Some great news yesterday with the government announcing yesterday that the electric locomotives in the central North Island will be refurbished and keep running.

The Government is keeping electric locomotives on the North Island Main Trunk Line running to help meet its long term emissions goals and boost the economy.

The 15 electric trains will be refurbished by KiwiRail and will continue to run between Hamilton and Palmerston North.

The refurbishment of the trains and electric control system is funded with an additional $35 million over four years. This is additional to the $4 billion for public transport and rail under the National Land Transport Programme.

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

“We’re making the right decision for the long term. Replacing electric locomotives with diesel would be a step backwards.

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

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said this decision supports the Government’s wider $4 billion 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,” Phil Twyford said.

Acting Associate Transport Minister James Shaw said 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,” James Shaw said.

The Government continues to work with KiwiRail, including through the Future of Rail project, to consider how the Government’s environmental objectives can be supported through investment in rail.

The project will assess the effectiveness of New Zealand’s current rail operations and identify the role it can play in supporting urban development and the growth of our freight and tourism sectors.

We and many others have written about absurdity of the decision to remove electric locomotives, especially with some of the information that subsequently made it into the public arena.

Kiwrail say that only eight of the 15 locomotives are currently able to be used with the fleet breaking down on average every 30,000km, well below Kiwirail’s target of 50,000km. They also say:

“The Government has shown a clear commitment to rail, including NZTA funding business cases for further electrification of the Auckland rail network from Papakura to Pukekohe and adding a Third Main line in Auckland.

“KiwiRail has been talking with the Government about the possibility of further electrification and is also exploring the use of other fuel sources.

“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.

“This month, KiwiRail took possession of 15 new locomotives which were ordered before the EF decision was made. These are critical to boosting our busy North Island fleet, allowing a cascade of other locomotives to replace the oldest South Island engines, which average 46 years of age,” Mr Moyle says.

With electrification to Pukekohe on the planned, the gap between the wires in Auckland and those from Hamilton will shrink to about 85km which should only help increase the case for closing it completely, thus allowing for an electric locomotive to run all the way from Auckland to Palmerston North. Addressing this would help reduce the chances of the same discussion happening again in 10-15 years when the benefits of the to be extended life of these locomotives comes to an end. Wiring up this section would also allow for better discussions around passenger rail services between Auckland and Hamilton.

Red is the electrified network (or soon to be), blue is the non-electrified network

In past assessments of closing the gap, it’s been noted that it’s not worth doing unless you also electrify the line to Tauranga given that’s where the majority of freight is going to/coming from. At about another 100km, that’s adds quite a bit of cost but perhaps we need to take a page out of Germany’s book. This article looks at differences in costs between the UK and Germany.

In Germany there is a rolling electrification programme that aims to electrify 200km of track a year, every year, which creates a stable work bank and leads to companies investing in machinery and people. However, most importantly, a rolling programme of electrification reduces unit rates (the cost per kilometre).

I don’t expect us to be doing 200km a year but setting up an ongoing stream of work is something we should consider. For example, what if it was signalled that straight after Pukekohe we then carried the work on to get the wires to Pokeno, then work away at getting it to Hamilton before starting towards Tauranga. Other work could include extending the wires on Wellington’s network etc.

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  1. Great U-Turn and nice to see everyone finds a positive reason to do it.
    From memory Electrication in AKL cost about $500k per kilometer. A 50 to 100 km p.a. target for electrification would require a capital budget around $25m to $50m. It’s probably affordable within the $4B annual transport budget, slightly over 1%. Just gotta take some $s away from road building.

    1. Indeed, although from what I understand it’s actually about double that because they need to make changes to the signals and things to have them work with electrification. But still only $1m per km. Not huge compared to the costs of building new strategic routes. Our recent motorways are costing $1m per metre!

      1. I like the steady work flow suggestion. How many km per year do you think would be right?

        Matakana Link Rd = $79 M = 158 km electrification. And think of the vkt advantages not building the road would bring, too…

  2. This is fantastic news, although it’s a bit depressing when the status quo is good to hear!

    Absolutely agree that we need to stop thinking of projects in isolation and instead looking at delivering programmes and networks. In this case we need to start with a goal of increasing the share of freight carried by rail and the percentage of that freight carried under wires and putting together a plan to achieve that.

    Auckland – Pukekohe – Hamilton – Tauranga is a good start, what comes next? Extending the Wellington network to Palmerston North seems sensible and we can order dual voltage locos at that time. But there is also a fair bit of rail freight around Rotorua and it would be a good opportunity to improve the lines too.

    1. Better than status quo, as the ordered ‘replacements’ are still coming, and will start refreshing the diesel loco fleet.

      1. And with the starting of the spur from Oakleigh to Marsden Pt those that are on the way will also be needed on the NAL also

        1. Going by this item from Scoop Dated 26th October

          “The cost of building the new spur line to Marsden Point was estimated at $100 million a decade ago. But the main cost of upgrading the line for heavy freight volumes occurs on the rest of the route. The line currently carries one weekday return freight service to Auckland, mostly dairy and forestry products.

          The line from the South Auckland rail hub at Westfield to Whangarei has 13 tunnels and 132 bridges. KiwiRail previously estimated the cost of bringing those up to standard for containers would be about $50 million.

