Fear of fire sparks call for stricter policing of dangerous goods on inter island ferries

Trucks carrying dangerous goods on inter island ferries can expect more scrutiny following complaints from the Shipping Federation about sloppy safety practices.
SCOTT HAMMOND/STUFF Trucks carrying dangerous goods on inter island ferries can expect more scrutiny following complaints from the Shipping Federation about sloppy safety practices.

Fears that dangerous goods could cause fires on inter island ferries have prompted the Shipping Federation to lobby for stricter policing of transport operators. 

Federation chief executive Annabel Young said ferry companies were concerned about trucks carrying undeclared or incorrectly labelled dangerous goods.

Some truckies were caught attempting to take undisclosed dangerous goods on regular sailings, instead of catching early morning freight runs which carry fewer passengers, but allow cargo deemed higher risk. 

Young said ferry operators came across problems with dangerous goods by chance and were worried about what else they were missing through lack of pre-boarding inspections. 

“We’ve complained about it for years, finally it was getting to the point where we’re thinking that this is really serious and we’re sick of being brushed off, so we’ve escalated it.”

The Shipping Federation is concerned trucks carting dangerous goods have attempted to board regular sailings instead of special early morning freight runs which carry few passengers.
ALAN O’BRIEN/STUFF The Shipping Federation is concerned trucks carting dangerous goods have attempted to board regular sailings instead of special early morning freight runs which carry few passengers.

Following recent meetings with the NZ Transport Agency, Maritime New Zealand, WorkSafe and the Environmental Protection Agency, Young said KiwiRail, which runs InterIslander services, and Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferries agreed to report any dangerous goods issues to the agencies. 

She was aware of at least half a dozen reports over the past month – “enough incidents to be severely troubled” – and it appeared some dispatchers were not properly trained in dangerous goods documentation. 

“The ship’s master has the right to rely on the shipping documents provided by the trucking company.

“Some things have to be on the top deck because they cannot be in an enclosed space, some things can’t be put next to each other. 

“A simple example is a trailer load of hay which can spontaneously combust, so you don’t want to put that next to volatile gases.”

Inter island ferries have limits on dangerous goods such as corrosives, flammable liquids and solids, gases and toxic substances.
SUPPLIED Inter island ferries have limits on dangerous goods such as corrosives, flammable liquids and solids, gases and toxic substances.

Local ferry operators were also mindful of the number of fires on roll-on roll-off ferry vehicle decks overseas, said Young. 

In a recent article on its website, international transport industry insurer TT CLub said it was estimated that a major container ship fire at sea occurred on average every 60 days, and there had already been four major cargo-related fires this year.

TT Club said its records indicated that 66 per cent of incidents related to cargo damage could be attributed to poor practice in the overall packing process, including cargo identification, declaration, and documentation. 

Interislander general manager operations Mark Thompson said KiwiRail staff checked paperwork before loading to ensure it matched what was declared when the booking was made.

“If discrepancies are found by our terminal staff or ship crew, we will not carry the freight until it is corrected and we’re satisfied that it complies. This means that on occasion, we do reject cargo from sailings.”

KiwiRail decided about a year ago that it would no longer carry class one explosives on rail or its ships –  with the exception of small ammunition –  because restrictions around transport of these items made it costly and disruptive, and the amount being carried was steadily declining, said Thompson.

He was unaware of any serious incident in recent history resulting from carriage of dangerous goods on InterIslander vessels, but said he would support any move to improve enforcement of the regulations. 

Police acting national manager road policing inspector Peter McKennie said that as a result of concerns raised, police were paying additional attention to the transporting of dangerous goods which posed potential safety risks on the ferries and on the road network in general.

“Police have always carried out random safety checks on commercial vehicles, including  dangerous goods carriage compliance. This is conducted anywhere on the road network, not just at ferry terminals. We do not have a permanent presence at ferry terminals.”

Following an approach from the Shipping Federation, the Transport Forum reminded its members that drivers needed appropriate dangerous goods endorsements on their licences, and chief executive Nick Leggett said they also had to ensure their paperwork was in order. 

“Our message to our members is that  [spot checks] are very likely to happen more frequently and that they should comply with the law and do what is right.”

