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.

Budget allocates $1.2bn for rail in NZ

NZ$1.2 billion ($1.11bn) has been earmarked for rail in New Zealand’s 2020 budget.

The NZ Coalition government has targeted investment in track and locomotives, as well as a replacement for the Interislander ferries as key initiatives in the first post-coronavirus (COVID-19) budget.

State owned enterprises minister Winston Peters said that rail was critical for the country to emerge after the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns.

“Rail is a critical part of our integrated transport network. Not only is investment essential to address decades of under-investment, but further investment in rail will play an essential role in our economic recovery post-lockdown,” he said.

Peters’s responsibilities cover state-owned rail operator KiwiRail, which owns most of the rail track in New Zealand while also providing freight services and the Interislander ferry, which is rail-enabled. The budget approved $400 million for new Interislander ferries and port-side infrastructure. This will enable KiwiRail to tender for international builders to design and construct two new rail-enabled ferries for delivery in 2024-2025 said KiwiRail chief executive, Greg Miller.

“Our Cook Strait ferries are an extension of State Highway 1, moving 800,000 passengers and up to $14 billion worth of road and rail freight between the North and South Islands each year,” he said.

“They are a must have for NZ Inc. The two new rail-enabled ferries will be more advanced, have significantly lower emissions and last for the next 30 years.”

In addition, $246m was allocated for investment in rail track and $421m for new locomotives, which will help shift freight onto rail, said Miller.

“The Government’s investment allows us to continue with our locomotive replacement programme and raise the standard of our rail lines, bridges and tunnels across the country. This will enable KiwiRail to offer better and more reliable train services for our customers and move more of New Zealand’s growing freight task onto rail,” he said.

Funding will be targeted at areas with significant freight demand, such as the Auckland-Hamilton-Tauranga triangle, the North Island Main Trunk Line, the Midland Line from Rolleston to Stillwater, and the Main South Line from Lyttleton to Rolleston. The funding also includes upgrades to Wellington Railway Station, damaged in the Kaikoura earthquake, and resilience work on the National Train Control Centre.

“This funding recognises that rail has a greater role to play in New Zealand’s transport sector, and that it can make a valuable contribution towards lowering our transport emissions, reducing road congestion and saving in road maintenance costs – which benefits our nation as a whole.”

Rollingstock upgrades are expected to include 10 new main line locomotives in the North Island, the first tranche of replacement locomotives for the South Island, 10 electric/battery powered shunting vehicles, the first order of 20 short haul locomotives. The first locomotives are expected to arrive in NZ from late 2022. KiwiRail freight locomotives will also be upgraded for electronic train control to operate on the Auckland network.

An ongoing extension of previous funding
The $1.2bn comes in addition to the $1b allocated in the 2019 budget and will continue to modernise the NZ rail network.

“KiwiRail is a major contributor to New Zealand’s infrastructure projects, and currently employs almost 4,000 people,” said Peters.

“The investment in rail infrastructure, is not only helping to secure the thousands of existing jobs at KiwiRail but will be a huge boost to New Zealand’s civil engineering and construction sector, with hundreds of contractors, and their material suppliers, needed nationwide for track renewal, mechanical facility upgrades and ferry terminal projects.”

In addition to the direct funding, legislative changes will allow for network investment to occur through the National Land Transport Fund. An extra $148m has been earmarked for investment through this fund once the legislation is passed.

NZ has been part of the Australasian rail renaissance, with the Transport Minister Phil Twyford releasing the NZ Rail Plan in December 2019 that outlined the priorities for investment in the rail network.

“The Coalition Government has a bold vision for a 21st century rail network as outlined in the draft New Zealand Rail Plan. We need a resilient and reliable rail system to support freight and get our cities moving,” said Twyford.

“Budget 2020 builds on the substantial investments we’ve already made in rail through past Budgets, the Provincial Growth Fund, and the New Zealand Upgrade Programme which will help future proof the economy and reduce emissions.”

Light rail misses out
In the budget announcements there has been no mention of the Auckland Light Rail. The project was included in the coalition agreement signed between Labour and the Greens however with an election in September 2020, it seems unlikely that funding will be allocated in this term of government.

Twyford confirmed to NZ media that the light rail project is on pause while the government responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two bids have been received for the project, one from private sector backed NZ Infra, and one from the government transport authority NZ Transport Agency.

