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KiwiRail shakes off ‘Kaikoura effect’ with big jump in freight

KiwiRail's Coastal Pacific service resumed in December 2018.
KiwiRail’s Coastal Pacific service resumed in December 2018.

KiwiRail is back on track with a lift in freight and profits after the main north line between Picton and Christchurch was repaired following the 2016 Kaikoura earthquakes.

Freight volumes will increase further this year with the reopening of the Napier to Wairoa line for forestry wagons, and more work on a line to Marsden Point in Northland.

New luxury tourism trains are on the way thanks to a $80 million boost from the Government’s provincial growth fund, KiwiRail acting chief executive Todd Moyle said.

KiwiRail’s new commuter service will be running between Hamilton and Auckland next year, and it’s making progress buying two new rail ferries for Cook Strait to begin service in 2024. 

Moyle said the company was shaking off the effects of the Kaikoura earthquakes. 

The operating surplus of $16.3m for the six months ending December 2018 was 7 per cent ahead of the previous corresponding half-year period.

Interislander ferry Aratere.
RICKY WILSON/STUFF Interislander ferry Aratere.

“It will take some time to get back to where we were before the main north line was closed but we’re seeing increased demand.

The Coastal Pacific scenic train resumed service a few weeks ago with strong bookings throughout the summer.

The Interislander service reach record satisfaction levels at 94 per cent and an award at a Direct Ferries ceremony in London.

KiwiRail’s improved financial result benefited from the “wall of wood” and other freight sectors, with overall revenue up 12 per cent to $328m on the previous corresponding period.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones at an event marking the reopening of the Napier-Wairoa railway.
LYNDA FORREST Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones at an event marking the reopening of the Napier-Wairoa railway.

Domestic freight jumped 30 per cent, forestry 15 per cent, bulk freight 8 per cent, and tourism up 8 per cent on the Great Journeys of New Zealand rail and ferry services.

KiwiRail had overcome enormous challenges over the past two years, restructured operations, network services and rolling stock teams for greater efficiency, Moyle said.

“That has seen improvements in network reliability, a plan to rejuvenate our aged locomotive and wagon fleets.”

Moyle said KiwiRail’s improvements were also good for the environment.

“The more freight we get onto rail, the fewer trucks we have on New Zealand roads which increases safety for everyone, reduces carbon emissions and means less road maintenance for taxpayers.”

KiwiRail was dealing with a legacy of under-investment from successive governments and the infrastructure still required a lot of work, Moyle said.

“The Government has seen we are in catch-up mode and is willing to invest for the good of New Zealand.”

The company faced increased costs from regulation, compliance and investments commitments.

Quake-hit Wellington wants biggest ships

The November 2016 quakes put Wellington’s container cranes out of action for 10 months. Now CentrePort is looking at investing to accept bigger container ships. But not everyone agrees, Thomas Coughlan reports.

Wellington’s CentrePort is at a crossroads. Flush with cash after more than $170 million of earthquake insurance payouts, the port now has an opportunity to reposition itself for the future. But its proposal to dredge the harbour entrance to welcome in much bigger container ships is being challenged by those worried it will waste money on ships that never come. However, the quakes have also ironically proven the worth of keeping ports open to provide a back-up if road and rail fail.

Even before the earthquakes, CentrePort’s future was uncertain. Container ships are getting bigger and bigger and Wellington runs the risk of falling behind.

The port currently supports ships with a capacity of 4500 containers, half the capacity of the Port of Tauranga, which hosts the 9640 container Aotea Maersk, the largest container ship to visit New Zealand.

The port has long had an eye on dredging the entrance to Wellington Harbour to allow the port to host ships with up to 6000 containers. The plan was put on hold after the earthquake, but is again on the agenda as the port recovers.

But figures in the industry question the wisdom of such massive capital outlay. If trade tensions bubbled over, the project could become a white elephant, forcing CentrePort, and its owners, the Wellington and Horizons Regional Councils to bump up port fees.

Detractors say the port should stick to what it’s good at: providing services for the 10 Cook Straight ferry sailings it hosts each day. They say attention should be paid to resilience and making sure that when the next big one hits, the main link between the North and South Islands is not cut off.

