KiwiRail has unveiled concept designs for a pair of greener, technologically-advanced ferries it plans to roll out within the next five years.
On Wednesday, KiwiRail said the ferries – which would operate as Interislander services on the Cook Strait between Wellington and Picton – would increase capacity for the “vital” transport link.
A request for a proposal to find a preferred shipyard to build the ships was issued on Wednesday.
“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,” KiwiRail group chief executive Greg Miller said.
Interislander operates three ferries at the moment, moving about 800,000 people and up to $14 billion worth of road and rail freight between the North and South Islands per year.
A $400m contribution from the Government’s Budget this year had enabled KiwiRail to go out to international tender to build the new ships, it said, which were intended to arrive for service in 2024 and 2025.
The funds would also go towards KiwiRail’s infrastructure at ports in Wellington and Picton.
When the new ships arrive, it will have been more than 25 years since New Zealand last introduced a purpose-built ferry to its fleet.
Miller said the new ships would be technologically-advanced, produce significantly less carbon emissions, have greater carrying capacity, and provide an enhanced visitor experience.
“Only overseas shipyards have the ability to build ferries of the size and standard needed for the Cook Strait. However, the project also involves new infrastructure including terminals, linkspans, and marshalling yards which will create numerous Kiwi jobs in Picton and Wellington.”
KiwiRail has engaged with a leading ships’ architect to design the ferries. They would be nearly 40 metres longer and at least five metres wider than the current ships.
They would also be able to carry twice as many passengers, 300 per cent more rail wagons and nearly double the amount of trucks and other vehicles.
They would also be more fuel efficient. At times the ships would be able to run on battery power, and the design would be future-proofed so new fuel sources could be adopted as they became available, KiwiRail said.
State-Owned Enterprises Minister Winston Peters said of the current ships, only the Aratere was rail-enabled.
“This Government is committed to restoring rail to its rightful place in New Zealand. Bigger, better ships, with new technology are yet another step on that journey,” Peters said.
The ships would be a “huge boost” to New Zealand’s civil engineering and construction sectors, with hundreds of contractors and material suppliers needed for track renewal and facility upgrades.
That construction work was expected to begin in 2021.