Mainfreight​ group managing director Don Braid said their Chemcouriers​ business moved a lot of dangerous goods and he had no concerns about increased inspections before trucks embarked on ferries.

“If it catches out those that are disobeying the laws, then so be it.”

Rail-centric view does Northland no favours

“The Upper North Island Supply Chain Study has focussed solely on rail and this does Northland no favours,” says Annabel Young, Executive Director of the NZ Shipping Federation, talking about the Interim Progress Report of the study group. “Their rail-centric view has blinded them to the opportunities available to Northport that are not dependent on rail.”

A dry dock in Whangarei would be a win-win for both the city and New Zealand as a whole; but in the interim report it gets a scant one-line mention. The lack of a dry dock is hurting this country due to the environmental and financial costs that have to be incurred when our coastal shipping operators are required to dry dock their vessels off-shore in Singapore or Australia. There are already cases where overseas ships are avoiding New Zealand due to the toxic combination of high biosecurity cleanliness requirements for a vessels hull and secondly, the inability to clean a ship in a dock that does not fit in the Devonport dry dock.

We note that the interim study assumes that cargo landed in Northport would need to be moved by rail which ignores the obvious possibility of movement by sea, as is done now in many other parts of the world using smaller domestic coastal ships and barges.

This first report sets up a paradigm where rail is deemed to be the only answer. The Federation believes it may be asking the wrong questions.

Notes

The New Zealand Shipping Federation began in 1906 and is the key representative body for New Zealand’s coastal ship operators.

Government approach on roading as bad as Kiwibuild, Simon Bridges says after horror month of crashes

Following a spate of resignations and a halt to major road building, National Party Leader Simon Bridges is calling out the Government for the state of New Zealand’s transport system.

After an horrific crash in Taupō yesterday in which eight people died, Mr Bridges called on the Government to improve roading for safety.

Mr Bridges told TVNZ1’s Breakfast today Labour had not built any roads since being in Government, and said they had “skewed” wrongly the previous work put into the sector.

“People go on about Kiwibuild and, you know, they should – it’s an absolute fiasco – but what’s happening in transport is every bit as bad.”

The New Zealand Transport Agency, which is the Government’s arm in making decisions about New Zealand’s roads and transport, is in “complete disarray”,” Mr Bridges said.

“Anyone who’s anyone has resigned in the last few months, you’ve got serious staff retention issues – what all of this means though is you’ve got nothing happening, you’ve got no plan.

“Not a single new road built under Labour so there’s no plan, no action. What would I do? I’d get back into it,” he said. “I’d make sure National was a party of infrastructure across housing and transport.Head-on collision near Taupō leaves eight dead, only one survivorPlay Video01:54The two vehicles collided in Atiamuri, leaving a scene of utter devastation. Source: 1 NEWS


“I think most New Zealanders would say you need good, strong highways and a roading network and we need to do more on that.”

“When you think about safety you’ve got the people factor, it’s the technology, it’s the cars, and it is the roads. I think the one where you can make the most gains is fixing the roads.”

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter says the Government is working to make the roads safer and improve the safety of vehicles, but drivers also needed to be responsible.

Top management axed from transport agency before chair quit

A massive clear out of top NZTA management occurred under the watch of chairperson Michael Stiassny, who is quitting early, says Transport Forum head Nick Leggett.

No caption

NZTA chairperson Michael Stiassny has quit one year into his three-year contract. Photo: Vector

Mr Stiassny was brought in to shake up the New Zealand Transport Agency after major failings, but has quit one year into his three-year contract.

Mr Leggett said Mr Stiassny was “clearly brought in to disrupt”.

“We always felt there would then be a transition to someone who could bring the agency and the pieces back together, to a new normal if you like,” Mr Leggett said.

Huge risks remained, he said.

“I would certainly say the road transport industry is nervous, we’re incredibly nervous about where things are at.

“But we would certainly see this as a step towards progress of getting things back on an even keel.”

Mr Leggett said he was “optimistic” that NZTA was now focused on safety as its primary responsibility.

Mr Stiassny said after just one year, he had already done the job he came to do, shifting the transport agency to focus on public safety.

His resignation comes six months after revelations NZTA had not been properly checking up on companies which certify vehicle safety and give out licences.

