Last year KiwiRail made the decision to replace the 16 current 30-year-old EF class electric freight trains currently in use on the North Island Main Trunk with the procurement of more DL Class Diesel Trains. These EF Class trains use the 25kvAC electrification between Te Rapa and Palmerston North that was built during the Think Big years. Their decision was based on the Better Business Case NIMT Performance Improvement Report which was heavily criticised at the time especially after leaked documents possibly showed major errors with the business case, all which was covered by GA here. I also recently discussed the feasibility of Dual Mode locomotives.
This post is not going discuss the merits of the final decision of the business case, but instead, ask some more questions I have regarding the business case.
My first question is was the EF Control System Upgrade really the end of the world. The leaked documents showed that nearly all the faults of the EF Class came from one issue which if fixed would address 66% of the faults..
The KiwiRail peer review also questioned the need to upgrade 17 Class EF locomotives which they believed was excessive
The number of EF locomotives proposed in the upgrade option is considered excessive’ when comparing the capability of DL diesel-electric locomotives against EF electric locomotives’ the proposed 8 x DL locomotives at a tractive power of 2100kw each to gives a total of 15’8MW’ against 17 x EF locomotives at 2900-3000kw each to the rail giving 50MW of tractive power’ The EF option therefore has approximately 300% more tractive power than the DL option to perform the same freight task.
This large discrepancy in performance requires explanation owing to the substantial effect resulting from an error, on capex and opex’ The coupling Report (Ref.13, Tab Summary) which apparently forms the basis for selecting the number of locomotives is not consistent with the final recommendation to the Board (Q&A session). Additionally it shows lower than reasonable utilisation of motive power’ when analysing the number of locomotives on trains this report shows 36 locos for the base case which includes EF locomotives (Base Case Demand x Base case Demand productivity) and only 32 for the No-EF case (Base case Demand x No-EF Demand productivity).
While yes this option would mean some trains out of service during the upgrade it also means we could push the decision out until a proper decision can be made regarding how KiwiRail should be invested in and run. Sometimes making a decision right now is not always the best option.
My second question is in regards to the option where the potential for second-hand electric locomotives could have been procured from overseas. The better business case noted that 30 second-hand electric trains were available from overseas which KiwiRail visited to check out. KiwiRail noted the benefits of this option
- Procurement cost is substantially cheaper than new electrics
- Lower running costs than diesel
- Proven performance based on current running and maintenance records
- Equivalent horsepower to current electric fleet
- Immediate availability and relatively short commissioning time but still expected to be more than 24 months
This would allow the advantage of keeping electric trains without having to reduce the fleet while doing the EF upgrade/overhaul or the expense of buying a whole new fleet. It would be interesting to know where these second-hand electric trains were from and the condition/specs.
My third question is in regards to standardisation which seemed to be the main driver of the decision to run an all diesel fleet as it was set as a main objective. The leaked peer review questioned this logic and I wonder how important it really is in the grand scheme compared to many other objectives.
My last question is regarding a small extension of the electrification. At the moment Tainui is building a massive Inland Port at Ruakura in Hamilton which will be connected to the East Coast Main Trunk. If the electrification was extended from Frankton to Ruakura and if the completion of a triangle junction at Frankton was done allowing direct Northbound NIMT to ECMT movements would this make electric freight more viable without the need for the large CAPEX of full electrification?
This would also benefit Regional Rapid Rail as it would mean the Hamilton Urban area would be mostly electrified and thus lower pollution by air as well as noise from passenger services for Stage 2 and beyond.
These are my questions regarding the Better Business Case NIMT Performance Improvement and I am sure many of you will have questions of your own which I invite you to ask in the comments.