KiwiRail “EF Q and A”

KiwiRail’s reasoning or defense for quitting Electric Trains is published below, and can also be found on their website. I’ve added a few comments in blue.

A list of other documents found online media is in this post 

Why is only part of the NIMT electrified?

The project was one of the so-called “Think Big” projects of the Muldoon era and a response to the oil price shocks of the 1970s and early 1980s. A factor in the decision was that the diesel locomotives at the time were not powerful enough to transport the freight up the gradients in the central North Island, meaning a second locomotive had to be used. Electrifying the relatively level sections of line between Wellington and Palmerston North and between Te Rapa and Auckland was not considered economically justifiable at the time. Technology has advanced to the point that diesels can now deliver this horsepower. The DL locomotives are powerful enough to negotiate the gradients without needing to be doubled up.

NZ first used DX class locomotives in 1972. Compare this with the Chinese DL locomotives, and they are the same weight, horsepower and drive system. Just that 1972 was 14 years before the first EF locomotive.

The poor reliability of the DL locomotives means that they are often doubled-up 

Why do the current electric locomotives need to be replaced?

They are almost 30 years old and are under-performing. Over the past 6 months they have failed on average once every 30,000 kms. Fleet targets are for locomotives to not fail until 50,000 kilometres. The electric trains are becoming harder to maintain, parts are difficult to find and the two fleet system is hindering our growth strategy.

  • KiwiRail has multiple fleets, and the most reliable trans are the oldest.
  • 30 years old is not considered ‘old’ for an electric loco. Having no engine means that the trains’ bodies aren’t deteriorated by vibrations over time 

What is gained by moving to an all-diesel fleet in the North Island?

It will help KiwiRail deliver a more reliable, more efficient service for its customers. Creating a simplified operating model is a key KiwiRail business growth strategy to help our customers become more competitive through reliability and improved performance. Lifting our operational performance will improve customer confidence by encouraging our customers to move more freight by rail. That is important for New Zealand, also, as every tonne of freight moved by rail has a 66% reduction in carbon emissions over road. Moving from two to one fleet type will also mean lower training and maintenance requirements.

Why doesn’t KiwiRail buy new electric locomotives?

They would be more expensive and would take longer to get into service. Simply replacing the existing locomotives also would not address the difficulties caused by operating both electric and diesel locomotives on one network, which creates a railway within a railway. It is equivalent to an airline requiring those flying from Auckland to Wellington to change planes at Hamilton and again at Palmerston North.

  • Balking a the term ‘expensive’ without qualifying it is a cheap shot. A new electric locomotive would cost slightly more than the Chinese-made DL loco, but would be much cheaper to operate over it’s life. 
  • As to this changing planes at Hamilton and Palmy – you’re only changing the pilot, who normally gets out at Hamilton and drives a different train back to Auckland. KiwiRail is making a big deal over the changeover time at Hamilton and Palmerston North which is ironic, given that they’re adding hours to the journey time by changing ferry loading methods and not maintaining tracks.

Why don’t you electrify the whole North Island system? It would be very expensive. The cost estimate is $2.5 million per kilometre of single track. Electrifying the parts of the North Island Main Trunk currently not electrified would cost at least $1 billion for the infrastructure alone and feeder lines would still require diesel trains. There are additional complications in that the Wellington electric network uses a different power system to the Auckland electric network.

  • The term ‘very expensive’ is Donald Trump rhetoric, and misleading
  • The Auckland Electrification project cost $80 million for 200km of electrified tracks, including substations. That’s a cost of $0.4 million per km.
  • The 80km between Hamilton and Papakura aren’t electrified – that’s a cost of $400 million in KiwiRail money, or $64 million based on a nearby, real project in a busier operating environment.
  • KiwiRail are trying to inflate costs to look frightening. Wellington just spent $660 million on the Kapiti Expressway for no net benefit, but money from NZ inc. was available.

Will we now have diesel for 30 years on that line?

The electric infrastructure will remain in place and maintained to a safe standard for any future needs.

Yeah right. DL locomotives were built as a stop-gap procurement: they’re cheap, nasty and built as such. The fact that three successive batches have been ordered shows a big apatite for dumb, short-term solutions.

What is the cost of maintaining the electric infrastructure?

The cost of maintaining the infrastructure is about $2 million a year. KiwiRail is continuing to spend this money to keep the use of electric trains as a future option should the situation change.


What was the difference in cost between buying new electric or diesel locomotives?

The exact cost of locomotives is commercially sensitive. However the overall costing of the diesel option was estimated at 20% – 30% lower than the overall cost of the electric option over its operational life.

Following this logic, no other electric trains would exist.

  • Electric trains have fewer moving parts, and even fewer big moving parts, like, say, a 3000 horsepower engine.
  • Power is cheap, renewable and resilient to oil price shocks, especially in NZ
  • Chinese trains have a ten year service life, electric trains last 30 years+.
  • The cost of electrics would have to be 3 times higher than diesel, but the actual number is closer to 1.5 times, and made by a reputable supplier (Kawasaki)

What part in the decision did environmental issues play?

Environmental factors were considered as part of the overall decision, which also looked at operational efficiency and economic viability. When KiwiRail delivers a more consistent and reliable service it encourages more freight to move by rail. Emissions from rail are less than 1% of all transport emissions, with transport accounting for 17% of New Zealand’s overall emissions. A shift to diesel on the NIMT will increase the emission factor for freight carried by rail in New Zealand from 30.80 gms per Net Tonne Kilometre to approximately 34 gms per NTK (The sum of the tonnes carried multiplied by the distance travelled). There is no comparable figure for road freight in New Zealand but the United Kingdom produces an annual figure for Heavy Goods Vehicle. This is currently 114 gms per NTK.

And almost none by electric train.

What will happen to the old electric trains?

They will be decommissioned over a two year period.

How many new diesel locomotives will be bought and how much will they cost?

Eight locomotives will be required to replace the EF fleet. The cost is commercially sensitive.

$3.8 million each, 2012 money. (ODT) The first 40 locos were plagued with reliability problems and then asbestos contamination – costing $12 million to clean up, or an additional $300,000 for each loco, nudging the price to $4.1 million each. Then add the opportunity cost of not having the asset, and the resulting loss of business.

A big, beefy american loco cost about $3 million US dollars or $4.3 million NZD (quick interweb search).

Clearly, buying Chinese means good quality, and also good value. 

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