Mr Stiassny oversaw a review, which led to 300 enforcement actions and the recall of more than 45,000 vehicles, which may have been wrongly issued warrants of fitness.

National’s transport spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said Mr Stiassny’s resignation showed the government was struggling to get the agency under control.

When asked whether the previous government should bear some responsibility for the regulatory failings of NZTA, Mr Goldsmith noted the agency was “independent”.

“There was absolutely work to do in terms of regulatory responsibilities of the agency, and that work had to be done,” Mr Goldsmith said.

“But there was also an enormous amount of change right across the organisation, with very large turnover.”

The transport agency was in “a state of internal chaos” and that was adding to the lack of progress that commuters and motorists saw every day, Mr Goldsmith said.

Regional road funding had been cut, and there had been inaction and instability over the past 18 months, he said.

West Auckland ‘inland port’ among new transport options

NorthPort today. Photo / File.
NorthPort today. Photo / File.

BusinessDesk By: Gavin Evans

An inland port in west Auckland and a vehicle importing and servicing centre at Northport are among a dozen potential transport investments a working group is considering to improve freight handling in the upper North Island.

The group, formed last year, has spent the past eight months talking with users and imagining how the existing ports at Auckland, Marsden Point and Tauranga – and the road and rail links between them – could be reconfigured to provide the best options for long-term growth.

It plans to report back to the government in June with options and complete more detailed costings and recommendations in September.

“There are a large number of infrastructure options that may have a part or full place to play in changes to the upper North Island supply chain which will be considered,” chair Wayne Brown says in a progress report filed with Cabinet’s Economic Development Committee earlier this month.

“For example, in evaluating one of our options that involves moving some of Ports of Auckland’s freight task to Northport, we will consider potential infrastructure that may be required to support this,” the group says.

They include: “a spur to Northport, which we understand the current government is investigating; upgrades to the existing North Auckland Line; potential short-term operational changes, such as moving freight through Auckland on the commuter network at night; potential long-term new infrastructure requirements such as a new rail line out west of Auckland to avoid congestion in the Auckland public transport rail network and connect through to the current inland freight terminals; and the potential establishment of new inland freight terminals.”

The Upper North Island Supply Chain study was the result of a pre-election pledge by NZ First to move container operation from Ports of Auckland to Northport by 2027.

While there is broad consensus that Auckland’s port will be increasingly constrained by the city’s development around it, there is no agreement as to how soon change is needed, how much freight could be redirected through Tauranga or Northport, and how that would be achieved.

As recently as 2016 a study group recommended work start assessing Manukau Harbour or the Firth of Thames as long-term replacement options for Auckland. Last August, Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said there wasn’t yet sufficient freight volume in Northland to warrant the relocation north. Port of Tauranga owns half of Northport.

Auckland and Tauranga are the country’s two largest container ports. With Northport, they handle about half the country’s exports and two-thirds of its import volumes.

Tauranga and Auckland, controlled by Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Auckland Council respectively, compete for freight. They considered a merger in 2006 but talks collapsed the following year. Ports of Auckland has a 20 percent stake in Northland Regional Council-controlled Marsden Maritime Holdings, Tauranga’s partner in Northport.

The working group noted submitters’ views that the “interwoven” nature of the three ports’ ownership had prevented them being developed in New Zealand’s best interests and had resulted in some inefficiencies and “duplication” of resources.

“We will be considering the current ownership structure of ports and whether a change may be needed to ensure interests are aligned to deliver the best outcome for New Zealand,” the group says.

“Councils were somewhat open to a change in port ownership as long as they preserved their income and value of the port to their community.”

Ports are long-term businesses. The working group is canvassing issues in 10-, 25- and 50-year timeframes.

Scope is also important. Freight operators argue Northport, west of the Marsden Point oil refinery, could meet growth on Auckland’s North Shore, rather than replacing Ports of Auckland entirely.

Short-term options could include establishing a distribution centre at Silverdale or Orewa; imports and Northland products could be trucked there overnight – avoiding congestion on SH1 – for day-time delivery into Auckland.

Northport already plays a similar role. Structural components for some major Auckland building projects are stored there for just-in-time delivery to avoid congestion in the CBD.

