Red Alert

Posts Tagged ‘Kiwirail’

Kiwirail: Don’t say you weren’t warned!

Posted by on March 13th, 2013

This column (written by me) appeared in the Dunedin D Scene newspaper today

A parliamentary inquiry into manufacturing heard this week in Dunedin there are no quality checks on the manufacturing standards of the rail wagons imported from China – a contract which sounded the death knell for the Hillside workshops.

Common themes emerged at the day-long hearing with Hillside, NZ Aluminium Smelters, Oamaru’s Summit Woolspinners and the unions representing workers at those plants questioning tenders awarded to offshore companies over local providers based purely on lowest cost, rather than the true value to the whole of the economy; the impact of the high dollar on exports and indifference of government to keeping and building a skilled workforce in our communities.

One of the most chilling revelations was that there are no quality checks being undertaken on the standard of manufacture of the Chinese imported wagons.

The inquiry, initiated by Opposition parties heard that welding on both wagons and locomotives was substandard and that no checks were undertaken to ensure they met New Zealand standards.

I have since been told that a directive has been issued to Kiwirail staff that no-one is to stand on, or ride in the controversial IAB wagons imported from China in 2011. That directive does not apply to New Zealand built wagons. These wagons also have a speed restriction placed on them due to the systemic flaws with their design and construction.

The Rail, Maritime Transport Union has recently sounded a sobering warning through its latest journal that Kiwirail culture has dangerously shifted towards services over safety.

Clocks have been installed in Kiwirail workplaces and performance is being measured on minimising time delays.

The pressure from within Kiwirail to meet Government policies for profit on its freight business and to reduce cost on other parts of the organisation is a time bomb waiting to go off.

The union likens it to the period in the late 1990s when a series of fatalities stimulated a Government inquiry in rail health and safety.

Kiwirail and its political masters should be warned that the country is watching closely the impact of lowest cost tendering, cuts to rail maintenance and the pressure to put time-keeping over health and safety issues. You can’t say you haven’t been warned.

Kiwirail blocks new work for Hillside and Hutt workshops

Posted by on August 24th, 2012

Click on the image to enlarge. Here is the link

KiwiRail bullying

Posted by on August 23rd, 2012

If you watched Question Time today (see Clare’s post below) you will know Kiwirail have taken out an injunction to stop Radio NZ reporting the contents of a leaked Kiwirail report on the effects of their planned $200 million cuts to network maintenance.

The rail company owned by the people has put a gagging order on the media to stop the public finding out what is going on in the rail company they own. There’s something not right about that.

Gerry Brownlee has accused me and journalists reporting this issue as scaremongering. We’ve simply quoted a Kiwirail report on the impact of the cuts to network maintenance. The cuts have been forced on Kiwirail by the Government’s unrealistic Turn Around Plan for rail.

See the latest communication from Kiwirail to Labour’s team at Parliament. (Click to enlarge)  Honestly this an inappropriate way for a State Owned Enterprise to behave and the sooner Gerry Brownlee tells them that the better it will be for everyone.


Filed under: transport

Govt on ropes over Kiwirail

Posted by on August 23rd, 2012

Worth watching the whole question. Government squirming. Kiwirail on ropes



Rail expert speaks out

Posted by on August 18th, 2012

Today the Otago Daily Times’ Allison Rudd has an important story where a former Kiwirail senior engineer has spoken out about the mistakes and failures of the decisions to purchase the cheapest locomotives and rolling stock and the impact it will have on New Zealand rail for decades.

It’s time more people spoke out. And it’s time that the board of Kiwirail and the Ministers that have directed their deeply flawed policies becomes accountable to New Zealanders.

KiwiRail bought 1970s technology when it bought new locomotives from China, but now has an opportunity to put matters right, one of its former long-serving senior engineers says.

