Marching backwards to diesel

Written By: - Date published: 4:38 pm, July 1st, 2015 - 35 comments
Categories: business, climate change, energy, global warming, transport - Tags: , , ,

I’ve been meaning to write on this madness for a long time:

KiwiRail cost-saving plan ‘nuts’

Cash-strapped KiwiRail is proposing to replace electric trains with more diesel-powered engines – a move which will horrify environmentalists and could see the loss of hundreds of jobs. Fairfax Media has learned of cost-saving plans to buy a dozen more diesel locomotives from China, to replace ageing electric trains on the 680km-long Wellington-Auckland railway. Electric trains are expensive, but they are faster and produce far less pollutants.

Move from a cleaner energy source to a dirtier one? Lose jobs? Chinese rail stock again (because the last set worked out so well)? This is unfortunately typical of the way NZ is currently run. Make decisions that are stupid in the long term for the sake of short term cost saving / profit.

We are apparently the only country in the world that is contemplating this backwards step (question time today).

There were protest marches around the country today (if I’d known about them in advance I would have advertised them here). Here’s the Greens on the Wellington protest:

Marching backwards – very appropriate.

35 comments on “Marching backwards to diesel ”

  1. JonL 1

    FFS !!!!!!!

    Terminal stupidity all round – – – – !

  2. Draco T Bastard 2

    Fossil fuels have had their day. In fact, electric trains have been a better idea since the 19th century. Considering that we must ask why we’re still using fossil fuelled trains at all.

    Cash-strapped KiwiRail is proposing to replace electric trains with more diesel-powered engines – a move which will horrify environmentalists and could see the loss of hundreds of jobs.

    And cost them more because, low and behold, diesel trains cost more to run.

    What seems to be holding us back in NZ is the government unwillingness to pay for the electrification of the entire railway network.

    • Macro 2.1

      I attended the Cabinet Economic Committee meeting at which Electrification of the NI Main Trunk Line was discussed and agreed, and was present when Lance Adams-Schneider announced the decision. I believe that this was the most important decision that the Muldoon government ever did. As Muldoon was want to say when questioned as to how governments made decisions ‘ Oh! Hit and miss! you win some you loose some!” (On whether to raise the price of wheat). Muldoon had a pretty poor batting average, but he did hit this one. The only one fault that has never been rectified is the continuation of the the electrification from Hamilton to Auckland. This is a major fault and embarrassment. Here we are – a country flush with electrical energy – failing to electrify the one rail link between two major cities around 130 km from each other! I mean how stupid is that?
      There should be a fast electric train running every half hour between Auckland and Hamilton, at the very least, ramping up the service as patronage increased. The time for a rapid train from Hamilton to Auckland would be around an hours journey – many commuters in Auckland spend more time in their cars than that!

      Key’s batting average on the other hand is practically non existent because he never makes any decisions – other than to line the pockets of the wealthy. This non-decision is appalling.

      • Sirenia 2.1.1

        I hear government talk of ripping up the electric wires on the main trunk line where they exist – instead of filling in the gaps where they don’t. Even more stupid than getting rid of the trolley buses in Wellington.

        • Macro

          This crowd are little more than vandals. I have said as much many times before. How anyone can be inspired to vote for them I have no idea. They have reduced NZ to 3rd world status in many areas – and they will not be content until they have wrecked the whole lot, and lined their pockets in the process.

          • Jones

            In this case the vandals must also include Fay Richwhite.

          • Draco T Bastard


            That’s exactly what National are doing. Destroying NZ and lining their pockets with the proceeds.

    • Jones 2.2

      An effective rail network means less trucks on the road. Less trucks means lighter use of roads (doesn’t help Nats roading policy) and lower petrol tax take.

    • David 2.3

      Trains have had their day.

      • Draco T Bastard 2.3.1

        Nope. Trains have always been and will always be the better option for moving bulk goods across the land.

