$35mil to keep NZs only long-haul electric trains running

By Kawe Roes
  • Waikato/Bay of Plenty
An EF class locomotive hauling a train between Hamilton and Palmerston North on the only mainline track in New Zealand where electric locomotives can haul freight and passenger trains. PHOTO/FILE

On Tuesday the Labour government said it would keep electric 'EF' locomotives on the North Island Main Trunk Line running.

The refurbishment of the locomotives and the upgrading of their electric control system is funded with an additional $35mil over four years coming from the National Land Transport Programme.

Deputy Prime Minister and shareholding Minister Winston Peters says refurbishing these trains in New Zealand was looking to the future of our environment and economy.

Two of the 15 EF locomotives that will be refurbished over 4-years at KiwiRail's Hutt WorkShops near Wellington. 

“By refurbishing these locomotives here, we’re creating jobs in KiwiRail’s Hutt Workshop and supporting our local rail industry. It just makes sense,” says Peters.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said this decision supports the government’s wider $4bil package in public transport, rapid transit and rail.

“Rail connects regions with the cities and helps create a more modern, sustainable transport network. Keeping the electric trains shows that we are continuing to invest in the future,” says Twyford.

Acting Associate Transport Minister James Shaw says New Zealand can’t move to a zero carbon future by moving away from clean energy.

“Choosing to invest in clean, electric transport is essential to meeting the challenge of climate change.

“Keeping the electric trains on-track is the right thing to do for the future of rail, particularly as we investigate options for further electrification of the network and the role of hydrogen-fuelled trains,” says Shaw. 

KiwiRail Acting Chief Executive Todd Moyle said the government's funding the refurbishment of the ageing electric locomotives will give more capacity as rail continues its freight growth.

“Today’s decision highlights this government’s commitment to the growth of rail in New Zealand and will extend the life of the electric locomotives (EFs) by 10 years."

But the Rail & Maritime Transport Union has welcomed the decision to keep the electric locomotives running on the North Island main trunk.

“We’re thrilled to see the Labour-led government protecting Kiwi jobs,” says RMTU General Secretary Wayne Butson.

A DL locomotive built in China working a freight train on the N.I.M.T. VIDEO / FILE 

If KiwiRail had been permitted to go ahead with its plans to replace the EF Class electric locomotives with DL class diesel engines imported from China, it would have added an extra 12,000 tons to New Zealand’s carbon footprint while jeopardising local jobs.

“Our position has always been that New Zealand must electrify more of our rail network, not less,” says Butson.

KiwiRail CEO says the choice was to get rid of the EFs for better freight service for it's customers. 

“When the KiwiRail Board made the decision to retire the electric fleet ... , it was to improve reliability for our customers."

 “At the moment the EFs are breaking down every 30,000kms on average, well below our fleet target of 50,000kms, and only eight of them are able to be used.

“With this funding, KiwiRail will be able to refurbish the fifteen locos– including working with a supplier to upgrade their electronic control systems– at our Hutt Workshops over the next three to four years.  We expect between four and eight new jobs will be created refurbishing the locomotives and the team which maintains and operates the electric locos will be increased back to its full staffing level.

“Rail is an environmentally sustainable form of transport, with freight shifted by rail producing 66 per cent fewer carbon emissions than freight moved by truck. We take our environmental responsibilities seriously and are actively working to reduce our carbon footprint."

The first EF locomotive has yet to be selected but KiwiRail hopes to have the refurbishment underway before this Christmas.