Car imports have already been identified as a potential early change. Ten hectares of new space at Northport could provide storage for 10,000 cars. Auckland currently receives about 300,000 cars annually, each of which spends close to three days on its wharves.

Northport started operating in 2002 and is largely a blank canvas. Its 49-hectare footprint can be expanded to 75 ha, while its berth length can be more than doubled to 1,390 metres. The port lies next to 180 ha of commercial and industrial land controlled by shareholder Marsden Maritime.

But it has limited capital for development and no rail link. KiwiRail and the Ministry of Transport are investigating a $200 million, 20-kilometre spur line, but that is probably more than six years away even if there was a prompt decision to proceed.

The existing line from Swanson to Fonterra’s Kauri dairy plant north of Whangarei also needs upgrading at a cost of another $500 million to carry larger and heavier container traffic. KiwiRail has previously estimated the total bill – including upgrading rail capacity from South Auckland – at about $2 billion.

The working group noted its “fundamental” belief that there is “no point making further investment in Northport without investment in, and development of, the train line to Auckland.”

Procurement process for new Interislander ferries kicks off

The Aratere carries 600 passengers. The Interislander's new ferries will carry 1800 passengers as well as 40 rail wagons.
RICKY WILSON/STUFFThe Aratere carries 600 passengers. The Interislander’s new ferries will carry 1800 passengers as well as 40 rail wagons.

Interislander ferry operator KiwiRail is officially on the hunt for two new vessels that will dwarf its existing fleet.

The vessels, expected to be brought into service by 2024, will need to accommodate 40 rail wagons, about 3000 lane metres for vehicles, and room for about 1800 passengers each, according to tender documents.

The two new ships would be able to transport 1100 more passengers a day than the three currently traversing the Cook Strait, which have the capacity for 2500 travellers. 

The Aratere can hold 600 passengers, the Kaiarahi has room for 550, and the Kaitaki can carry 1350 passengers. 

The project, referred to as the Inter-Island Resilient Connection Project, or iReX, would also see port services upgraded to “align with the design of the new ships”. 

KiwiRail said the ships would need to be designed to ensure high levels of reliability and allow for “a one-hour turnaround time during peak periods”. 

The company said its target was to select a preferred ship supplier by the end of 2020.

Walter Rushbrooke, general manager of Strategic Projects at KiwiRail, said the ships would be built overseas as New Zealand did not have the capability to build large ferry vessels.

“The new ships also mean changes to the terminals at both ends of Cook Strait and we are already working with the Port Companies in Wellington and Picton on designs and delivery pathways.”

The timeline on tender documents falls two years short of a recent report to Greater Wellington Regional Council’s regional strategy committee that said Interislander – planned “to purchase and operate new larger vessels on the Cook Strait”, and were “scheduled to arrive in 2022”.

A KiwiRail spokeswoman said, when the report was made public in November last year, no timeline had been set and no decisions had been made on the roll out of a new fleet. 

But in January the company announced its plans to introduce two new rail-ready ships in 2024

KiwiRail acting chief executive Todd Moyle said the company would start the process of procuring the new vessels, and establishing their cost and changes to terminal infrastructure in 2020.

But it only took the company three months to get the ball rolling, with an “advance notice of opportunity” sent out last week through the Government’s procurement service. 

Moyle said the shift from three ships to two would also mean a loss of crew jobs. 

In October  he said all three of its ferries – Aratere, Kaiarahi, and Kaitaki – were nearing the end of their lives.

KiwiRail needed new ships “built for our specifications and requirements”, Moyle wrote in a Stuff opinion piece.

With passenger levels expected to reach 1.7 million a year by 2025, it’s clear KiwiRail’s new fleet would need to be bigger.

Passenger numbers were about 1 million in 2010.

Moving Auckland’s port – the curtain rises

Todd Niall08:22, Apr 29 2019

The future of a possible long-term shift of Auckland's port trade could be clearer with the Government's third report in September
SUPPLIEDThe future of a possible long-term shift of Auckland’s port trade could be clearer with the Government’s third report in September

OPINION: The first instalment of the Government’s trio of reports on re-shaping how the Upper North Island ports work, suggests that Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy will look like a snapshot compared with what lies ahead.