It was “baffling” KiwiRail had ordered the type of locomotives it did, Randall Prestidge, who worked for KiwiRail for more than 34 years and headed the fleet performance team until he took voluntary redundancy last year, said yesterday.

“These locomotives [are] very similar to DX locomotive technology of the 1970s,” Mr Prestidge said.

… he said KiwiRail should make sure it did not buy the same technology again.

“They are thinking old and small and not thinking into the new century.”

He said he had tried to discuss his views with KiwiRail but “no-one wanted to listen” and he had decided to go public.

“I didn’t want to be disloyal to KiwiRail. I didn’t want to bag them in public. I wanted to help.

“I’m saying they . . . must change their ways. But I know in my heart they are not going to.”

Roads of National Significance Killing Rail

Posted by on May 18th, 2012

The Capital Connection, the commuter rail service between Palmerston North and Wellington will be cut by August unless a new funding package can be brought together.

The proposal is for Horizons Regional Council, Greater Wellington Regional Council and the NZTA to fund the Capital Connection as part of the Wellington Metro rail service.

This makes complete sense since the Capital Connection is the only commuter rail service in New Zealand that is currently expected to run on a totally commercial model. The funding proposal simply brings the Capital Connection into line with every other commuter train in the country.

The problem is that while the two regional councils have indicated support for the proposal, the NZTA is holding out. Why? Because a Road of National Significance is being built near by.

Suddenly, the only criteria the NZTA will consider is whether or not the rail line will relieve congestion. Ignore the environmental benefits, ignore the social benefits it’s all about congestion and of course spending billions on roads that don’t stack up economically is much better than encouraging people to use the train.

If yet another regional rail service is lost this year, it will have been killed off by National’s significant obsession with roads.

Manufacturing renaissance

Posted by on February 26th, 2012

I’ve just been sent an article about a report released late last year by the Boston Consulting Group which elaborates on why there is an American manufacturing renaissance occuring. It’s a pity I didn’t have it last year. However, it just reinforces what is becoming accepted by many New Zealanders (and Americans) that manufacturing in their own country makes good economic sense.

A return of manufacturing to the U.S. will accelerate as companies take into account the full costs of outsourcing to China and the strategic advantages of making products closer to consumers in North America, predicts a new report by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

It argues that the rising cost of wages in China means that the advantage of lowest cost will continue to diminish. And also there are strategic advantages in locating production closer to the consumer and the downside of global supply chains.

All these reasons make sense. Along with the economic flow on effect of tax paid on wages inside New Zealand. And keeping and building a manufacturing skill base here.

I wonder when the light will go on with this government? Buying rail wagons from China which are of dubious quality because of lowest cost is not economically sound. And certainly isn’t good for New Zealand in the short or long term.

This is worth a read.

A nation of makers #3

Posted by on September 24th, 2011

DFT 7295 (that’s the loco) hauls two of KiwiRail’s new AK class passenger cars and a rebuilt viewing car on their delivery run from Dunedin to Christchurch this week . The AK class passenger cars were built by KiwiRail’s own Hillside Engineering plant in Dunedin. These two cars will be used for staff training, before being used on long distance services. These are the first two of 17.

This is what Kiwis can do. Build stuff. Quality stuff. We should be proud of this.

Instead the National Govt is sending work overseas that could be done here. As a result Kiwis are losing their jobs, settling for lesser jobs or heading to Australia.

Why can’t we do it here?  Even if it costs a bit more  (by Chinese standards) the standards are demonstrably higher, we keep the skills inside NZ, we pay wages, they pay tax. It’s better for the country.

Labour would get the work done here. The Hillside and Woburn rail workshops have huge potential. Not just for rail.

I know Kiwirail has been approached by other Kiwi companies keen to get other manufacturing and fabricating work done here. I also understand that Kiwirail’s head office isn’t too keen on actively purusing these ideas.

Why is that? Have they been told to run the workshops down. Surplus to requirements? If so this is a national scandal.