          Getting the line from Waitakere, in west Auckland, to the standard of the Hamilton to Tauranga link would be about $500 million, KiwRail asset manager Dave Gordon said in a presentation in Northland in 2016.

          So if they do then the DL’s should be able to use the NAL

      2. Yes more DLs are coming, but all they’ll do is replace one lot of stinky, old, asbestos ridden noise and diesel powered mobile pollution makers with another [even newer] lot, that are going to be around even longer – likely for another 40 years.

        Its simply kicking the can down the road.

        As was mentioned by Twyford today, we need get the fossil fuels out of or transport system sooner than later.

        This action while laudable, only preserves the status quo.

        1. There are parts of the NZ rail network that will not be electrified for a long time, these new diesels won’t go to waste and will be involved in keeping freight off the roads, which significantly reduces our carbon footprint.

        2. Yes – like the entire South Island network, which will never be electrified. It’s all diesel or die down there.

          It’s interesting though, as much as I support electrification – so many other countries still just use diesel, everywhere. For instance – USA – big long hauling lines, all diesel. The metropolitan centres like NY and Chicago will have some electric feeders, but by and large, its a diesel country. Similarly the UK – they do have a project to electrify parts, steadily, but vast swathes of England is still diesel locos – and Paddington Station etc, which they had just repainted when I was there, is once again black from diesel soot.

          It is the more enlightened, train-friendly countries in Europe that have extensively electrified their networks, like Netherlands, Deutschland, Denmark, France, etc.

          I don’t know, but I presume, probably the entire continent of Africa is diesel, and none electric?

          I think that is the reason why some people are pushing for Hydrogen as a possible solution, instead of electrification – because when the diesel (eventually) runs out, they have no way of going over to electrification then. Their only option will be hydrogen fuel cells, or, as my 1950s comics said: nuclear !

        3. “Guy M” South Africa , Morocco and Ethiopia have commuter and a few long distant trains , and with Morocco they are in the process of building a high speed service

        4. And is it tonne of freight or of vehicle + freight. Useful statistic if we can have some details.

    2. There is also a surprising amount of logging traffic carried by train from a freight hub in Masterton to Wellington – 230,000 tonnes last year (8,200 truck loads) with plans to grow that by another 25% this year:

      Regardless of the merits of logging as an industry, it would be good to consider electrifying that section of the Wairarapa line to replace the DFB diesel locos that pull those logging trains – as well as the Wairarapa commuter service.

      1. If I had my rathers I’d like to see semi-regular (once an hour?) passenger service from Wellington to Palmerston North via both Levin and Masterton. Don’t see it happening anytime soon however.

        1. Don’t be too pessimistic about that. This government is making steps in the right direction. Baby steps at this stage admittedly.

        2. Not sure the passenger loadings between Masterton and Palmerston North would ever justify an hourly service, especially with PN station out on the edge of the city.

        3. With the road improvements that’ve been made over the last 3 decades (30 years and 3 months, to be precise) since the Palmerston North — Masterton trains were withdrawn, combined with the low urban population of the “major” towns on the line between Palmerston North and Masterton (maybe ~7,000) and the fact that the northern Wairarapa towns have “communities of interest” in both Palmerston North and Masterton making travel patterns quite varied, it’d be difficult to make a commercial case for providing even a “commuter” or infrequent daily service, let alone a frequent/hourly service. Sure, a railcar could reduce operational costs, but still, rail isn’t cheap and being able to provide a service in this situation attractive enough to encourage a sufficient level of mode shift even harder.

        4. Jezza my thinking here isn’t so much Masterton – Palmerston North, although that’s a bonus, but it’s also a shorter route between the Hutt and Palmerston North than going via Wellington Central.

        5. I can’t imagine the demand from the Hutt Valley to or from the station on the edge of PN would warrant an hourly service either.

        6. “….especially with PN station out on the edge of the city.”

          Are we talking the PN station itself? It must be little more than 1km from The Square (CBD).

        7. @KLK – it’s 2.6km from the square to Palmerston North Station, which google says is a half hour walk.

        8. You could put on a bus service but I doubt that would make any difference for demand for a service that goes between the Hutt Valley and PN via Masterton. There is little congestion in PN and at most times you could drive this trip considerably quicker.

      2. The Wairarapa Line needs to have a lot of remedial work done on it before you could seriously consider extending electrification further north. The government recently made a start on this by approving a budget for a works package to take care of some outstanding issues. IIRC, GWRC’s planned rolling stock upgrade for the Wairarapa passenger services is contingent on this work being done first anyway.

  3. This is good thing from the Government as it will save KR millions in rising fuel bill’s .
    And with electrification from Papakura to Pukekohe KR should set up a separate in house company to install the wiring on the rest of the network . And if they move the tracks from the 14.5km swamp install the wiring structure at the same time which could solve any delays in traffic at a later date

  4. Will electrification of the main truck line knock any time off the passenger journey between Auckland and all points south, or is that mainly a factor of track condition?

    1. Well, the main trunk line is already mainly electrified, so i presume that you mean the remaining two parts that are not yet electric – and will still not be electric for quite a few years to come…. But yes, from what I understand, the Electric locos (EF) have better torque and so can pull a load faster, thereby saving time. Track condition is of course a huge issue – but it affects freight haulers more than passenger trains – so yes, one day, if the rest of the line does go electric, and if the tracks are well-maintained, then trips will be (could be) a bit faster.