A 2017 New Zealand First policy to shift the vehicle import trade from Auckland to Northport by this year, as a prelude to re-locating the city’s port, begat – thanks to co-alition politics – the more cautious “Working Group undertaking the review of Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy”.

Shifting the balance of work between the ports, and building major new transport links would be the country’s biggest-ever infrastructure undertaking – possibly five or more times the current champ, Auckland’s $4.4 billion City Rail Link.

Major new rail freight links would be a prerequisite to a major shift of trade handled by the upper North Island's three ports.
SCOTT HAMMOND/STUFFMajor new rail freight links would be a prerequisite to a major shift of trade handled by the upper North Island’s three ports.

Taken at face value, the picture painted of the current state of the Ports of Auckland, Port of Tauranga, and Northport at Marsden Point, shows a flawed regionally-owned port sector with duplication and competition possibly at the expense of the national interest.

Auckland dominates imports, Tauranga exports, both have 40 per cent of their container traffic empty in one direction, while Northport is a distant minnow, with limited access and 70 per cent owned by the other two.

Marsden Point's Northport is where New Zealand First favours shifting trade from Auckland
SUPPLIED/NORTHPORTMarsden Point’s Northport is where New Zealand First favours shifting trade from Auckland

What began as a plan to free Auckland’s waterfront from an ugly industrial port, to the benefit of Northport, is now as much, if not more, about the transport links between the ports and centres in the upper North Island. 

A line highlighted in bold print in the 21-page report, points to the scale of making any change.

“We fundamentally believe that there is no point making further investment in Northport without investment in, and development of, the train line to Auckland.”

Call that billions of dollars, who knows how many, 2 or 5? The report doesn’t say.

Done properly it involves a crosstown section through southern Auckland, a third freight line through the commuter rail-dominated suburbs, electrification and double or triple tracking from West Auckland to Marsden Point with new tunnels along the way and presumably fleets of car-carrying wagons and handling facilities.

Future instalments of the trilogy will explore changing the ownership structure of ports, looking at the low-tax status enjoyed only by Auckland, and getting a clearer picture of future trade patterns.

Who knows what the future of the private motor car will look like in 20 years’ time, when the multi-billion investment needed to relocate the vehicle import trade, is ready to deliver.

The three-part study is an important piece of work, taking a long-term view on making possibly major structural change in transport links in the upper North Island, and its ports.

Part two outlining some options is said to be due as early as June, and part three – recommendations – in September, perhaps unhelpfully a month before the local body politicians who own Auckland’s port, and most of Tauranga’s and Northland’s, face re-election.

The interim report already casts doubt on the idea of building a new super-port either in Auckland’s Manukau Harbour or the Firth of Thames, hinting better use of the three ports may be the answer.

“We consider the issues not insurmountable,” concluded the working group’s interim report optimistically.

What it did not say was, nor are they likely to be simple, anything less than eye-wateringly expensive, and hugely complex. 

Loss of Auckland ports could cost ratepayers extra 4 per cent a year

The location of Ports of Auckland has prompted public debate about whether there are better alternative uses for the prime waterfront land. Photo / Jason Oxenham
The location of Ports of Auckland has prompted public debate about whether there are better alternative uses for the prime waterfront land. Photo / Jason Oxenham

By: Natalie AkoorieNZ Herald reporter based in Hamiltonnatalie.akoorie@nzherald.co.nz@NatalieAkoorie

Moving some or all of Auckland’s port out of the city and revitalising Northland’s port including building a rail line between the two are some of the options canvassed in a new report.

However, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has warned against the potential loss of income from Ports of Auckland if it were moved or downsized, saying if the annual $50 million dividend was lost it could lead to a 4 per cent rate rise.

The first of three progress reports by a working group tasked with investigating New Zealand’s upper North Island supply chain strategy outlines key information about the country’s three main ports: Ports of Auckland on the city’s waterfront, Northport at Marsden Point near Whāngārei and Port of Tauranga.

The ports are critical to New Zealand’s freight task and together account for half of the country’s total export volume and two-thirds of its import volume, in tonnes.

Port of Tauranga handled the highest volume of all New Zealand ports (in tonnes) and was the most successful of the three upper North Island ports having capitalised on rail infrastructure provided to the Bay of Plenty region by the Government.