CRL

CRL stepping-up after COVID-19 lockdown

Construction sites in central Auckland will be working double shifts to complete the City Rail Link (CRL) as quick as possible.

From Monday, May 18, working hours at the Mt Eden and Karangahape will be extended to up to 16 hours per day, from 7am to 10pm Monday to Friday and 7am to 7pm on Saturday.

Although essential back-office work was able to be completed while New Zealand’s level 4 restrictions prohibited site access, CRL chief executive Sean Sweeney said that the project has changed.

“I think we have come out of the lockdown pretty well – apparently faster than most projects – but one thing is certain, COVID-19’s legacy means CRL is now going to be a very different project than it was two months ago.”

The scale of the project, as the largest transport infrastructure project ever undertaken in New Zealand, has meant that the full restart of the project has a wider impact on the economy.

“This project plays a key role in the economic recovery post-COVID-19. The scale of CRL means there is so much we can do right now and into the future to create much needed jobs and to help get the economy pumping again,” said Sweeney.

“Operating two shifts on a site means more people working and more money in their pockets to go and spend locally.”

Currently, 40 key workers are stuck overseas and have been unable to travel to New Zealand, however the project is seeking to be classified as an essential service to enable the workers to come to New Zealand.

“If we able to persuade the Government to support our request, those CRL workers overseas together with their skills should find it easier to get to New Zealand,” said Sweeney.

While the project remains on track, some other delays have been caused by the arrival of the boring machine pushed back until late 2020, with tunnelling to begin in early 2021. The lockdown’s full effect on costs and project timings is being investigated.

“That work will take several months, and the outcome will depend on the health of the economy, how our suppliers here at home and overseas are faring, and on international efforts to curb COVID-19,” said Sweeney. “CRL is important for Auckland’s future and the measures announced today are an important first step to keep to our timetable and to our budget.”

Wellington

Wellington trains return to regular timetable

Trains on the Wellington network have returned to a full timetable, as of Monday, May 4.

Trains on the five lines that stretch across the greater Wellington region had been reduced while New Zealand was under level 4 lockdown restrictions and were only available to essential workers and those accessing essential services. With some businesses, schools, and early learning centres now reopened, trains are operating on a full timetable.

Metlink general manager Scott Gallacher said that services resumed on a staggered basis up until May 4.

“Returning to full timetables on bus and rail is great news for passengers and the recovery of the region. We have hundreds of people working behind the scenes to update systems and help get all of our drivers, trains and buses back into action.”

Extra hygiene measures will still be in place, and Gallacher encouraged those travelling to abide by physical distancing guidelines.

“We’re asking passengers to help us during this time and abide by the physical distancing measures in place even if that means missing out on their first choice train or bus as demands start to pick back up. Metlink’s real time information will be up and running as soon as we enter alert level 3 to help people plan journeys, and we’ll continue to update passengers with any developments on the Metlink website and app.”

Due to the physical distancing requirements, fewer people will be let on each service.

On the Wairarapa line, trains were replaced with buses, and the services have resumed being conducted by trains. In addition, some restrictions such as access to the luggage area have been put in place.

“As with all of our public transport services, we will continue to ensure the safety of our staff and passengers. It is important for customers to be aware of physical distancing practices on all trains and while at stations,” said Gallacher.

Work resumes on all CRL sites

Construction on the City Rail Link (CRL) in Auckland has resumed.

On-site activity was temporarily halted for five weeks during the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown in New Zealand, however all six CRL sites are now operating. These sites are located in the middle of the Auckland CBD at Britomart, Albert Street, Karangahape, and Mt Eden, as well as at Ōtāhuhu.

Although construction may have been halted, off-site work could continue, enabling what CRL Ltd chief executive Sean Sweeney called a “strong and safe” return to construction.

“The prep work completed at our sites during the past week together with planning and design work done from home by our backroom teams during the lockdown will all contribute to a successful return to work.”

Other rail projects across New Zealand have also resumed, with KiwiRail workers returning to sites including the Kaikōura rebuild and the Wellington metro upgrades. Transport Minister Phil Twyford acknowledged the efforts of the rail and construction sectors.

“I’d like to thank the industry, Waka Kotahi, City Rail Link Ltd and KiwiRail for their efforts which will see well over 1,000 construction workers back on the job this week. For example, the Kaikōura rebuild will see around 450 road and rail workers back to work, City Rail Link expects 400 workers back this week, and Transmission Gully and Pūhoi to Warkworth will ramp back up to hundreds of workers at each.”