        • David

          Moving iron ore from mine to a port, sure. They are rubbish outside of that niche. NZ, for the most part, simply doesn’t do much bulk movement of goods between two fixed points.

          • Draco T Bastard

            Wow, you truly are ignorant.

            All those trucks on the road are about moving bulk goods from A to B but the major point is that the transport system is a network. You use a truck to move from farm to train station and then train station to port. The two work together and shouldn’t compete with one another as doing so is uneconomic.

            • David

              Those trucks are moving goods from A to B,C,D,E,F….etc via a network that connects all those things, i.e. roads. Double handling goods onto rail adds significant costs. I received a shipment of around 20 tons of equipment sent from Auckland to Christchurch on Friday, one truck 36hrs between dispatch and delivery. Using rail for that would have taken a week plus and cost double at least, as well as all the risk of missing connections. Why would anyone do this?

              Given distances in NZ are short and very low density, building a rail network that is more than currently exists is nothing short of bonkers. The two compete to discover which is more economic, and for the most part it’s the trucks that win. Rail is simply too expensive.

              • Draco T Bastard

                Double handling goods onto rail adds significant costs.

                Then we need to look at how that’s done and not go for more trucks as that’s outright uneconomic.

                Using rail for that would have taken a week plus and cost double at least, as well as all the risk of missing connections.

                I’m gonna call BS on that.

                The two compete to discover which is more economic, and for the most part it’s the trucks that win.

                And that is actually the biggest lie. Trains are far more economic because they use less resources than trucks to achieve the same result. We know this and thus the only reason why trucks appear to be cheaper is because they’re massively subsidised by the cars on the road.

                • David

                  “Then we need to look at how that’s done and not go for more trucks as that’s outright uneconomic.”

                  If it was uneconomic I wouldn’t have transported that way now would I?

                  “I’m gonna call BS on that.”

                  Well, give me the actual quote for the transport if you want to make a point; 1 x 6 ton load 6mx3mx3m, 2 x 4 ton crates 3mx2mx3m and a number of smaller crates, delivery from warehouse in Auckland to a rural site 30km south of Christchurch. Must be flat deck transport.

                  “And that is actually the biggest lie. Trains are far more economic because they use less resources than trucks to achieve the same result. ”

                  Rubbish. For a start you need two transport systems to use a train, only one by truck.

                  “We know this and thus the only reason why trucks appear to be cheaper is because they’re massively subsidised by the cars on the road.”

                  You do understand that the existence of those roads for both trucks and cars is an efficiency don’t you? Rail needs both a specialized network, and truck and road network. Anyone who thinks that is economic for general goods in NZ is quite simply bonkers.

                  • Draco T Bastard

                    If it was uneconomic I wouldn’t have transported that way now would I?

                    Wrong again. As per normal for RWNJs you’re confusing money for economics. The two are not the same. When we measure in actual resources used the train uses less resources which means that the train is cheaper.

                    The fact that you can hire a truck cheaper than a train is because our financial system brings about uneconomic results.

                    Well, give me the actual quote for the transport if you want to make a point;

                    Why? I provided a link to a business that does such a transport every day using road, rail and sea. They obviously have the capability and are successful which means that their prices would be competitive.

                    Rubbish. For a start you need two transport systems to use a train, only one by truck.

                    You show a fundamental misunderstanding of what a transport network is. To put it correctly, if we used trains we wouldn’t have long distance highways.

                    You do understand that the existence of those roads for both trucks and cars is an efficiency don’t you?

                    You do understand that cars are massively inefficient as well don’t you?

                    Rail needs both a specialized network, and truck and road network.

                    Nope, it’d still only be a single network. We just wouldn’t have long distance highways. In fact, at a guess I figure that 90% of the highways in NZ would be gone if we used rail.

                    There is, after all, a very good reason why rail was built before roads. It’s far more economic and efficient.

  3. weka 3

    Next step, SOEs should have an obligation to make decisions in the context of climate change.

  4. ianmac 4

    Maybe the real reason is to give all that unused electricity to the Smelter instead?

