Government must halt scrapping of electric trains

2 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineMay 18, 2017

Concerns have been raised about the cost and unreliability of new diesel trains KiwiRail intends buying, after the Government revealed plans to scrap New Zealand‘s electric freight trains.

Leaked documents show that KiwiRail bosses decided to scrap the electric trains in December last year, despite being told their diesel replacements could cost $230 million more than upgrading the existing electric fleet. KiwiRail were also told the diesel trains from their intended supplier had a ‘very high failure rate‘ and overall performance that was ‘extraordinarily poor‘.

Information obtained by the Green Party under the Official Information Act shows that Cabinet failed to question the decision to buy diesel rather than electric, despite being warned by Treasury officials that the actual cost of this decision was not clear.

“An internal KiwiRail report put the cost of refurbishing the existing electric locomotives at $404 million, the cost of new ones at $515 million, and the cost of new diesel trains at $634 million over a 30-year period,” says Green Party transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter.

KiwiRail had said it would cost $1 billion to fully electrify the main trunk line, but Treasury officials warned that no basis had been provided for this estimate.

“You have to question why bosses at KiwiRail are so intent on buying diesel trains when they have been told they‘re unreliable and more expensive.”

KiwiRail publicly claimed that scrapping electric trains and going diesel would save money, be more reliable, and reduce climate pollution, but Genter says KiwiRail bosses were told the complete opposite in one report. The Greens wants Transport Minister Simon Bridges to clarify his position and order an independent review into KiwRail‘s decision.

The electric trains will be phased out in the next two years, but following the release of the documents, Bridges conceded “there is an avenue down the line for different decisions to be made…”

Genter says if the purchase goes ahead, New Zealand could be lumped with an increasingly unreliable, more polluting rail system that will cost more to maintain long term.