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said works would soften the economic impact of COVID-19.

“We’re putting our money where our mouth is and getting people back to work day one of Alert Level 3 so we can get money into the pockets of businesses and workers sooner.”

At CRL sites 200 workers are on site on the first day, Tuesday, April 28, and numbers will go up to 400 by the end of the week.

“Our priority is the safety of our construction teams and the wider community.  At morning start-up and toolbox meetings workers will be briefed about stringent new health and safety protocols before they make a successful start to their shifts. Those rules cover things like access to sites, safety and protection for themselves and their workmates, and sanitation and cleaning regimes. We’ll be applying the protocols diligently,” said Sweeney.

Rail has been targeted as a way for the New Zealand economy to recover after the lockdown, with multiple projects put forward by local governments and the NZ Greens pushing for further work on the country’s regional rail system. According to Sweeney, CRL has a role to play in this.

“Given the project’s size and the contribution it can make, getting back to work quickly will be a significant and important contribution to the revival of the New Zealand economy.”

Similar to other projects in Australia, CRL is looking to take advantage of lower traffic levels to get ahead of schedule.

“It is our priority to keep the community, and relevant organisation and stakeholders informed if there are any changes,” said Sweeney.

NZ City Rail Link ready to re-start construction

The New Zealand government has approved Auckland’s $4.45 billion City Rail Link (CRL) to resume construction after the COVID-19 lockdown.

Sean Sweeney, CEO of New Zealand’s biggest infrastructure project said his team is champing at the bit for a rapid re-start.

“We’re already inspecting all CRL sites and making them ready for a safe return to work next week,” he said.

Work will resume on Tuesday, April 28 at all CRL sites including the C1 contract at Britomart and LowerQueen Street, C2 in Albert Street, C3 at Aotea in central Auckland, Karangahape Road and at MtEden, and C8 on the southern rail line at Ōtāhuhu.

“Because of our size we’re aware of the big role we have in quickly getting the economy moving again, supporting the contracting and infrastructure industries and seeing our workers safely back on the job,” Sweeney said.

He said the paramount priority will be keeping workers and the wider community safe.

“We had some pretty strict safety measures in place before the lockdown, but next Tuesday’s return to work will be different,” he said.

Sweeny said there will be additional constraints including restricted access to sites, physical distancing, protective clothing and sanitising and cleaning regimes.

“They will all contribute to a successful re-start in the new COVID-19 work environment, and, just as importantly, they will help ensure our workers get home to family and friends virus-free when they finish their shifts,” he said.

Sweeney said it is too early to measure if COVID-19 has impacted on project costs or construction timetables.

“It may be months before we know that once the economy has settled down a bit and we have a clearer picture on the availability of workers, and what sort of shape some of our suppliers both here and overseas are in,” he said.

“I know we have a small team of workers waiting in France because there are no flights here at the moment – that’s not a lockdown issue that‘s a wider international COVID-19 issue.

“A big plus for the project was ability of City Rail Link Ltd (CRL Ltd) and our Link Alliance contractors to be able to keep working on construction and design programmes during the lockdown – time wasn’t wasted and that’s been a big boost for our re-start.”

The project team is investigating opportunities to accelerate some work, including more shifts of work and the use of extra plant and machinery.

“Those ‘shovel ready’ ideas are still in the planning stages but our contractors will be working hard – and safely – to get CRL delivered as quickly as possible for Auckland,” Sweeney said.

Phil Goff, Auckland Mayor, has welcomed the government’s announcement to resume construction and CRL’s re-start news.

“As one of Auckland – and New Zealand’s – biggest and most important infrastructure projects, the City Rail Link will play an important role in the post-COVID-19 economic stimulus,”Goff said.

“It’s critical that CRL construction resumes quickly to help kick start the economy, get construction and infrastructure industry employees back into work and limit as much as is possible the lockdown’s impact on construction timeframes.”

In the meantime, City Rail Link is in the search for an inspiring woman’s name for the project’s Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM).

The TBM is due to arrive from China later this year in sections and reassembled at the Link Alliance construction site in Mt Eden.

The Link Alliance will start tunnelling with the newly named TBM early next year, excavating 1.6 kilometres from Mt Eden to the Aotea Station in central Auckland to connect with the tunnels already constructed from the Britomart Station.