      Only way to really get a far faster train set though, is if they were to build a completely new stretch of high speed line, with much faster trains – but that ain’t never gonna happen, ever.

      1. The Auckland to Wellington run was done in 8 hours in the 1970’s with the Silver Fern railcars. It could probably be bought down to 6-7 hours with the tilt trains proposed by GA for regional rail and some pretty significant track improvements.

        1. Which would make it much more competitive with driving, and for those who would prefer rail if it could work practically for them, with flying. Of course, the station would have to be on our PT network instead of disconnected, as it is.

        2. This investment would be significant and wont be happening tomorrow or pre-CRL. Post CRL there will be slots at Britomart or if Regional Rail is so successful that these fill up then an investment in a new regional rail terminus would be well justified.

        3. I don’t see how Auckland-Wellington rail could ever be competitive with flying unless aircraft travel is made prohibitively expensive by carbon taxes.

        4. The last time the railways tried to compete with the airlines on the Auckland — Wellington route was with the Silver Star back in the ’70s. It didn’t work out so well.

        5. Zippo, the fuel tax just needs to cover the damage done by those carbon emissions. If that’s prohibitively expensive, then that damage is indeed prohibitively expensive.

        6. “The last time the railways tried to compete with the airlines on the Auckland — Wellington route was with the Silver Star back in the ’70s. It didn’t work out so well.”

          Rail isn’t competing with trains between Auckland and Wellington. It’s competing with driving from Te Kuiti to Fielding and Pokeno to Ohakune and Hamilton to Palmerston North. It only needs to win a tiny sliver from each market to fill a train every couple of hours.

  5. While your idea of incremental extensions of the electric traction network are a good idea I bereave the focus should be on incremental improvements to alignments and formation.

    A large amount of our railway network was created in the era of pick axe and horse drawn dray. Today in the era of Komatsu and Caterpillar we can move more dirt more economically. Tight curves require more power, easing a curve can mean less locomotive power required, higher speeds and larger train sizes.

    1. Do both and do it based on an on-going $ per annum. Provide contractors with a bit of certainty around on-going work and they’ll invest in the people & the kit to do the work.

    1. If you are meaning a third rail it is possible it could be to dangerous for NZ as most of the lines are not enclosed . and the cost of getting dual powered engines could be to costly as they would have to use both ac & dc power

      1. David, I think appbeza is referring to an APS style system like has been proposed for the light rail (think wireless phone chargers). I’m not aware of any systems large enough for freight however, a single EF locomotive can draw 3 MW whereas a light rail car might draw a tenth of that.

  6. So the 15 EFs being refurbished are the current 13 in service and the two withdrawn earlier this year (30163 and 30249). What about 30111 in storage since 2015 and the three in long term storage, 30065, 30128 and 30186?
    Also if the refurb is updating the electric and associated control systems then why is the fire damaged 30157 not included?
    That would potentially be 20 EF locomotives in total (out of the original 22 minus the 2 already scrapped).
    Is there just not enough future work for 20 EFs?

      1. I hate this kiwi way of doing things.

        It’s a cheap cop-out for investing in decent (OEM) parts which will not have be used (ie not stressed, fatigued, corroded damaged etc) which a robbed part is likely to be no matter how well cared for.

        I’d rather see all 20 given a decent refit, I’m sure there’s a good 15-20 years in them if done well.

        Just look at how BA is keeping its 747-400s flying (and for many years yet to come) as a good example of what not being cheap with fleet maintenance achieves.

        1. Are you seriously comparing the situation of 22 unique locomotives built thirty years ago, in service nowhere else, with Boeing 747-400s of which 694 have been manufactured? Boeing fully supports 747 aircraft with new parts, does Brush do the same for the EFs?

        2. There is no part of the EFs that are so unique that sourcing new replacement components or even updated components is not possible. The refurb process will likely update many parts with more modern replacements.

        3. As a railway and aviation engineer in the UK. Yes.

          Locomotive components are more common across models then you think (much like cars) and aviation components less common then implied.

          Many aircraft components are not manufactured by the designer but by recognized third party suppliers, many of whom have fingers in both pies.

  7. James Shaw is talking hydrogen powered trains. I would like to know what sort of time frame he has in mind. It could become an excuse so “hydrogen fueled trains are just around the corner so we don’t have to electrify track”. The regional growth fund has given some money to some outfit in Taranaki to develop hydrogen. I don’t suppose some of New Zealand’s famous no 8 wire could develop our own hydrogen powered trains not in 2018 maybe in earlier times. So I expect we will have to wait until we can purchase them from overseas. Although when I think about it they could just be an electric locomotive with an electric power source running along behind.
    But in the meantime we need to get busy and build as much renewable electric power generation and grid resilience as is possible and it will require govt direction and money.And maybe they can dismantle the electricity market at the same time. Bring back the NZED and the MWD we have already got Kiwirail.

      1. Well at 83 million Euro I don’t suppose we will be getting any. So what James Shaw on about. He has probably got them penciled into the 2050 budget.

      2. Article above said 81 million euros for 14 trains or about NZ$10 million each. The 17 additional electric trains were going to cost in excess of NZ$200 million so starts to look more realistic…

    1. “James Shaw is talking hydrogen powered trains”

      …and to think that I voted for those clowns in the last election.