Wellington’s future has country-wide implications. Ninety-nine percent of New Zealand’s imports by weight arrive on ships and the Government is keen to increase the amount of coastal shipping in New Zealand as part of a push to take trucks off roads.

This is likely to form part of the Government’s second-stage General Policy Statement on Land Transport, which is due next year.

Scraping the bottom 

Shipping is an industry of maxims. Speak with anyone for long enough and they will give you one or two inviolable rules about how the industry operates.

CentrePort CEO Derek Nind is no exception. Speaking to Newsroom he said the major trend he had experienced in his career was the size of ships increasing.

“In my 25 odd years all we’ve seen are container ships getting bigger,” he said.

In shipping, capacity is measured in containers, which are known as TEUs or “20-foot-equivalent”. The harbour currently [handles] ships carrying roughly 4500 TEUs. With dredging, it could host ships of up to 6000 TEUs.

Container ships have grown massively in size. In 1996, the largest ship in the world carried 6000 TEUs. Now, new classes of container ships carry up to 21,000 on ships each as long as four rugby pitches.

Those sorts of ships are unlikely to visit New Zealand anytime soon. The current international trend for hubbing means that they tend to operate on routes between major trading centres, like Shanghai and Singapore.

Ships that stop over in New Zealand tend to be much smaller, although they are growing. Since 2016, Tauranga has hosted visits of the the 9640 TEU Aotea Maersk. Though relatively small by international standards, in 1996, it would have been the largest ship in the world.

Nind says the improvement would encourage ships sailing round New Zealand to call in to Wellington. In shipping terms, this is known as intermediacy and diversion. Wellington had good intermediacy to ships passing along the cost. Ships could call in to port and potentially only face a four or five hour diversion from their regular route.

“Intermediacy is if you’re calling at Tauranga and you’re calling at Lyttelton we’re a four hour deviation,” he said.

But dredging is expensive. Costings done under the leadership of former CEO Blair O’Keefe came to around $40 million. It wouldn’t be extensive. Wellington is a naturally deep harbour, but for a lip at the entrance, which bars larger ships from stopping at port.

With inland transportation costs currently high, Wellington is well placed to take advantage of logistics firms looking to [cut] costs by shipping products as close to their end destination as possible. CentrePort can take advantage of road and rail connectivity in the Lower North Island and ferries to the top of the South Island.

More maxims

But the programme has some detractors.

Annabel Young, Executive Director of the New Zealand Shipping Federation, thinks the port should stick to what it’s good at: inter-island ferries.

She backs this up with another maxim: “Ships go where the cargo is”.

“This is all driven by ‘where is the cargo and how much is there?,” she said.

Young is a former National MP and her sister is Nicola Young, a Wellington City Councillor and mayoral candidate. Young is concerned that without adequate cargo in Wellington, the port will be forced to recoup the cost of dredging by raising port fees.

“If they do the capital work and the ship doesn’t turn up, consumers will pay,” she said.

The question of cargo is a touchy one in New Zealand. After the Kaikoura earthquake, cargo destined for CentrePort was offloaded elsewhere before making its way to Wellington by truck or train.

CentrePort has taken some of that business back, although it still has some way to go. In the 2016 financial year it offloaded 131,645 TEUs, this more than halved to  51,750 in 2017 before bouncing back to 84,755 this year.

But the port is focused on making sure it’s the nexus for shipping in the Lower North Island, partnering with KiwiRail to develop rail connectivity. Nind said the port wants to be “the port of choice for Central New Zealand.

It has developed rail hubs in Whanganui and New Plymouth and leverages Wellington’s strong transport connections with Palmerston North. This encourages cargo to travel via Wellington, rather than Napier or other ports.

But even with these connections, Young says there is still a limit to the amount of shipping that will pass through the Lower North Island, based on the size of local industries. These are dwarfed by industries based in the highly productive “Golden Triangle” of Hamilton, Tauranga and Auckland.

Roll up and roll on… and another working group.

Young believed attention needed to be directed to the Cook Strait ferries.

The port is currently part of a working group comprised of the Wellington City and Regional Councils, ferry operators, and NZTA about the future of the Cook Strait connection.

