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KiwiRail opts for diesel engines

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 20/12/2016

A fleet of electric trains running between Hamilton and Palmerston North will be phased out and replaced with diesel locomotives over the next two years.

KiwiRail says the current system is essentially a "railway within a railway" doubling up services, inventory, training and maintenance.

"That's not efficient, it's more costly and ultimately delivers a less reliable service," the national rail operator's chief executive Peter Reidy said on Wednesday.

The North Island main trunk line is electrified only between Hamilton and Palmerston North and the cost of electrifying the rest of the line was estimated at more than $1 billion.

Sixteen trains will be replaced with eight diesel trains. Existing resources will make up the shortfall.

The decision took two years to make and included investigation of four options before settling on this, which would still see the electric infrastructure maintained for future use.

"We looked long and hard at the electric options and for our business, and most importantly our customers, they just did not stack up," Mr Reidy said.

"Ultimately the high costs of a new or refurbished electric fleet couldn't be justified, while the gains to be made from standardising our fleet were very compelling."

Labour has criticised the decision, approved by Transport Minister Simon Bridges, as backward and "daft" given it was a project in the 1980s that had the rest of the world following suit.

"It is absurd that the electric trains will be ditched, but KiwRail will still have to keep an electric current going through the overhead lines for security at a cost of $3 million per annum," transport spokeswoman Sue Moroney said.

"It simply comes down to a short-term saving on the initial purchase price of new trains, rather than looking at the 'whole of life' costs for such an important investment."

The Rail and Maritime Transport Union has also backed Labour's position that moving back to diesel is bad for the environment.

General secretary Wayne Butson said drivers wanted KiwiRail to invest in a clean energy electric fleet that offers a quieter and more powerful ride while being a more environmentally friendly option.

"Our model shows that re-investing in an electric fleet is better for KiwiRail's wallet in the long term and it's better for our planet."

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