    • dukeofurl 4.1

      They ( smelter) are reducing their consumption ( and asking for more subsidies).

      Once they stop running the electric locos fro the goods trains, it will be gone for good, as they wont run the maintenance on the overhead lines either.

  5. G C Cameron 5


  6. John Shears 6

    The future of Kiwirail looks bleak as the Car and truck lobbies have the ear of the Nat. Govt. and so most of the transport $$$$ just announced are for roading not rail.
    In a recent article re POA in The Herald , Anne Gibson, the comment made was :- “An additional 3000 heavy vehicles a month could be running for Tauranga or Whangarei to Auckland, transporting imported vehicles.” really?? this was presuming that because the POA expansion was blocked then import vehicles would be unloaded at Tauranga. The 3000 suggested heavy vehicles could easily by replaced by rail transport. Tauranga already uses rail to shift import cargoes to Wiri. and so this drivel goes on. The article is at and has a lot of other vested interest comments.
    Ports of Auckland should be forced to use rail to transport cars and other freight to their Inland Port rather than expand further, Kiwirail should be assisted to upgrade the permanent way & rolling stock if needed , recall the $30 million that The Bluff smelter got a couple of years ago. ( Oh!! that’s different) , bs.

  7. dukeofurl 7

    Just checking up on the relative costs of diesel and electric locomotives.

    The purchase cost is around 30% higher per unit. The other side is that you would have to buy more diesels as the bigger trains require multiple units while this is not allways the case with electrics.

    Of course diesels have to spend time refueling while an electric can change crew and immediately start another trip. So is more productive depending on trip length.

    For maintenance , you are looking for electrics to be 30% cheaper. There are many similar parts to both types as they both rely on electric motors to drive the wheels, but the engine overhaul costs can be very high.

    Currently diesel prices are lower but cant last, and I would hope Kiwirail is able to use low electricity costs for its overnight services.

  8. Dianne 8

    What about hosting a website from another country, surely information can remain ‘online’ that way?

    Anyone got any idea ‘how’ you can kept information online?

  9. Sable 9


  10. Steve 10

    This has parallels to the Auckland decision in 2006 where the then Minister of Finance Sir Michael Cullen was finally convinced that the whole of life benefits and lower costs of electric trains more than offset the higher initial purchase price when compared to diesels. The current government though seem far more focussed on the short term and this flows through to Kiwirail who are struggling financially, a short term saving is good, someone else can deal with the long term issues

    Also complicating things here is that diesels have an advantage of being able to run from Auckland to Wellington, whereas electrics on the central section of the line would require two changes, one at Frankton (or is it Te Rapa) and one at Palmerston North. Even if the hundreds of millions of dollars to electrify from Papakura could be found, there are still some differences between Auckland and the central section (though I think it is that Auckland electrics are ok on central but the EF class would blow up in Auckland). Furthermore, there would still be the Palmerston North change and even if the wires were extended to Waikanae, Wellington runs on a different voltage and is likely to do so until the Matangi units need to be replaced.

    It would be short-sighted to get diesels to replace the EF class, but somewhat understandable, it would be absolutely tragic if as part of this the wires came down though as a future government not so wedded to the trucking lobby is likely to do something about the Papakura-Hamilton section at least, if not more.

  11. Iron Sky 11

    One feels like the Nats are feeding us one big BS sand-which

    “Looking at railroad operations, outside of intercity (or interurban) and urban passenger rail that by-and-large employ electricity to run trains, the bulk of operations in America is diesel-electric-technology oriented.

    But the decision to go that route I believe had as much to do with the availability of fuel as it did the expense of building expensive electric infrastructure even though over the long haul electric operation is more cost effective, not to mention environmentally friendly as long as that electricity is generated cleanly.”

    So in a nutshell, initially it costs a lot to build electric rail, but once in place it is over the long haul cheaper….