The working group is currently looking at the possibility of combining the Interislander and Bluebridge terminals into one and looking at ways to ensure the ferries can continue to service both Wellington and Picton after a major earthquake.

State Highway 1 technically runs over Cook Strait, which means the Government and NZTA have a strong interest in making sure the connection is resilient. It services seven million tonnes of cargo and 1.2 million passengers each year.

Nind noted that the port was quick to have both the Interislander and Bluebridge terminals up and running after the Kaikoura earthquake.

Wellington — and the whole country — will hope the Port fares similarly next time.

Ports a catalyst for industrial property

Sales of land for logistics purposes related to its port operations are booming at Napier. Photo / Supplied
Sales of land for logistics purposes related to its port operations are booming at Napier. Photo / Supplied

The New Zealand Ports and Freight Yearbook 2018 produced by accountancy firm Deloittes, says the country’s two major container ports — in Tauranga and Auckland — continue to be the dominant players in the market, with a combined market share of 62 per cent of all containers handled last year, while all New Zealand ports increased container throughput in 2017.

National director for Bayleys Real Estate’s industrial and logistics division, Scott Campbell, says regional New Zealand’s industrial property sector had already benefited as a consequence of not only the growth in port activity, but also the way in which goods were being transported in to and out of the country. “Previously it was a case of a wharf-to-warehouse supply chain for imports, or vice-versa for exports. Now though, with bigger volumes coming in, we are seeing the rise of intermediary in-land ports,” Campbell says.

“And for both import and export-reliant firms, we are seeing much bigger warehousing facilities being built to accommodate stock, either once it has been unloaded from containers, or in advance of being containerised.

“That has seen a greater prevalence of ultra high-stud ‘drive through’ warehousing rather than the traditional dock and platform loading bays. “Warehousing facilities are buying bigger landholdings capable of storing substantial numbers of both 20 and 40-foot containers.”

Artist's impression of Tainui Group Holdings' plans for a 480ha inland port and logistics hub at Ruakura. Photo / SuppliedArtist’s impression of Tainui Group Holdings’ plans for a 480ha inland port and logistics hub at Ruakura. Photo / Supplied

Ports activities analysis from Bayleys’ research division has identified significant commercial property activity expansion in three New Zealand regions which have seen their shipping, rail and trucking transport volumes increase over the past decade — in the Waikato, Hawke’s Bay and Canterbury.

In Waikato, Tainui Group Holdings is embarking on an ambitious 480hainland port and logistics hub development at Ruakura.

Project general manager Blair Morris says due to demand, the Ruakura initiative is moving along much faster than anticipated — with full build-out in less than 30 years versus the company’s initial estimate of 50 years.

“We forecast up to 2.6 million TEU (twenty foot equivalent container units) would be moving by 2044. However, the pace of growth is ahead of forecast as the two major North Island ports are already moving circa 2.2 million TEUs, only four years on from the forecast”, says Morris.

Inquiry about industrial property sites at Ruakura is coming chiefly from major warehousing and distribution businesses looking to relocate outside of Auckland and includes significant players in the construction, food and beverage processing, and retailing sectors.

Meanwhile in Hawke’s Bay, Napier’s business development manager, Andrew Palairet, said the company has acquired a large block of land at Whakatu for potentially creating a freight hub. The site is leased to a third party in the interim.

Largely unseen by the public, port operations continue 24/7. Photo / SuppliedLargely unseen by the public, port operations continue 24/7. Photo / Supplied

Two years ago the port acquired 4.5ha site in Napier’s Pandora industrial precinct, primarily to enable expansion of its existing empty container handling depot adjacent to the new site.

“There are large, medium and small land blocks available for purchase or lease within Napier, Hastings and surrounds. Land values are on the rise and the economic mix should provide a steady stream of tenants,” Palairet says.

Rolleston, just south of Christchurch is the pre-eminent industrial growth area in Canterbury, underpinned by the two inland ports — MetroPort and MidlandPort.

industrial development firm Carter Group is behind Rolleston’s evolving IPort Business Park which occupies 95ha of industrial land, part of which has an boundary with Lyttleton Port of Christchurch’s MidlandPort.

