Wellington Scoop

Electric locomotives to be retained on the main trunk line


News from NZ Government
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.

News from KiwiRail
The Government’s commitment to fund the refurbishment of KiwiRail’s ageing electric locomotives on the North Island Main Trunk line will provide additional capacity as rail continues its freight growth, KiwiRail Acting Chief Executive Todd Moyle says.

“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. When the KiwiRail Board made the decision to retire the electric fleet which runs between Hamilton and Palmerston North, 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.

“But as we said at the time, this was not a forever decision and the Government’s commitment to invest $35 million in the refurbishment provides the certainty to continue their use for the near future.

“With this funding KiwiRail will be able to refurbish the 15 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.

“KiwiRail’s decision in late 2016 to retire the EFs was a difficult one that came after two years of consideration and consultation with experts and unions. In the end it was a commercial decision based on the funding available at the time.

“As part of that decision, we committed to continuing to maintain the overhead cables and electric infrastructure on the NIMT, which left the way open for future use if desired.

“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.


  1. Roger Blakeley, 30. October 2018, 14:32

    The Govt’s decision is fantastic news for NZ’s reduction of greenhouse emissions, our environment and for regional economic development.

  2. greenwelly, 30. October 2018, 16:03

    I await the details. KiwiRail have been adamant that they can’t keep the current fleet running past March, so what will they do until they have completed upgrading the first locos …. more DLs? Also they must now also squirm out of the comments that “it will add up to an hour for each trip to change locos.” But it also shows that the process of Business Cases is well and truly broken…KR swore black and blue that more DLs were the best option, but now that govt provides the cash, it’s only too happy to do an about face. Also apparently the Ministry of Transport are undertaking a Northland Rail business case, but Kiwirail are already drilling on the Marsden Point spur, and Shane Jones came out over the Weekend and said it should be seen as a “done deal” that the line will be funded. [We have added a KiwiRail release to the report above.]

  3. Dave B, 30. October 2018, 18:45

    This announcement is a victory for doing the right thing, for so many reasons. If the refurbished EFs last as long as the refurbished Johnsonville units did, we can expect them still to be around performing useful service in 2048! Seriously, electric trains generally last longer than diesels as there is less on them that is prone to wearing out.

  4. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 30. October 2018, 20:50

    As a new grad in the early 80s, I worked on the economic case for Main Trunk Line electrification, and was aghast at the suggestion that @KiwiRail would revert to diesel locos. Loco! [via twitter]

  5. Bill Hudson, 30. October 2018, 21:34

    Well done Roger and congratulations to the group that achieved the direction changes for main line locos and for Ted’s Marsden Point rail link.

  6. Peter G., 31. October 2018, 0:15

    Great news. A shame the Government didn’t keep the promise to retain the Wellington electric trolley buses.

  7. Patrick Reynolds, 31. October 2018, 9:02

    So now let’s continue electrification of the rail line to Pukekohe all the way to Te Rapa at Hamilton to complete it all the way from Palmerston North to Auckland… set up a steady supply chain and keep the crews together. [via twitter]

  8. Michael Gibson, 31. October 2018, 9:04

    One of the starting criteria for setting up the new bus system was Wellington having “an operative 10-year trolley bus contract.” No wonder everything is a shambles if the planners from America ignored this and GW accepted the change.

  9. Mike Mellor, 31. October 2018, 9:41

    This is good news, and to make the electrification sustainable it needs to become part of the wider electrified system. Stand-alone electrification of just part of a line will always be vulnerable: all similar such projects (in NZ and elsewhere) that remained isolated have disappeared.

    Peter G: did the government in fact promise to keep the trolleys? (Agreed that that should have happened.)

    Michael Gibson: the original, American, proposal kept the trolleys, albeit on a smaller network: it was the GW revision of that network that led to their demise. But they could still have been retained on a couple of core routes – if the political will had been there.

  10. Graham Atkinson, 31. October 2018, 9:42

    Michael Gibson you’re correct but after the initial consultations in 2011/12 Wellington Electricity, Wellington Cable Car and NZ Bus established a Technical Review Group to thoroughly examine the state of the power supply network and it was this group’s report that identified the unacceptable state of the DC underground and rectifier network and the amount of investment needed to maintain the system past 2020. No party was willing to fund such an investment hence the decision to retire the buses.

  11. Clive Rivers, 31. October 2018, 10:18

    Well done the Govt (particularly NZ First) for seeing the light and reactivating the electric locomotive saga to fruition; the mere fact that Kiwirail even considered retiring the electric fleet is an extreme worry. It is now been discovered the price of renovating the EL fleet is the same as buying cheap and unreliable Dls from China with all the costs and maintenance involved.
    What was the board thinking!! The whole world is currently restructuring its energy and carbon emission strategies and here we have the board of kiwirail going in the opposite direction… Heads should roll over that.

  12. Michael Gibson, 31. October 2018, 11:27

    Graham, thank you. I understand the excuses made about our electric trolley buses. I think that these look pretty thin when we see the new, commonsense, approach to the railways.
    However, my point was that the whole bus “survey” was based on the falsehood that we would have “an operative 10-year trolley bus contract” which we then scrapped. Goodness knows what distortions this misconception brought into the ill-conceived plan we now have!

  13. Keith Flinders, 1. November 2018, 18:34

    Michael Gibson: There are consultants employed by governments and councils who will tell you that they are sometimes directed to provide reports which will give the opinions and answers their clients want to read.

    Commonsense seldom comes into play, as the sorry saga of the trolley buses, and the running down of the EF locomotives, amply illustrate. The trolley bus misinformation, in my opinion, has had thousands of words already been written about it. Especially the overstated amount of work needed and its cost.

    Where are the promised electric buses a year on from the trolley bus demise ? No closer, alas. The token 10, or is it 8 battery double decker buses are an extremely rare sight on Wellington streets.