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.