Lyttelton, the port serving Christchurch, purchased 27ha of the original 122ha MidlandPort industrial site for its Rolleston-based operations. Around 92 per cent of Canterbury’s exports transit though Rolleston.

The land parcels IPort is selling adjacent to the MidlandPort operations offer huge scope for owners/developers looking for large shed properties on sites up to 7ha each. Around 18ha of IPort land has also been set aside for large format retail.

The balance of the industrial land is being carved up into sites ranging from 800sq m to 3ha — with Carter Group targeting businesses which may never have considered purchasing industrial land before.

KiwiRail shakes off impact of Kaikoura earthquake to post improved earnings

Kiwirail posted half-year revenue of $292.7m, down 1.9 per cent down on the previous year.
Kiwirail posted half-year revenue of $292.7m, down 1.9 per cent down on the previous year.

Disruption to South Island rail services caused by the November 2016 Kaikoura earthquake masked a continuation in improved operating earnings from state-owned railway operator KiwiRail in the six months to December 31.

The company reported an operating surplus of $15 million for the period, which would have come in at $40m once the one-off costs associated with the closure of the main trunk line between Picton and Christchurch were stripped out.

While quake impacts would still be felt in the second half of the current financial year, KiwiRail was still on track to deliver operating earnings of between $30m and $50m, said chief executive Peter Reidy.

In the previous comparable period, which included the first few weeks of the outage caused by the massive Kaikoura quake, KiwiRail reported operating earnings of $11m, or $23m underlying once quake impacts were backed out.

As always, the national rail carrier did not report a statutory profit on its activities, reporting a $193m loss for the half-year.

That reflects the fact that revenue earned “above rail” is always far lower than would be required to fully maintain the capital-intensive network.

However, the importance of maintaining a rail network for wider economic and national interest reasons means both the previous and present government accept KiwiRail will always make accounting losses.

The result for the half-year was achieved on revenue of $292.7m, 1.9 per cent down from the $298.3m recorded in the last six months of 2016, and reflecting the fact that the Kaikoura link was only restored in September 2017.

Operating expenses, at $277.4m, were 3.5 per cent lower than in the previous comparable period.

Ports revenue from KiwiRail’s trucking and rail services was up 16 per cent on the half-year, which chairman Trevor Janes said was a “strong result” when placed against overall container volume growth of 7 per cent nationally in the same period.

Forestry revenues rose 8 per cent as the so-called ‘wall of wood’ from maturing plantation forests starts to come on-stream.

Dairy industry and coal volumes rose, contributing to a 6 per cent increase in bulk freight revenue.

Poor weather and “significant and unexpected” repair costs on the company’s ageing South Island locomotive fleet contributed to a “messy” six months, Janes said.

KiwiRail was “working closely with the government on the urgent need for longer-term funding for the organisation, which is critical for efficient procurement, planning and safety”.

The Interislander ferries showed a 12 per cent increase in commercial vehicle ‘lane metres’ as more freight had to travel by road while the rail outage persisted, while passenger revenue rose 7 per cent and yields on vehicle crossings improved.

Reidy said KiwiRail was targeting operating savings of $7m this year, building on $45m of productivity improvements in the last two years.

Announcements relating to the revival of some mothballed regional rail services are expected when the government unveils detail of its $1 billion a year regional economic development fund, in Gisborne, on Friday.

Railway from Picton to Christchurch closes again after wet start to October

A wet start to October has caused slips to come down on the Main North Line, which is expected to remain closed until the end of the month.

The newly rebuilt railway line from Picton to Christchurch could be closed for the rest of the month after recent rain brought slips down across the tracks.

Hundreds of spectators turned up to watch the first freight train since the November earthquake take the Main North Line on September 15.

The celebration was short lived. Heavy rain closed the track after the one train went through. It reopened 10 days later, but has closed again.

Hundreds turned up to watch the first freight train since the November earthquake take to the track on September 15. The ...



KiwiRail blamed the latest closure on an unusually wet start to October for the Kaikōura region.

