbuilt into the Energymiser system initially, so KiwiRail and TTG updated the software.

“The DAS was saying you should be doing 70 km/h whereas the driver knew they should be doing 40 because they were in a heat restriction area and we try and avoid having those mixed messages in the cab,” said Low.

KiwiRail found drivers were in three camps; those that embraced the technology, those who used the DAS because they had to, and those who would prefer not to use the technology. Convincing the second and third camps and encouraging the first to become advocates for the system would take a different approach.

“In our training, we spend a day in the classroom with our drivers and most of it is really hearts and minds stuff. It’s about the bigger sustainability picture, it’s about why this is important, it’s about how organisations like KiwiRail need to cut costs, how we need to invest our money wisely and then a little bit of the training is actually the technical bit of how you use the tool,” said Low.

Acknowledging and incorporating these factors has led to the success of the system.

“The reality is if you can’t get the drivers on board then you are dead in the water.”

KiwiRail tested the system with driver Robin Simmons, who became an advocate for the technology.

ENCOURAGING CLEAN AND EFFICIENT OPERATIONS
Seven years on from the first contract signed between TTG and KiwiRail the system has enabled a 10 per cent reduction in fuel costs. However, even more important than the savings are the benefits that the system has brought to KiwiRail.

KiwiRail has three carbon reduction targets and by the end of June 2020 is aiming to reduce energy consumption by 73.5 GWh. This target was raised from 20 GWh, which was reached only eight months after the agreement between KiwiRail and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) in 2016. Fuel savings in locomotives are a major part of this effort and already 17 million litres of fuel have been saved since 2015.

By 2030, KiwiRail must reduce is carbon emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels, in line with the Paris Agreement. Finally, as a state-owned enterprise, KiwiRail must achieve net zero carbon emissions, in line with New Zealand’s overall climate goals. Since the 2012 financial year, the company has reduced its carbon intensity of rail freight by 15 per cent.

To meet future goals, DAS has a role not only to ensure the efficient movement of freight but to provide a better service for KiwiRail’s customers, enabling more goods to be moved on rail rather than road. The KiwiRail network is predominantly single track, so making sure trains run to schedule is essential. This is where the connected DAS technology can contribute.

“The connected DAS, where you integrate the onboard systems back to the back end of train control can create a potential opportunity to tie those things together to take it to the next level,” said Low.

This can enable better scheduling to move freight quicker, without using more fuel.

“Our job is to provide excellent customer service outcomes,” said Low. “The first step is to analyse schedules to ask, ‘How do we take our existing journey time and look to cut up the journey into more fuel-efficient increments, what kind of fuel saving can we derive from that?’”

Getting to that point, however, requires buy-in from across the organisation, and this is where DAS’s fundamental benefits are important, concludes Low.

“This is not for us right now, it’s for our grandchildren’s grandchildren. It’s a long-term project, that’s why it’s so vitally important.”

Managing director of TTG Dale Coleman said TTG are extremely proud of its relationship with KiwiRail that embodies what success looks like. TTG and KiwiRail have combined world leading research into to technology that can be successfully implemented into an existing operating environment by a committed Kiwi Rail management and operations team.

Coleman also acknowledged the research excellence of the University of South Australia, which has been instrumental in the delivery of Australian knowhow in building a fully connected and integrated DAS deployed on more than 8,000 devices operating over 60,000 kilometres of track in more than 10 countries worldwide. The system delivers sustainability not only to KiwiRail but also other leading world class railways including SNCF, Arriva, First Group, Abellio, and Aurizon.

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.”

benefit

NZ rail projects benefit from fast-track legislation

Rail networks in Auckland and Wellington will benefit from faster approvals in a bill introduced to parliament in New Zealand.

The bill names 11 projects that will benefit, three of which are rail projects. The first is the upgrade to Britomart station in downtown Auckland which will enable City Rail Link to operate at full capacity once services begin.

The next project is the electrification of the Pukekohe line from Papakura and the construction of three rail platforms. Auckland Metro services will then be able to terminate at Pukekohe, decreasing emissions from transport and avoiding the need to change to diesel-hauled services.

The third project is a suite of small projects across the Wellington Metro network known as the Wellington Metro Upgrade programme. These projects include upgrading drainage and stations, new tracks and storage yards, as well as the creation and operation of a gravel extraction site. Once complete, the works will increase passenger and freight capacity between Masterton, Levin, and Wellington.

If passed, the projects will be assessed by Expert Consenting Panels, which will place appropriate conditions on the projects, allowing them to proceed.

“Accelerating these projects will create opportunities for more employment and a boost to local economies,” said Environment Minister David Parker.

The bill also includes the provision for KiwiRail to undertake repair, maintenance, and minor upgrade works on existing infrastructure within the rail corridor as a permitted activity. This would mean the state-owned enterprise would not need a resource consent.

The fast-track law will exist for a limited time and will self-repeal in two years.

Utility relocation works underway on CRL
Workers on Auckland’s City Rail Link are currently having to contend with what the project terms a “spiders’ web” of utility networks underneath city streets.

At the site of the upcoming Aotea station, a gas main threatened to disrupt construction works, said Link Alliance site engineer Abhi Amin.

“That pipe wasn’t in our scope – not buried below the service lane where we thought it would be. Its location was exactly where we didn’t want it to be – in the ceiling right in the way of our planned piling for a diaphragm wall to support the new station,” said Amin. “Shifting it quickly became a critical part of the construction programme.”

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.

Auckland

Rail renewal underway on Auckland network

12 kilometres of rail and 2,500 sleepers are being replaced at the centre of the rail network in Auckland.

Staff from KiwiRail are working at night and on weekends to renovate the track on the Eastern Line between Britomart and Otahuhu.

Chief operating officer of KiwiRail, Todd Moyle, said that the works would enable faster, more reliable services.

“Getting this work done will enable us to remove speed restrictions on the line and when finished, commuters will enjoy a quicker, smoother and quieter journey,” said Moyle.

“Replacing the rail and sleepers can only be done when no trains are running. We have worked closely with Auckland Transport to settle on a work programme that allows us to minimise disruption for commuters while enabling us to get the work done efficiently and safely.”

The team of 200 people will be repairing a line that is used by 3,500 commuter services and 246 freight trains each week. The amount of traffic has required limits on the line.

“That amount of rail traffic causes wear and tear on the rails over time, just as heavy traffic does to road surfaces, and in some cases we have to put speed restrictions in place. It is critical that we replace the rails so we can keep trains running efficiently and safely on the network for the thousands of rail commuters,” said Moyle.

Buses will replace trains during the evening and at weekends and noise and disturbances will be minimised to reduce disruption.

“We are working progressively across the entire network to replace the oldest and most worn sections of track, with 23km of new rail already in place across the network since March 2019. This period of work on the Eastern Line will take about eight weeks, with more work planned for late September,” said Moyle.

Auckland’s rail network has seen an increase in patronage, and with new lines being built, the rail network is expected to shoulder a greater capacity of the city’s transportation.

“The work forms part of an ongoing project to improve the Auckland network, lay a foundation for predicted growth in passenger and freight volumes, and ensure the benefits of the City Rail Link can be delivered,” said Moyle.