      “I would like to know what sort of time frame he has in mind”.

      He has demonstrated that his technical expertise is negligible on this matter and others. Ask a unicorn instead…or better still ask yourself the question:

      If hydrogen for trains is the answer, what was the question?

      1. MFD – glad to hear that you voted Green in the last election, and hope that you do so again. Shaw is not a trained expert in electric / hydrogen powered train systems – but then again, few of us are. I think we can all agree that continued use of oil-based fossil fuels like diesel and petrol are not the answer to any of the world’s problems, so that is the question: “what do we use instead?”

        There are only two possible answers at present – one is electrification, and the other may well be hydrogen fuel cells. Do you have any other answers ?

      2. Like, “how do we wean ourselves off oil and use renewables to power our transport system..?”

        Decrying new ideas will achieve nothing. Politicians changing policy settings could – as per German trains.

        1. Electric railways have been around for a long time. That problem is solved. Our government has given $1M to a company to make hydrogen from hydrocarbons with the attendant release of CO2. Loopy.

          Using hydrogen as a vector for electricity has abysmal efficiency compared to conventional electric railways…so that’s loopy too.

          There’s a useful old saying: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

        2. Much easier to get a supply of hydrogen straight from water. The theory is, of course, that you take water (H2O), apply electrolysis, and get two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Both are useful. No CO2 created. No Carbon involved.

          The problem is that this uses energy to create – so you need an “endless” supply of energy to split the water. We only have one “endless” supply – the sun. That’ll do…

        3. Yes; electric trains far better and we should default to that. Wasn’t aware of the fossil fuel to hydrogen aspect to this particular NZ piece; that is crazy as a long term solution and hopefully just a Kickstarter scenario.

          I do think that Hydrogen as an energy storage medium created from wind power etc has a future in NZ. Not all of the transport system in a rural economy can easily be electrified without massive potential battery-associated problems, and electrolysis + fuel cells are pretty benign tech as far as I’m aware (happy to be corrected on that).

        4. “Much easier to get a supply of hydrogen straight from water.”

          “Easier” if your goal is to produce hydrogen at 1 bar while losing 50% of the PV-generated electricity as heat and if you have access to purified, deionised water. Add in hydrogen compression (with another substantial heat loss and parasitic electrical load) distribution & storage (with further energy losses and H2 leakage) and conversion back to electricicity at 70% efficiency and you can expect the energy efficiency from electricity at the source to electricity at the traction motor to be about 25%, a woeful efficiency compared to sending the electrons through copper wires.

          What is it about hydrogen that makes it superior to conventional methods of getting power to the traction motors of a train? What is the problem that is claimed to be solved?

        5. To be fair I think he is taking more about trucks, agricultural equipment and other widely distributed things, not trains so much.

        6. That doesn’t change the abysmal energy efficiency of hydrogen as a means of delivering electricity.

          If storage is the problem being addressed the efficiency comparison (including transmission) is ~25% for hydrogen vs ~80% for battery. Now that may not be a problem since Megan Woods is on record as stating that NZ has an abundance of renewable energy so I guess it’s OK to piss 75% of it up the wall.

          I suspect, however, that she is not being truthful or she is incompetantly ignorant…but that’s politicians (of all shades) for you.

        7. We’ve put up with abysmal energy efficiency with internal combustion engines for years, at least Hydrogen would get rid of the emissions.

          You are right that overhead wires are much more efficient, but they are expensive and hard to justify for lower use rail lines.

        8. “but they are expensive and hard to justify for lower use rail lines”.

          Compared to a cryogenic hydrogen compression and distribution system? I think not. If the capital for conventional electrification cannot be justified then hydrogen will be completely out of the question.

        9. Thanks MFD, I’m not very familiar with Hydrogen. Sounds like we will have to put up with diesel on at least some lines for a long time then.

          It is still better for emissions than having trucks carrying the same load on the same route at least.

      3. The British Government delayed much-needed electrification schemes for about 10 years, because “hydrogen fuel-cell trains were just around the corner”.

        During that time considerable expertise in electrification was lost, such that when sense prevailed and electrification finally resumed, no-one seemed to know how to do it cost-effectively any more. So as budgets blew out, it all stopped again.

        And are hydrogen-powered trains ready and available to do the job yet? No.
        Are they “just around the corner”? There are no guarantees about that.
        Has the ‘hydrogen-powered’ concept set the UK’s railways back by years? You could say that. Or rather, politicians’ blinkered faith in them has done this.

        1. I wonder if that was the actual reason or just a convenient excuse (and if it wasn’t that another excuse would’ve been found)

        2. Dave B is spot on about the UK electrification debacle. Hydrogen train may work on low-volume lines where electrification can’t be justified.

  8. how about rehabilitating and reopening some closed lines like rotorua for touroat trains and the SOL so we can take trucks off state highway three.

      1. You’re thinking of the old station – that was cut off prior to the introduction of the Geyserland Express in the early 90s.

        The platform of the most recent Rotorua Station is still there with track in place. Corner Railway and Lake roads, just north of where the (90s) freight yard was.

        1. The line could quite easily be reinstated to the city centre, or at least the edge of it. Two bridges (or level crossings) would be needed. I believe the rest of the route is clear.