“Tunnelling tradition dictates a TBM cannot start work until it has been given a female name, a sign of good luck and safety for the project ahead. Our search seeks to recognise the many amazing women New Zealand has produced,” Sweeney said.

Shortlisted names include Antarctic scientist Dr Margaret Hayward, transgender politician Georgina Beyer, and Maori welfare and lands champion Dame Whina Cooper.

NZ Greens propose electrification, fast regional rail

The New Zealand Greens have put forward the construction of fast inter-city rail links as a way to stimulate New Zealand’s economy.

Currently under stage 4 restrictions, economic activity in New Zealand has almost been shut down, but the country is looking to come out of its self-imposed hibernation by the end of April.

To get the economy back up and running the NZ Greens are looking at electrification and improvements to regional rail.

Although the fourth largest party in the New Zealand parliament, the Greens have supported the leading Labour Party with confidence and supply. Green Party Transport Spokesperson Julie Anne Genter is Associate minister of Health and Transport in the current government.

The proposal of works includes connecting Auckland with Hamilton, Tauranga, and Whangearei, Wellington with Masterton, Palmerston North and Whanganui, and Christchurch with Rangiora, Ashburton and Timaru.

Currently, train services between Auckland and Wellington are partially electrified, while rail services out of Christchurch are hauled by diesel locomotives. Green Party Co-leader and Climate Change spokesperson James Shaw said the project would tackle the twin issues of economic growth and cutting emissions.

“The large intercity rail project proposed will provide meaningful work whilst driving us towards a sustainable, green, zero carbon future.

“Building rail creates more jobs than building motorways and helps us tackle climate change at the same time.”

The party has broken up the proposal into two stages. The first stage would involve electrification and improvements to existing track to allow for speeds of up to 110km/h. The second stage would include building new higher-speed track for tilt trains capable of travelling up to 160km/h and bypasses to create more direct routes. The party estimates that the cost of the program would be NZ$9 billion ($8.6bn) over 10 years.

Genter said that the investment would tie together metropolitan centres and the regions.

“We’re proposing a nation-wide intercity rapid rail programme that would bring our provincial centres and biggest cities closer together through fast, electric passenger rail. This will create real alternatives to driving or flying for people who want to travel around the country for work, to see their family and friends, or for domestic tourism.”

NZ rail projects part of post-Covid-19 wishlist

New Zealand is looking for major infrastructure projects to get the country going once its lockdown phase ends.

After the NZ government announced on April 1 that it would be looking to fund infrastructure, including rail, worth over $10 million councils have now submitted proposals.

Although the projects come from a range of infrastructure sectors, both Auckland and Wellington have nominated rail projects as some of their priorities.

The City Rail Link in Auckland is one of the 73 projects the local authority has submitted to the national government. Although already mid-build, the City Rail Link has been put on hold due to the shutdown but is part of the city and the nation’s long-term vision, said Auckland councillor Chris Darby.

“Not only are these projects ‘shovel-ready’, they are also ‘future-ready’. This once in a generation investment will create jobs for Aucklanders who will build a transforming legacy for our city.”

Mayor Phil Goff said that the local authority would be looking to work with the construction industry to progress the projects.

“Prior to COVID-19, Auckland Council was on track to deliver a capital works programme exceeding $2 billion for the financial year,” said Goff.

Other rail projects to be nominated to the Infrastructure Industry Reference Group (IIRG) include the Puhinui rail and bus interchange.

Councillors from the Wellington region have also nominated upgrades to rail stations and improved long-distance rolling stock as essential for the region.

Andy Foster, Mayor of Wellington City Council, said that the package was submitted collaboratively with councils across the region.

“Wellington region already had very significant infrastructure needs before COVID-19 – coping with growth, resilience and connectivity. COVID 19’s impact on our economy and on Councils themselves makes Government’s willingness to assist even more critical than it already was.”

Announcing the IIRG, which includes KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller and NZ Transport Administration chairman Brian Roche, Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones said that projects will be looked at based on their impact.

“These projects will help address the country’s infrastructure deficit as well as create jobs and buoy the economy.”

Transport Minister Phil Twyford outlined what types of projects could receive funding.

“The types of projects the Government would consider funding include water, transport, clean energy and buildings. They would also have a public or regional benefit, create jobs and be able to get underway in short order.”