Acting chief executive David Gordon said the “unusually heavy rainfall” caused 31 slips in the area, including three major slips onto the railway line and next to State Highway 1.

He said KiwiRail was working to “make repairs and add resilience” ahead of the peak freight period.

“At this stage we expect services to operate on the line again at the end of this month.”

KiwiRail ran two freight trains each weeknight on the line, leaving it clear during the day and over the weekend for additional repairs to the track and SH1.

Gordon said some disruption was always possible with the limited reopening, but the rain created “much greater disruption than we could reasonably predict”.

He said KiwiRail regretted the impact on customers – and that they could not take some of the freight burden away from the Lewis Pass, which is on the alternative highway route while SH1 is repaired.

KiwiRail previously claimed the Main North Line reopening would take 2000 trucks a month of the road, a figure some in the industry disputed.

At the last closure, general group manager network services Todd Moyle said the Main North Line was likely to shut up to 25 days a year, based on its current state.

MetService forecaster Cameron Coutts said Kaikōura had received 84 millimetres of rain so far in October, which was “well above” the month’s average of 57mm.

He said it should be dry and relatively warm before showers returned on Monday and Tuesday. A “settled spell” was expected for the latter half of next week.

“In saying that, we’re still in spring, so it’s still pretty changeable,” Coutts said.

 – Stuff

CentrePort to invest $63m in strengthening waterfront land after quake

Work at CentrePort to stabilise the container cranes, with a bespoke platform within the wharf.

Work at CentrePort to stabilise the container cranes, with a bespoke platform within the wharf.

CentrePort has set aside $63 million to strengthen its land on Wellington’s waterfront after November’s 7.8 magnitude quake caused significant damage.

The ratepayer-owned company is now consulting international experts to help figure out what the work will be.

To date, CentrePort has spent $28m securing 125 metres of the 585-metre wharf, which included 644 gravel columns being set in the ground to reduce any liquefaction from future earthquakes and provide resilience to the temporary works.

Chief executive Derek Nind​ said they were now looking to how to do that across the entire port.

“We try not to talk about rebuild, we talk about regeneration. And what do I mean by that?

CentrePort chief executive Derek Nind.

CentrePort chief executive Derek Nind.

“What I mean is if we go to rebuild, we’ll get what we had, which was 20th century assets and 20th century thinking,” Nind said.

“What we need is 21st century assets for the next 50 to 100 years, and we need to regenerate the port.”

To date, CentrePort has received $173.7m of insurance income, but that figure was expected to rise.

On Tuesday, insurers agreed Statistics House should be demolished, as the Kaikōura earthquake caused the partial ...

On Tuesday, insurers agreed Statistics House should be demolished, as the Kaikōura earthquake caused the partial collapse of two floors.

“We got hit, but we’ve been working hard on getting the business back up and running,” Nind said.

On Tuesday, insurers agreed Statistics House should be demolished, as the Kaikōura earthquake caused the partial collapse of two floors.

Meanwhile, the future of BNZ Harbour Quays remains uncertain, as engineers continue with assessments.

CentrePort’s underlying profit, after tax and before earthquake-related income, was $8.6m for the year ending June 2017. This was down $4.7m from the previous year.

“The results show us investing in the port’s resilience. They also show strong underlying performance.”

 – Stuff

Lower speeds to stay on alternative highway until State Highway 1 reopens

Temporary speed reductions on the alternative highway will remain in place until SH1 is repaired. (file photo)
 Speed reductions on sections of the alternative route between Christchurch and Picton will remain in place until State Highway 1 is repaired.

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) on Monday confirmed the temporary speed reductions, which were introduced after the SH6/63/65/7 route became the top of the South Island’s main trunk line following last November’s earthquake.

The changes were made because the alternative route is much more challenging to drive than the road it replaces, and traffic on the route has increased dramatically.

There has been a huge increase in heavy traffic on the alternate highway since the November earthquake.

There has been a huge increase in heavy traffic on the alternate highway since the November earthquake.
 There have been five deaths on the road since the earthquake. The change in conditions has caused several longhaul truck drivers to quit, while one truck company has reduced speed limits for drivers.