“We will therefore be considering whether similar investment in Northland would provide similar results for the region and Northport,” the working group said.

The report, released by Associate Minister of Transport Shane Jones, noted that overall imports are expected to increase across all upper North Island regions while exports will increase initially before declining at Northport and Port of Tauranga, largely because of projected decline in log exports.

Northport from the air with the Marsden Point Oil Refinery in the background. Photo / Supplied
Northport from the air with the Marsden Point Oil Refinery in the background. Photo / Supplied

However, it said roading and rail in the Northland region was so lacking that the working group “fundamentally believe there is no point making further investment in Northport without investment and development of the train line to Auckland”.

“… it is generally agreed that the lack of rail infrastructure and connectivity to Northport has hindered Northland’s economic development.”

Ports of Auckland occupied 77ha of Auckland waterfront with a book value of $735m, though this was thought to be well below valuation of comparable industrial land.

“This excludes the massive social, cultural, environmental and economic value that would be created by transforming this property into a globally iconic waterfront,” the working group said.

Stakeholders including the ports, shareholders and the road freight and shipping industries named several issues surrounding the current port system including:

• They are competing and not co-operating;

• Lack of rail infrastructure and port connectivity had been a brake on Northland’s economic development;

• Unanimous support for a fully functioning rail system to the ports;

• Concerns over duplication of port and inland port assets;

• Congestion was the main problem for freight operators.

Options to make the three ports work better included the Northland to Auckland rail spur, a second route between Auckland and Tauranga, a freight corridor through West Auckland, a West Auckland inland port, an expanded or moved Southdown inland port, a new mega port in the Firth of Thames, a vehicle servicing and import facility at Northport and a New Zealand dry dock.

Goff welcomed the report but said it did not present an analysis of options, the business case for each and the impact of each option on Auckland, the region and the country.

“The relocation of the Port out of Auckland’s city centre has some clear advantages.

“It would ultimately open up 77 hectares of central city and harbourside land and wharves for alternative and potentially more valuable uses.

“As in other international cities, it could enhance the attractiveness of Auckland as a place to live, work, enjoy and to visit. It would also reduce congestion caused by freight movement and pollution from associated activities.”

A cruise ship docking at the Port of Tauranga. The port is the most successful for freight volumes in the country which many put down to a rail link. Photo / Alan Gibson
A cruise ship docking at the Port of Tauranga. The port is the most successful for freight volumes in the country which many put down to a rail link. Photo / Alan Gibson

However, he said as a city of 1.7 million people making up 35 per cent of New Zealand’s population, Auckland needed to have the most cost-effective and efficient way of delivering goods and services to its people.

“Vital to the decision of moving Auckland’s port is the impact of each alternative location on Auckland consumers and businesses.”

Aucklanders needed to know whether and how much alternative port sites added to costs for the city, Goff said.

“We also need to ensure that the working group on the supply chain strategy considers the value of the investment Aucklanders have made in their port and the dividend return they get from it which in past years has been $50 million – equivalent to a 3 to 4 per cent rate increase if that dividend is lost.”

Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said the progress report identified well-known issues such as the need for increased investment in road and rail networks and the historic financial under-performance and inconsistent reporting by some ports.

He said Port of Tauranga challenged some of the “facts, assumptions and implications” in the interim report, and were hopeful they will be addressed before the next report.

“For example, the report states that the Bay of Plenty and Waikato have benefitted from rail infrastructure and investment provided by the Government at no capital cost to the end user.

“This ignores the $267 million in rail costs paid by Port of Tauranga since 2010.”

National’s Transport spokesman Paul Goldsmith claimed the interim report showed a “thinly disguised preference for massive investment in rail between South Auckland and Northport, leading to a shift of activity away from the Ports of Auckland to Northport”.

“It also seems to be peddling the concept of a nationalised ports monopoly in the upper North Island. There is no evidence or analysis to back up the suggestion that such a nationalised monopoly would be more efficient than current arrangements.

“There is no evidence to suggest the billions it would cost to upgrade rail from Auckland to Whangarei, plus building a new spur to Marsden point and a new freight line across Auckland, would be the best use of scarce transport resources and would lead to a better outcome for exporters or consumers.”