    If that ain’t a backwards backwards step I don’t know what is…

    Oh and this:

    Quieter, cleaner, more reliable
    Wide-scale electrification poses many benefits to UK railways, not least a reduction in costs associated with the overall maintenance of rail lines. Electric trains running along electrified lines do not possess the need to carry heavy diesel engines, nor do they carry their own cargo or fuel. Fuel is supplied to the train through overhead cables as and when it is needed.

    As a result, electric trains are lighter and more efficient than their diesel counterparts.

    WTF NZ, I suppose who care ehhh….. go those Highlanders….

    • Draco T Bastard 11.1

      The final selling point for me on electric rail was that it could use regenerative breaking down hills (which NZ has in abundance) which can be fed back into the grid making them even more efficient than fuel burning trains or trucks.

  12. Skinny 12

    Kiwi Rail are rumoured to be making a ‘major announcement’ this Friday. One would assume the timing is a bad news Friday dump. This could be the official confirmation the main trunk line electric service is being decommissioned in favour of diesel trains, due to being under funded by a road crazy Govt.

    Or a restructuring of track network maintaining ‘outsourcing’. It could also spell the end of the North Auckland Line. Given Nationals has just announced mega billions being spent on Roading, and major Rail investment is not included. Then there is the interislander services that maybe taking a hit with a leased ferry and potential job losses.

    It is very unlikely the much needed Auckland Rail Loop is being moved forward. Lastly it could be an announcement that a joint venture between Kiwi Rail and a private sector group will take over running Auckland passenger trains, ditching the poor performing outfit currently clipping the tickets.

    Basically Kiwi Rail are being set up to fail by National and are getting pressured to make stupid short term choices.

  13. RedLogix 13


    Which National Party donor is lined up to get the scrap copper?

  14. millsy 14

    Skinny — doesn’t sound good.

    Unfortunately National has it in for rail. Selling it off in one lot didnt work for them in 1993 so they are going to close it down and sell it off bit by bit for scrap.

    Mind you Labour made it easy for them….Had ONTRACK been kept seperate it may have been more difficult for National to carry out their plan.

  15. Ad 15

    Kiwirail is a bigger suck-hole of my taxes than Solid Energy was. I agree this decision is hopeless, but the so-called “turnaround plan” for Kiwirail is also fully hopeless.

    Who on earth would want the job? They are never going to get enough cash to really “turn around”, and they are never going to get to an efficient track maintenance spend when only the main trunk line up the north island and the spur to Tauranga actually make real money.

    They would have a slightly better chance if they shut down the Northland line + the Kaipara spur, the West Coast line, Napier line, and Nightcaps spur as well.

    And to be really bracing, the Auckland line is about to get fully electrified, but we have terminal loonies wanting to keep the diesel trains and in fact extend them to Kumeu. It has taken over a decade to electrify the Auckland network and buy and operate the electric stock, but the whole system is still a shit service. It will be a massive grind to get it back. Same for Wellington. All too far gone for too many decades.

    • Descendant Of Sssmith 15.1

      Why does it have to make a profit?

      It’s an essential piece of infrastructure that is cheaper to run and maintain than roads which are predominantly funded by the tax payer.

      It has a social, business and societal good that outweighs the need to make a profit.

      Right-wingers only know the price of things and never the value.

      I’m happy to have substantially less trucks (and consequently less deaths) on the roads.

      Of course you wouldn’t see that as a cost of the trucking industry – a cost that is socialised by the way by the very taxes and ACC levies that you no doubt resent paying.

    • Skinny 15.2

      “Who on earth would want the job?”

      Plenty would like to be earning 900 K per annum on a 5 year contract as CEO of the SOE.

      Agreed, the turn around plan was a fail from the get go. Self funding Rail opposed to heavily taxpayer funded Trucking Industry, certainly not a level playing field. As long as the huge donations keep filling the National Party’s coffers nothing will change.

  16. Transport is only a small part of our climate change ‘foot print’
    Meat consumption surpasses this by miles
    All your bitching is nothing if you eat meat
    And if you produce more humans, then you bloody well deserve extinction

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