        2. I was thinking it would be really good idea to run steam trains from The Strand to Rotorua during the cruise ship season.

        3. Unfortunately the corridor has been built on just south of Pukuatua Street – Mitre10 Mega + other big box.

          Was clear until 2011-ish.

          Obviously no thought given to corridor reuse – bit of a planning fail …

        4. I would say turn the corner at the campground and run along the park to a new station at the corner of Pukuatua and Ranolf St.

        5. Nick. Yes. This is clearly feasible.

          A tourist line to Rotorua via Matamata (hobbits!) is likely valuable.

          Tourists are after experience more than speed.

        6. A hobbit themed express is a definite tourist winner. I’d take it! Otherwise, how else am I ever going to get to Hobbiton ?

          They could make it like the Hogwarts Express – now a total tourist magnet. (Last time I was in Kings Cross, there was a massive line of people waiting every day, just to have their photo taken next to the Platform 9 3/4 sign). Never underestimate the drawing power and economic benefit of unbridled tourism….

  9. Great decision and about time! Was starting to get a bit worried. With rising fuel prices rail must be getting more and more competitive so at what point does electrifying the rest of the NIMT and Tauranga become feasible?

  10. “The project will assess the effectiveness of New Zealand’s current rail operations and identify the role it can play in supporting urban development and the growth of our freight and tourism sectors”

    Fully pricing road freight transport would be a good start.

    1. Don’t blame the National party for the decision to de electrify. Kiwirail didn’t want it. They are only doing it because they have being told to do it by the coalition and given the money. Kiwirail operates as a “Truckies designed and approved railway system”. But I expect Kiwirail will change the range and volumes of freight it is prepared to cart if higher oil prices prevail overtime.

      1. Not quite sure I believe that one Royce – the previous CEO, Peter Reidy, was a rather diesel-focused bloke – and now he has gone. Whoever the next CEO is going to be, will have a decent change of direction in their mindset…
        The interim CEO Todd Moyle, is a very different person from Reidy, so I’m hopeful for change…

        1. Was it really mindset or was doing what was achievable under the government of the day (that were not massively rail friendly)?

          The fact that National put any money into KiwiRail was probably down to the likes of Mainfreight & Fonterra chewing the ministers ear …

      2. If it wasn’t for the “Truckies designed and approved railway system”, rail in NZ would have been shut down and ripped up.

        1. Hmmm, yet again, I disagree. Saying that Truckies are the only reason why we still have a rail system is like Trump saying he is the only reason that America still has a health system. Truth is: he butchered it. Truth is: truckies butchered NZ’s rail system.

          Regardless of who was at fault, let’s let bygones be bygones. We have a new broom in town, and it is sweeping the other way. Truth is: we need both trucks and railways.

        2. While that was true earlier, I was referring to more recent times …

          If it weren’t for the likes of Mainfreight, Fonterra, etc – NZ’s biggest truck fleet operators (either directly or via contracted owner-drivers) lobbying the government, large parts of the network – and possibly everything outside the suburban systems would’ve gone.

          It wasn’t that many years back that there was serious talk of closing the NIMT

        3. Kiwirail was set up as a wholesale operation by the Labour government. But as Guy says lets forget the history and hope things will change with Kiwirail taking a more competitive approach. Of course we need trucks maybe Kiwirail should have some not for linehaul but as rail feeders and bridging the gaps in the rail system. And some more open container handling sites wouldn’t go amiss either.

  11. I’m very happy indeed to hear this news – having posed the question on this site back a year or two ago, and the answer seemed to be that there really was no reason why it could not be done. It’s political will-power – or won’t power in the case of National. But it was clear that the EF units could – and indeed should – be refurbished. It is fantastic news that this work will now be completed by the Hutt workshops.

    It is also good news to continue to argue for Electrification of the remaining 2 segments of the main trunk line. Yes, by all means complete that gap in the Auckland to Hamilton route – that is totally asking to be done. And yes, after that, the gap from Palmerston to Waikanae beckons strongly indeed. The future is not diesel – it is undoubtedly that the future is electric…

    1. Palmy to Waik is interesting, do they push the DCWellington System north or bring the AC system south? There is barely enough juice in the Wellington metro overhead to run the trains they want to as it is without electric locomotives sucking more out for 1200 tonnes of freight. If they want to extend the metro network to Otaki it will have to be 1500v DC for the matangi to use it.

      1. Apparently the Matangis actually have an AC motor. So it wouldn’t be impossible to remove the converter on the Matangi or make it a dual current train.

        1. That’s not how AC traction works – otherwise you’d only have one speed. AC is transformed & rectified to lower voltage DC then a variable frequency inverter is used to throttle the AC motor.

          The Matangi units lack the hefty transformer/rectifier and were not designed with space for one.

    2. Ideally you’d extend the AC south as it is the better system and the internationally used system. If the Matangis can use it then even better! If they can’t then that’s where it becomes a tricky decision.

      1. Split the Wellington network into two: NIMT/Kapiti line convert to 25kv and modify or replace some of the matangis. Keep Jville, hutt and melling as DC with most of the matangis.

        Over time, transition the whole network to AC.

        1. Given that the NIMt and Hutt valley lines merge at Kaiwharawhara for the final kilometre or so stretch into Wellington Railway Station, this suggestion is not feasible.