Goldsmith said the Government was “quite right” to be inquiring into the efficiency of freight movements across the NOrth Island and planning for the long term future.

“We support careful and considered planning of future investment. Which is why National has supported the Government’s planned Infrastructure Commission to advise on such things. The direction of this report, however, undermines the Infrastructure Commission approach.”

A second report outlining advantages to changing from the status quo, international comparisons and a long-term view will be presented to Cabinet in June.

The final report with recommendations for future development and strategy will be presented to Cabinet in September.

Upper North Island ports by the numbers

Northport

• Exported 3.25 million revenue tonnes in one year, mostly logs as well as kiwifruit, steel and woodchip;

• Imported considerably lower amount of 311,000 tonnes to June 2018.

Port of Tauranga

• Accounted for 43 per cent of New Zealand’s total export volume in year to June 2018;

• 55 per cent of exports are wood and paper products, majority of which are logs.

Ports of Auckland

• Second largest container port after Tauranga, Ports of Auckland is significant for imports because of the population it serves – 35 per cent of New Zealand’s population.

• Largest importer of vehicles. In year to June 2018, Ports of Auckland handled almost 300,000 cars, a 43 per cent increase from 2014.

• Ports of Auckland and Port of Tauranga have an import-export imbalance – Auckland has higher imports and Tauranga higher exports. It means about 40 per cent of 20-foot containers stand empty.

Ports of Auckland could become a make-or-break issue for the Coalition

An artist’s impression of a port-less Auckland. Graphic/Stop Stealing Our Harbour

An artist’s impression of a port-less Auckland. Graphic/Stop Stealing Our Harbour

New Zealand First appears as closed-minded on the Ports of Auckland as the other vested interests, who are either opposing change or advocating for alternatives.However dysfunctional those charged with providing vital transport infrastructure can be, they somehow always manage an instant massed-wagon-circling at the very mention of reform.

The Government is about to receive reports on both the future location of the Ports of Auckland and the feasibility of upgrading Northland’s rail. Labour’s support partner, New Zealand First, is fervently committed to moving some of Auckland’s port business to Northland, saying it will relieve our biggest city of congestion and bring much-needed growth to the north. For the coalition, this could become a make-or-break issue.

Unfortunately, NZ First appears as closed-minded on the issues as the other vested interests, who are either opposing change or advocating for alternatives, such as Tauranga, the Firth of Thames or Manukau Harbour.

Because of the complex governance and ownership issues of Ports of Auckland and other potentially affected ports and public entities, any Government changes will be extremely hard to negotiate. The choices available will also be sandbagged by the virtual impossibility of getting any case for new or restored rail to stack up financially.

However, the biggest hurdle will be patch protection – not just from commercial interests, but also from public agencies who too quickly forget the wider obligation that their state-conferred monopoly status puts on them.

Chief interested party is Auckland Council, which owns 100% of the Ports of Auckland. It has consistently defended its right to the port’s undiminished annual dividend of more than $50 million – to the point of vowing to build a multistorey waterfront car park for more revenue.

Mayor Phil Goff is adamant the port is essential to Auckland’s future. However, this assertion is debatable, given that a city such as Sydney survives very well with its harbour reserved for cruise ships and cargo sent to Port Botany, Wollongong or Newcastle.

Loss of port revenue would, however, doubtless force Aucklanders to pay for the loss with even higher rates, for benefits mostly accruing outside its boundaries. This would be unfair, especially to those on low incomes, and so politically dangerous that no sane administration would cause it to happen.

Perhaps a better starting point would be to regularise, even centralise, the haphazard patchwork of ports ownership. This would inevitably land the Government with a fat compensation bill, but the existing potpourri of local body, port-specific and private shareholders is a barrier to efficiency. Intra-agency competition and multiple interests – Auckland part-owns Tauranga’s and Northland’s port as well – further occlude the picture.

The National Party’s policy of treating the ports as discrete commercial entities immune from state interference is recklessly hands-off. But, by the same token, Aucklanders may be incensed at seeing their port asset commandeered, especially with NZ First so blatantly using Northland as its electoral base.

Yet, Auckland’s port must somehow be restored to being part of the national ports network. Aucklanders, used to the city’s infamous congestion, would be the first to agree it remains an international embarrassment that a prime waterfront site is used to store second-hand cars. Moving the port would unlock 77ha of superb shore land.