The NZTA received nearly 300 submissions on the speed reduction proposal. The majority were in favour of lower speeds through townships on the route, but less positive about those sections of open road that had been reduced to 80kmh.

Though submissions supported lower speeds through townships, they were less positive about speed reductions on stretches ...

Though submissions supported lower speeds through townships, they were less positive about speed reductions on stretches of open road. (File photo)
 In a statement, NZTA regional relationships director Jim Harland said there was not high support for lower speeds at all sites, but reverting to pre-quake speeds would be irresponsible.

“However, once SH1 becomes fully operational and traffic volumes have reduced to a stable level we will review speed limits on the alternate route again. Ideally this would be within six months of SH1 reopening, but it will depend on traffic volumes.”

Harland said the submissions raised concerns about travel times and limited passing opportunities.

The alternative route will be the South Island's main road until SH1 is repaired, which is expected to be before Christmas.

The alternative route will be the South Island’s main road until SH1 is repaired, which is expected to be before Christmas.
 “To date $1.5 million has been invested in slow vehicle bays and pull-over areas on the alternate route, and work is underway now to construct 20 more of these areas. However, in light of feedback, the Transport Agency will investigate whether more slow vehicle bays and pull-over areas could be built.”

He said the perception the lower speed limits had significantly increased travel time was incorrect, with the lower limits increasing travel time by less than two minutes between Christchurch and Picton.

The temporary limits were introduced under emergency legislation, which can only be in place for six months legally. A new bylaw replacing the temporary limits will be in place by June 18.

SH1 is expected to be reopened before Christmas.

Consultation also included proposals to lower speed limits on parts of the Lower Buller Gorge. These received low support, so will not be taken further.

 – Stuff

Mainfreight boss calls for national transport strategy

The country’s political leaders must up their game and deliver better long-term transport and infrastructure planning, according to the head of the country’s biggest freight company.

Train stuck between in a tunnel between slips.

A train is trapped in a tunnel between landslips after November’s Kaikōura earthquake. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Mainfreight managing director Don Braid said politicians – local and national – have failed to take the initiative to plan adequately for the future.

Mainfreight managing director Don Braid

Don Braid Photo: Supplied

“We have not reacted as a country to the increase in population growth and the tourism numbers, out infrastructure is poorly set up and government and councils are only just coming to grips to what they need to do,” he told RNZ.

Mr Braid said the transport network’s vulnerability was shown by the Kaikōura earthquake’s impact on road and rail links, and it was the revival of coastal shipping that minimised the disruption.

He said an example of the lack of investment in key services was the treatment of KiwiRail in the latest budget, with funding for new engines and other hardware limited to a two-year timeframe.

“We need to be planning 30 years out, and making investments early.

“Around the Cabinet table I think there’s an aversion to want to think about any sort of integrated transport philosophy for both freight and transport … but we need to be thinking more seriously about it.”

The comments come as a delegation of engineers in Beijing said China was the answer to Auckland’s transport problems.

Warren Hills of Babbage Consultants said New Zealand needed to tap into the expertise of the Chinese workforce, if it was to meet the demands of an unprecedented infrastructure building programme.

Pressure eats at South Island truckies

FTD Magazine

A Herculean post-Kaikoura earthquake effort from New Zealand’s logistics sector has ensured vital supplies continue to move throughout the domestic supply chain with relatively little impact on consumers. But while supermarket shelves may remain stocked, handling the significantly elongated, variable and more hazardous Picton–Christchurch freight task in particular is taking its toll on South Island truck drivers – their stocks are reportedly reaching zero.

Carr & Haslam managing director Chris Carr says regularly navigating the alternative Picton–Christchurch route is having a mounting impact on truck drivers – particularly given it now takes them over worktime limits for what was previously a same-day return.

“If you use that same driver and send them up to Picton now, they have to be away one night,” Mr Carr tells FTD. “It could be different if you run two drivers and run a swap operation, which some do. They’ll have a driver in Picton – who probably didn’t exist there before – and they meet the truck in the middle somewhere, do a vehicle swap, and one goes back to Picton and the other to Christchurch. But if they didn’t live in Picton before, then they have to be put up there and don’t get home for a week.”