        2. At the moment Hutt Valley and Kapiti Coast trains can share platforms 2 thru 9 at Wellington station. To have two systems of electrification in place at Wellington would require platforms to be dedicated to one or the other, reducing flexibility and causing congestion, particularly at times of “unplanned timetable changes”. How is that efficient?

          Traditionally, the only “dedicated” platforms at Wellington have been 1, for Johnsonville services, and 9, for long-distance services, especially after it was lengthened in the ’70s for the Silver Star.

        3. Dual voltage trains are the other option. None of this technically or financially impossible. Just cos we don’t do it now, doesn’t mean we can’t in the future.

        4. I don’t see it as a particular problem, each side gets four platforms each to work with.

          Auckland currently runs more trains an hour than all of wellington out of four platforms, so it’s obviously not a fatal flaw.

        5. I was just reading about a system (in Belgium I think?) where the trains have to have 4 different power systems, for the different countries they cope with. So – surely – anything is possible!

        6. “Guy M ” If you view this video it shows an intercity changing currents i.e DC To AC then back to DC every time they come into a city and change back again when they leave , this is a TGV from Thalys Amsterdam – Brussels and it shows all .

        7. I’m stepping tentatively here, because I don’t know anything about this stuff, but I have a question for J90: I imagine establishing AC throughout the country is something we should aspire to, with the savings brought by only having to design for one system *eventually* panning out. The question then seems to be, how to transition to having one system.

          Nick’s idea of two systems in Wellington during the transition process doesn’t seem to mean a lot of investment and appears to me to mean that nothing needs to be scrapped prematurely. If this doesn’t appeal, what alternative transition process do you have in mind?

        8. You seem to be approaching the issue from the point of view that the conversion of Wellington’s network to 25 kV AC is necessary and a forgone conclusion. I don’t agree that it is. I do agree, however, that any new railway electrification installed should use the 25 kV AC system (extensions of Wellington’s existing network excepted) and that there are both pros and cons to the idea of a homogeny in all railway electrification in New Zealand.

          Conversion of any of the Matangi EMUs to a dual-voltage system of electrification is a waste of time and money. To perform such conversions would be to do so in the knowledge that some of the equipment and parts purchased and some of the work done would be for a temporary situation that you’d intend to eliminate as soon as was practicable. Perhaps some of the cost of such conversions could be recovered by selling obsolete parts and equipment when the entire network was converted over to straight AC and some of the work done would still be useful in an AC-only system, but given the size of the fleet that is still a not-insignificant extra expense. Whilst the Matangi EMUs remain in revenue service in New Zealand, they won’t ever need to run outside of the Wellington network, so the fact that railway electrification elsewhere in the country uses the 25 kV AC system is of no relevance to their operation whatsoever.

          It is also worth keeping in mind that one of the reasons GWRC went with the purchase of a second tranche of Matangi EMUs rather than proceeding with the Ganz Mavag refurbishment programme was the benefits to be realised from having a homogenous fleet. There’d be no point in converting all the EMUs to dual-voltage if only one line of the network was converted to AC as many units would only be used on the remaining DC-powered lines. If only some of the EMUs were converted to dual-voltage for service on the converted line (because of the issue of the convergence of the systems at Wellington station), then you’ve introduced a variant to the fleet that would complicate maintenance and deployment, which is precisely what GWRC have previously tried to avoid.

          No matter which way you go about a conversion of Wellington’s network to AC, it’d be hugely disruptive and expensive, so why do it? If Wellington’s network was not already electrified, of course it’d make sense go with the 25 kV AC system. However, the existing 1.5 kV DC system has been working well since 1938. Many of the touted benefits of such a conversion, such as eliminating the Waikanae — Palmerston North gap and therefore being able to operate electric freight and long-distance passenger services from Wellington to Palmerston North and points beyond could be realised much more easily with dual-voltage electric locomotives. These could be either conversions of the existing EF fleet or a new set purchased especially for the task (Japan has several examples in service). With the interoperability issue taken care of in the rolling stock, what other benefits of such a conversion could possibly outweigh the disadvantages?

        9. I’m not suggesting they be converted to dual voltage, I’m suggesting the Kapiti line be run on 25kvAC, either with new rolling stock or Matangis permanently converted to AC only.

          JVille, Melling and Hutt stay at DC using regular Matangis, perhaps the entire existing fleet.

          This would be in a context of AC electrification from Auckland to Tauranga via Hamilton being completed, the existing AC from Hamilton to Palmerston north retained, and extending the Kapiti electrification to Palmerston North. I.e. all the main trunks of the north island electrified to the same system.

          Why? To allow a unified fleet of electric freight locomotives on all the main routes, and to allow a single class of electric intercity and regional trains.

          Of course there is an alternative, do all the above with the modern AC system but leave the last leg from Waikanae as DC, and have all your freight, regional and itnercity trains be dual voltage units.

          However my understanding is that there are power supply issues on the existing DC system that are not easily rectified (ahem), issues that limit the number of trains that can draw power at any time. I don’t know, but I’m not sure if the the Wellington DC system could handle freight and intercity trains at the same time as suburbans… so it would need an upgrade. If you are going to upgrade, why not upgrade to the more efficient and more powerful modern standard?