Northland’s Marsden Point tempts as an existing deep-water port, which, with a suitable rail spur from the Auckland line, could handle the business. Tourist and even commuter growth could ensue. Yet, there are other considerations, including the likelihood that moving the port to Northland would hugely increase congestion in Auckland, since most goods exported out of it are produced south of the city and would have to pass through it. Even if some of the goods went by train – and the expense of building rail tracks could itself prove prohibitive – the trains would be more frequent and longer, causing frustrating delays at level crossings. There are also the climate-change considerations, with increased emissions from transporting freight over longer distances.

In New Zealand, 99.7% of all imports and exports travel by sea, so the ports issue is not trivial. Any changes to these assets will affect, for better or worse, numerous other sectors and projects, not least the still-uncosted light rail to Auckland Airport. The sheer complexity and political risk may simply end in inertia. But everyone concerned has a duty to approach this debate with the country’s best interests at heart.

Govt forced KiwiRail to backtrack on locomotives decision, documents show

Newly released documents show the government forced KiwiRail to backtrack on its decision to ditch the electric locomotives on the North Island’s main trunk line.

According to the Treasury, it’s the first time a state-owned enterprise has been directed by a minister to make a decision that didn’t stack up commercially.

The State-Owned Enterprises Act said an entity’s principle objective was to be a successful business.

In 2016, KiwiRail’s board decided to replace its 15 electric locomotives with diesel, arguing it would make the company more efficient and better able to take freight, and with less freight going by road, there’d be a positive environmental impact.

On 30 October last year the government put a stop to the plan instead promising a $35 million cash injection to refurbish the electric locomotives.

In a letter to Transport Minister Phil Twyford two weeks before the decision was announced, acting chief executive Todd Moyle made it clear KiwiRail didn’t have the money to refurbish the locomotives.

“KiwiRail has no funding for these additional costs and is unable to recoup the investment and there is no uplift in revenue associated with this decision,” he wrote.

Labour Party MP Phil Twyford.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford Photo: RNZ / Mei Heron

But a Cabinet minute written the day before the government’s announcement, showed Cabinet agreed to use its powers under the State Owned Enterprises Act to direct the company to provide a non-commercial service.

Mr Twyford said being a successful SOE was more than just about profit and loss for a particular year, and this government wanted to grow rail.

He said previous governments had left KiwiRail on financial life support with no future vision.

“That’s not how our government sees it, we’re committed to bringing rail into the heart of the transport system, instead of treating it as the poor cousin and drip-feeding it a little bit of money year after year and barely keeping it alive,” he said.

KiwiRail uses electric locomotives on the main trunk line between Hamilton and Palmerston North.

When it said it was going to switch to diesel, the Rail and Maritime Transport Union accused it of “environmental terrorism”.

The union’s general secretary Wayne Butson said the decision to go down the diesel track was the best case of reverse engineering he’d ever seen.

“What you started with as your opening premise was the decision that they wanted to have and then they just worked backwards, and they screwed the scrum, massaged the logic and the numbers”, he said.

He said at that time KiwiRail’s board were wedded to a philosophy of simplify and standardise.

“There was this mantra which said ‘we only wanted one type of wagon, we only want one type of loco and that will give us immeasurable gains over time. It will reduce the inventory that we need, in terms of spares that we need for things’. In my view it didn’t have any logic,” he said.

Mr Butson said that decision failed to consider the needs of a modern railway, which must have some level of variation in the types of locomotives and wagons it uses.

Engineer Roger Blakeley said the decision to scrap the electrics was at odds with the Labour government’s target of getting to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and leader Jacinda Ardern’s claimthat climate change was her generation’s “nuclear free moment”.

“With the diesel locomotives, if KiwiRail went ahead with them, it would burn an extra 8 million litres of diesel fuel per year and add around 12,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year. That’s what would have been the implications of a switch back to diesels,” he said.

The Palmerston North to Hamilton route was electrified in the 1980s and the plan then was to carry on and electrify the whole main trunk line from Wellington to Auckland.

It’s estimated completing the project now would cost around a billion dollars.

Mr Twyford said it’s not part of the government’s immediate work programme.