TAIC investigates KiwiRail derailment

A distracted driver and excessive speed caused a KiwiRail freight train to derail in March last year.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) found that the freight train had exceeded the maximum permissible track speed when exiting the crossing loop.

The TAIC report said this was due to the driver becoming distracted and the downhill gradient of the track allowing the train to accelerate to above the maximum permissible line speed.

The incident occurred on March 29, 2019 when the three rear wagons of the KiwiRail freight train derailed as the train exited a crossing loop at Clinton on the way from Invercargill to Dunedin, New Zealand.

Two of the three derailed wagons overturned onto their sides, causing damage to the wagons, track, and a signal.

“A train driver can become distracted even when carrying out tasks specific to their role which, if poorly timed, can have unintended consequences,” the commission said in the investigation report.

The TAIC reported in its investigation findings that a phenomenon known as dynamic interaction was very likely the cause of the derailment.

Dynamic interaction occurred where the excessive speed combined with the track geometry at the point of derailment and the centre of gravity of the fully loaded coal wagons caused the wagon to oscillate from side to side. One or more wheels then lifted and climbed the rail, resulting in derailment.

The wagon condition and loading were found to be within KiwiRail’s maximum permissible limits, the TAIC found.

A similar derailment occurred at the Clinton crossing loop in 2016, which was not investigated by the TAIC.

“At that time KiwiRail took a number of safety actions after the incident, including speed monitoring and track repair,” the TAIC stated.

“However, a procedural control measure to ensure that loaded trains did not use the crossing loop was not adopted.”

The TAIC acknowledged in the investigation report that KiwiRail has taken a number of safety actions that addressed the issues raised in this report and that therefore no new recommendations needed to be made.

“To avoid repeat accidents and incidents it is important to learn from previous incidents,” the TAIC stated.

“This requires a focus on implementing corrective action in accordance with the hierarchy of controls.

“However, when procedural control measures have been identified they should be implemented, checked and monitored properly to ensure the desired results are achieved.”

Siva Sivapakkiam, KiwiRail executive general manager operations told Rail Express that the derailment of three wagons last year at Clinton was a serious incident, and KiwiRail has treated it as such.

“As the TAIC report notes, we have already made a change to our operating procedures to ensure that fully laden coal trains heading to Dunedin use only the main line when passing through Clinton,” she said.

Sivapakkiam said this avoids fully laden trains having to proceed through the crossing loop points, and it also means that the speed of empty Invercargill bound trains entering the loop is reduced by the uphill geometry of the track.

“Drivers have again been briefed on the need to ensure that the whole length of the train remains within the appropriate speed limit when entering or exiting crossing loops,” she said.

“We have instituted a non-technical skills training programme which provides staff with the knowledge to identify and manage distraction.

“In addition a redesign of the points configuration at Clinton is planned. We note that TAIC did not make any new recommendations for further action.”

Payments fast-tracked for NZ transport contractors

The New Zealand Government is paying transport contractors in advance to enable suppliers to retain their workforces.

Phil Twyford, NZ Transport Minister announced on Wednesday April 1 that the decision to bring payments forward will provide financial relief for the transport sector throughout the four-week lockdown period.

He said the Advanced Entitlement Payment (AEP) will ensure the sector can quickly re-start work and be in a strong position to respond to any future Government infrastructure packages in the post-lockdown economy.

“Making sure we can build more critical infrastructure as soon as possible will help stimulate the economy and help New Zealand make up its infrastructure deficit,” Twyford said.

The NZ Transport Agency is also continuing planning and design work so that more projects are ready to move to construction as soon as works can resume.

The NZ Transport Agency is now offering a support package for non-essential services, with advance payments being made available to contractors who currently have projects in construction. 

The AEP will be available to contractors who currently have National Land Transport Programme funded projects in construction with the NZ Transport Agency.  

Earlier this month the NZ government announced it will invest a record $54 billion (AUD$53.5) in land transport.

Twyford said this transport investment will make a real difference to New Zealand’s economic recovery.

The draft Government Policy Statement (GPS) 2021 will guide the Transport Agency to invest more than $4.5 billion a year raised through the National Land Transport Fund and allocate required funding towards rail and public transport.

The Ministry of Transport is inviting stakeholders and the wider public to give feedback on the draft GPS until 5pm, Monday, 27 April 2020.