    1. Unfortunately, there isn’t a bottomless pit of money for all these fantasy projects, Just getting the existing rail infrastructure between Marsden Point and Hamilton into the 21st century is going to cost billions.

      1. Well there does seem to be an endless supply of money for major road construction, expansion and extension.

        For example, as of right now: Puhoi to Warkworth in the north, widening of the Southern at Takanini, upgrading SH18 at Rosedale to full motorway, Transmission Gully, extension of SH1 expressway to Otaki, Waikato Expressway around Huntly/Taupiri/Rangiriri….

        There may well be others but these are all projects that are well under way. Total cost? Who on earth knows but I doubt that it’s cheaper than electrifying and standardising the remainder of the NIMT or even the ‘breathtaking’ amount of $4m required to repair a washout on the line to Gisborne.

        1. The cost is billions and billions of dollars. Our money, being spent on inducing traffic, that in so many ways is ruining our lives. It has to stop.

        2. Heidi, what do you think of the decision on the Otaki-to-Levin Expressway? They’ve said no to a 4-lane expressway (~$1b) but yes to a 2-lane expressway. It does get rid of a lot of driveways, side roads, bends, and narrow 1930s overpasses. Yet the whole Kapiti Coast is still likely to see a lot of induced traffic. Will be interesting to see how they handle the Warkworth-to-Wellsford decision. National Party MPs still see value in pushing 4 lanes to Whangarei apparently.

        3. I don’t know the area well enough, Robert, to comment on the safety improvements needed. The priority given to placemaking, short and medium-term safety and speed management looks good. I guess I just wonder, once these are done, would the rest of the $100 + million project cost have a far better reach if it didn’t have to include a new road? They intend to improve inter-regional and public transport. Without the road cost, this could be impressive. And of course improvements to the rail network to encourage freight to shift from road to rail, which would have great long-term safety benefits.

        4. The traffic on the Otaki to Levin road is heaviest closer to Wellington. It has started to thin out a lot by the time it gets further north. I reckon, once they have skirted by Otaki and Levin, the road will be flowing smoothly with just one lane each way. (I drive this about once a month, so have a reasonable chance of knowing what I’m talking about). As long as they factor in a passing lane every 20km or so, they’ll be sweet.

        5. “Heidi” The money NZTA spends on road’s [ie $ for $] they should spend exactly the same amount on the railways and within a few years we could have one of the best systems in the world . But then again that could cause the petrol loving Nat’s to go into a frenzy

        6. Guy, so again, each time I’ve been there in recent decades, I’ve taken the train, not the road, so I don’t know the problems here. I’m assuming that the biggest problem here is the danger from trucks through the towns, and danger on the open road. Is that right? Or is the “traffic volume” and congestion a main problem – and is that through the towns and on the open road?

          Solutions to the safety issues seem to me to be putting more freight on rail, reducing the size of trucks allowed, adding safety measures, reducing speed limits, engineering down the roads to the new speeds, enforcement, placemaking, improving pedestrian and cyclist safety.

          Any solution that works to divert traffic around from the town or reduce congestion will – if it adds road capacity – simply induce more traffic and increase car dependency.

          So instead of “skirting around Otaki and Levin” – at massive cost – how about putting that money into the rail and local and regional bus instead? The safety, placemaking, and shift in mode priority has to happen either way.

    2. All I want is a train to Taupo so I can not have to drive for 3.5 hours to see it erupt. I was surprised to read one was approved but shitcanned due to the Depression.

  12. It is great the the EF’s are going to be refurbished and I hope that the refurbishment is going to be future proof for dual voltage capability.

    I do agree that the track between Papakura and Hamilton needs to upgraded for complete double tracking and electrified for bulk freight and passenger services as a stage 1 project including adding the 4 mail rail in Auckland.

    I would consider stage 2 being the upgrading of track and electrification between Hamilton and Tauranga.

    Stage 3 would be electrify Palmerston North to Waikanae as either 1500DC or dual AC/DC. Reading some of the comments, Palmerston North to Wellington being DC makes sense due to Wellington regional electrified network and considering that the GWRC is looking at EBMU or EDMU’s operation between Wellington, Featherston and Masterton and Wellington and Palmertson North.

    With regards to some of the comments regarding Alstrom Coradia iLint hydrogen powered MU’s, these would be great to re-instate regional passenger rail services especially in Christchurch between Rangiora and Rolleston and Rolleston and Lyttleton suburban services.

    1. With there having been discussion at various times over the years of extending Wellington’s suburban services further north to Otaki, and perhaps eventually to Levin, in the event electrification is extended further north or the gap closed completely, Wellington suburban passenger services would probably make greater use of that infrastructure and thus it’d make sense for that infrastructure to be compatible with Wellington’s existing network. Freight and long-distance passenger services could be accommodated with the appropriate rolling stock rather than making the infrastructure fit the minority use case.

      Regarding Christchurch, its highly unlikely passenger rail will be reinstated out to Lyttelton any time soon. The old station was demolished last year, even including the steps from the Oxford Street overbridge down to the old station platform. The (former) station site is (or at least was, last I checked) in a Port security controlled area, which causes issues for public access. In short, creating a new passenger terminus in Lyttelton would be, shall we say, “problematic”. That, and its hard to see how a Lyttelton passenger rail service could compete with the buses, it just doesn’t seem to be a viable option.