Mr Carr observes that roads not designed for high volumes of commercial traffic have gone from accommodating about 50 trucks to 600 trucks per day, as well as having increased general motorist volume.

“There has been a temptation for quite a small number of people to push their driving hours and to drive too quickly. One of those guys took out one of our trucks – he was cutting a corner with a 20-metre-plus B-train and there was nowhere for our guy to go,” he says.

“As a result of that, we sat down with all of our people and determined we would not do any more night trips, and we set a company speed limit of 80 kph. I would have pulled it further, but couldn’t because if you pull it down too far and the other traffic is going faster, you get too much of a barrier – cars are already overtaking in crazy positions,” he notes.

“We felt a 10 kph drop would give the drivers more reaction time. It may frustrate them a little as well, but we thought the gains in safety were worth it.”

Road Transport Forum New Zealand (RTF) chief executive Ken Shirley also notes there are “incentives to push boundaries” – particularly for those who have their investment on the line. “Obviously, if you have a $500,000 rig with debt, you want it working hard,” he says. “But we must be a compliant industry and we cannot condone any pushing of the boundaries. The boundaries are there – the work time rule for very good reasons – and fatigue is a serious issue,” he emphasises.

“Seventy hours [before a mandatory 24-hour break] is really the upper limit and you could argue in many instances that that is not desirable. There were some in our industry who thought this might present an opportunity to get extended hours on a regular basis, but all of our associations said no, we shouldn’t go down that path.”


Mr Shirley expects the onset of winter to further raise risk factors. “You’ve got a lot of high-altitude basins and river valleys that are prone to things like black ice, wet conditions and snow. Lewis Pass is frequently closed with snow. That is going to add to the challenge,” he comments.

“Whether the tourism traffic volumes will be down through winter, which may offset the risks to some extent, our message to our members is to be aware – it is going to get more hazardous and so more caution and care is required.”

As a consequence of such stresses, Mr Carr says some truck drivers have simply reached a point of saying ‘I’m out of here, I’m not going to do it any more’. However, he praises his team for sticking to the task. “Our people all come back and say, ‘Hey, it’s not good, the road’s hard, we’re working harder, we’ve got to concentrate more, it’s more tiring’. They’re not whinging – they’re just reporting matter-of-fact and accepting that there is a problem there,” he says.

“It is a kind of ‘suck it up and get on with it’ situation, because there is a driver shortage and if you’re going to move the same amount of freight, you’re going to need two or three times the number of drivers to do it – and they just don’t exist,” he adds.

“The guys are just getting on with it. They’re accepting this is a temporary thing – they all wish it would finish, but they’re doing it. It’s a kind of transport industry thing.”


Relaying similar tales, Mr Shirley says that while bodies such as the RTF can offer general guidelines and recommendations, the real coping work is being facilitated within transport firms at the coal face.

“All the smart companies know they have to look after their drivers and have employed all manner of support systems to help the situation. Obviously those that do are good employers and those that don’t feel the pain more,” he notes. “Giving leave, looking after families, all of the pastoral care that human resources can provide in situations like this to make sure that people aren’t just left isolated and unsupported – it is really just support in all manner of forms.”


Given such concerns, a proposed bylaw to convert a range of temporary lower speed limits on the alternative Picton–Christchurch route into permanent limits has been welcomed by the trucking fraternity.

“They [the New Zealand Transport Agency] have looked at all the potential trouble spots and choke points and put in areas of speed restrictions [on what used to be open road]. However, an ongoing problem is the number of motorists crossing double-yellow lines on that route,” says Mr Shirley.

Adds Mr Carr: “My view is those roads aren’t designed for the weights that we’re putting over them, so the only way to protect them is to slow down. It goes against every bit of my grain, but if we don’t take the longer-term view, we’ll break the roads and no one will have anything. It’s better to slow down and lose a couple of hours so that everything is working.”

The bylaw proposal, which was drafted by the NZTA in light of current emergency speed limits nearing the end of their six-month legal term, was to conclude its consultation phase in early May, with a decision on any changes to speed limits to be announced mid-June.