      1. Just to clarify, do you think the Wellington regional electrified network DC supply should be extend to Palmerston North so the GWRC can operate their proposed EBMU/EDMU’s and the refurbished EFs having dual voltage capability could operate between Wellington and Palmerston North?

        With regards to Lyttleton station, there is no need to build a fancy shelter, as long there is a shelter and the a separate spur line required outside the security area for passengers and re-establised the bridge from Oxford Street to the old platform. The TranzAlpine special cruises services between Lyttleton and Arthurs Pass depart close to the old platform. As mentioned, suburban rail services would operate between Lyttleton and Rolleston via the current Christchurch railway station not between Lyttleton and Christchurch ‘city’.

        1. If Wellington suburban services are to be extended to Otaki, it makes sense for Wellington’s existing network to be extended north to Otaki. All population centres of any note on the railway line north of Otaki to and including Palmerston North are in Horizons Regional Council territory, so there’d be political issues in extending Wellington’s network that far. As a major player in rail transport, GWRC need to make some decisions regarding what they see as the future of public transport for the region before decisions on things like infrastructure can be made.

          Bearing in mind that while the Matangi EMUs have a useful service life they’ll only ever be used in Wellington, but electric locomotives could potentially be used anywhere in the country there is electrification infrastructure in place, it makes sense to me that the locomotives should be the rolling stock capable of being used on the different systems currently in service around the country. Modifying the Matangi EMUs to be dual-voltage would involve more vehicles, more cost, more maintenance, etc. all for availability of rolling stock to work one line out of Wellington’s network that gets converted? There is already the situation that some of the Matangi EMUs have been modified for service on the Johnsonville branch so adding yet another variant for dual-voltage system isn’t going to make fleet deployment any easier (unless you modify them all at great cost).

          Granted, extending Wellington’s DC network to Palmerston North, over a distance of ~80 km, would nominally require an additional 8-9 substations to power the overhead so wouldn’t be cheap, but then when is anything in railways cheap. To justify the conversion of the system of electrification for Wellington’s network from 1.5 kV DC to 25 kV AC there’d need to be an increase in the use of the network (as was seen at Otira, there was eventually a limit on the capability of the system to move the loads required), or a significant increase in the size of the network beyond the feasible or reasonable ability of the existing system to service it. The only feasible electrification extensions, in whole or in part, are Waikanae to Palmerston North and Upper Hutt to Masterton, which all up would add a nominal ~150 km of electrification. This would be expensive enough, let alone the cost of also converting the existing infrastructure (though to be fair, electrification into Wairarapa isn’t likely any time soon). I remain thoroughly unconvinced by the argument that the disadvantages of converting Wellington’s network to 25 kV AC are outweighed by the benefits.

        2. An alternative to the conversion of the system of electrification for Wellington’s network from 1.5 kV DC to 25 kV AC would be to upgrade the ampage, In Japan the Railway Technical Research Institute is developing a new superconducting feeder cable system ( and This uses liquid nitorgen to this uses liquid nitrogen to cool the current to minus 200 degrees Celsius thus virtually eliminating voltage drop on a 1500 dc system between substations. It might also allow raising the amps for the feeder cable from 3000 to 8000 amps.

      1. Powering container ships is going to be an interesting problem — especially for a remote country like New Zealand.

        I don’t think people are willing to stop importing all those fancy widgets and go back to subsistence farming.

        1. If we had to pay for the processes to keep all the fancy widgets out of the landfills and the ecosystem, we might decide that we’d be financially better off not buying them in the first place. If subsistence farming was the only choice that didn’t put all the cost of this frivolity onto future generations through landfills, water and air pollution and climate change, then I’d choose subsistence farming. But I don’t believe it’s the only solution.

        2. Well the fancy widget part is a bit exaggerated.

          Look around. How many man-made things do you see which are not imported from overseas? May very well be not a single one. We don’t even mill our own timber anymore.

          (and that probably includes any tools you may use for farming :-s )

      2. Yes that was what I thought but then I am thinking about the gas we already have in developed gas fields. Is it best to burn it to make electricity or should we use it as a transport fuel. My theory is that we can easily replace the fossil fuel used to make electricity with solar, wind and particularly geothermal generation.But its not that easy to use these resources for heavy transport. So what I think is the Govt should go to the electricity generation companies and do a deal with them to bring forward all of the already consented wind and Geothermal projects and to develop more. This will cost because Contact and Genisis will have stranded assets with there gas generation plant. However the coal fired plant at Huntly is at least 40 years old.The other plants still have many years of potential use.
        Anyway this will free up the gas to be used for methanol production. I believe that the gas will be used which is probably why the govt decided to ban further offshore oil and gas production. Of course what they failed to do was come up with a viable plan as to what they would replace it with which is why they are copping so much resistance and scorn.
        At the moment we generate 900 megawatts of electricity using geothermal we seldom use more than 900 megawatts of fossil fuel generation. The geothermal generation is absolute base load it runs 24/7 52 weeks a year. All we need is another 900 megawatts of Geothermal production and we will have 100 percent renewable power.Is it that simple I believe it is. So drill for geothermal steam not oil. And we need to find the best use for the remaining gas which will become available. I have posted this link before study it and I think you will understand where I am coming from.

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