Another pleasing development for the sector is the government’s recent announcement it is investing $60 million to upgrade the alternative highway. These progressive works include widening several sections of road, ongoing resealing, installing several new Bailey bridges alongside existing one-way bridges, installing traffic signals on several one-way bridges, and using radars and webcams to measure traffic volumes and provide travel updates.

Describing the upgrade as “vital”, Mr Carr ironically adds: “Nobody ever thought we would need it. It just shows you the strategic need for alternatives when calamities happen.

“There are parts where the road is so narrow you can’t get two trucks through side by side. When no one else was on it, the trucks would sit more in the middle of the road and cruise along, but now they are sitting on the edges, because traffic is coming both ways, and the edges are starting to break away. The centre part of the road is also starting to break up.”

Both parties have also welcomed the government’s recent $812 million commitment to reinstate State Highway 1 between Picton and Christchurch, with Mr Carr describing as “nuts” any suggestion a new route could have instead been forged.

“There are something like seven fault lines running through that area and a whole lot of mountains made of very solid rock. I don’t know how you could conceivably build any type of cost-effective alternative, given the topography and geology of the place. It would be a huge cost,” he says.

“We’ve never had a problem before and the chances are we’ll never have another one – or maybe just another one. Building along the coastline is relatively easy compared to building through the mountains.”


Also welcoming the government’s confirmation that investment was not coming from the National Land Transport Fund, Mr Shirley says that while it was “healthy” to first take a greenfields approach, ultimately “there is no alternative”. He also embraces the opportunity presented by the rebuild to deliver an upgraded coastal route.

In parting, Mr Shirley reflects on the “unsung story” in the post-Kaikoura earthquake environment. “New Zealanders don’t appreciate just how severe potentially that incident was in terms of disruption and how our sector – and also the shipping industry and rail – has actually just made things happen, largely behind the scenes. A tremendous effort has gone in to making things work – it is a huge accomplishment to have kept the logistics task going.”

Noting that Auckland–Christchurch deliveries have gone from requiring about four-and-a-half days to now up to 12 days, Mr Carr adds: “The general public have no idea of the difficulties that they potentially face if their life and business are dependent on traffic between Picton and Christchurch. The supply chain is hanging by a thread.”

Iain MacIntyre is an award-winning journalist who specialises in transport issues within New Zealand i.macintyre@xtra.co.nz

$548m for rail around New Zealand

$548m for rail around New Zealand

Budget 2017 will invest $548 million of new capital funding to maintain and upgrade New Zealand’s rail network, supporting freight movement, exporters, tourism and public transport, Transport Minister Simon Bridges says.

$450 million of that funding will be invested in KiwiRail over the next two financial years.

“KiwiRail has achieved significant productivity and efficiency improvements over the past two years, despite the challenges of the November 2016 earthquake and the Midland Line fire,” Mr Bridges says.

“Budget 2017 investment in New Zealand’s rail infrastructure and systems will ensure that KiwiRail can improve its resilience and reliability, while continuing to support tourism, freight and export industries.

“The Government wants to put the rail network on a longer-term sustainable footing. In the year ahead we will be conducting a wider review of KiwiRail’s operating structure and longer-term capital requirements.

“Restoring the South Island Main Trunk Line is a key priority for the Government. KiwiRail has been making excellent progress clearing slips, obstructions, and reinstating the rail track so that this essential connection can open by the end of the year,” Mr Bridges says.

“Budget 2017 will support KiwiRail by making funds available for this essential reinstatement work to continue while their insurance claim is finalised.”

The Government is also investing $98.4 million in Wellington’s metro rail network.

“This investment acknowledges the importance of a functional, safe and reliable public transport rail network in the Wellington region,” Mr Bridges says.

This funding will allow the replacement of the remaining timber poles and overhead wires that provide power for trains on the Hutt Valley, Melling and Johnsonville rail lines.

Taken together with the Government’s funding for Auckland’s City Rail Link (CRL), Budget 2017 allocates nearly $1 billion towards rail infrastructure.

“The Government has invested over $4.2 billion in rail since taking office in 2008 and this further very big investment in New Zealand’s rail network will support and strengthen this important part of New Zealand’s transport system,” Mr Bridges says.