Three years ago the nation was full of hope about Kiwirail’s potential. Today the name has been tarnished and associated with a political push to grind down a proud and productive manufacturing industry and skill base.

Hat tip (for the video clip): Julian Blanchard, Labour’s candidate for Rangitata

The fight to keep Kiwi rail workshops alive

Posted by on August 9th, 2011

Hillside petition 9

Hillside petition 5

Today nearly 14,000 signatures were presented to me at parliament  in a petition calling on the government to retain the Hillside and Woburn rail Workshops.

They represent more than a quarter of Dunedin’s households. The petition was put together in a pretty short time frame. The loss of jobs at Hillside and Woburn cuts deep into our Kiwi ethos. The rail workshops are an important manufacturing base for our country.

This government doesn’t care about that and would rather spend taxpayers money overseas purchasing rolling stock, than use Kiwi skills to build them here.

This government will not do an analysis of the economic benefits of spending our money inside our economy, because they know they’ll be proven wrong. So they keep the real figures secret and make them up.

I challenge Steven Joyce to release the bid costings on the rail wagons contract bids. Was Kiwirail 3rd our of 9 bids? If so what was the cost differential and how was it measured.  And why can they not factor in the economic benefits to our economy.

Our trading partners do.

Now if the time to be investing in our economy. In our skills. Losing this industry is a tragedy for our country.

Labour will fight. And our policy will use major government contracts to back New Zealand firms instead of exporting jobs offshore.

Here’s what the union representing these workers said today.

13,854 Kiwis want to save Hillside and Hutt rail workshops

Lower Hutt rail workers whose jobs are at risk say the government needs to listen to the 12,000 people have signed a petition calling for trains to be made at home.

The workers’ petition was presented to Dunedin South MP Clare Curran at Parliament a short time ago by workers from Hillside and Hutt rail Workshops. Clare Curran was flanked at Parliament by Green Party Transport Spokesperson Gareth Hughes

“Up to 30 positions at Lower Hutt’s workshop are now at risk.  This follows the redundancies of 44 Dunedin workers last month, both a result of KiwiRail purchasing rail rolling stock and electric units overseas” said Wayne Butson.

“This was despite a comprehensive BERL report for Chambers of Commerce, unions and local government, proving the case for a local build,” he said.

“This followed 40 Diesel Locomotives for the North Island being ordered and built in China, and making matters worse, the job for 600 new container flat top wagons also went to an overseas firm.”


Kiwi jobs. Kiwi skills. Too important to sell overseas

Posted by on July 9th, 2011




Some photos from today’s rally for Hillside jobs in Dunedin. (Not quite sure what I was laughing about, or what on earth Pete is doing in the second pic).

More than a thousand people turned out on a bitterly cold Saturday to voice their disgust at the government and Kiwirail’s actions and attitudes in procuring lower quality, cheaper rolling stock from overseas, rather than having it made at home. Keeping skilled workers employed, and an important manufacturing industry sustainable.

The city is united on this issue. The Mayor, the Chamber of Commerce chair, three MPs, the union, Greenpeace and a Green candidate spoke.

My message was essentially that we have to fight for our city. For Dunedin’s future. Because this government won’t. We need these jobs, we needs these skills, we need this industry and it’s economic good sense. I also read out a strong message from Phil Goff.

The government and Kiwirail are telling lies about the cost of Kiwi trains. It’s time they were unmasked.

Our country is not a corporation. And this government can’t decide that parts of our country aren’t worth bothering about because our population base is lower than other parts, and because it’s a Labour town. Dunedin will fight back.

Kiwirail fail: More skilled workers will leave our shores

Posted by on June 9th, 2011

Today’s announcement of 41 redundancies at Hillside workshops in Dunedin will see more job losses in this country that could have been avaoided if the government believed in investing in Kiwi jobs.

Instead, people with important skills and with families, will be either unemployed, leave Dunedin and be lured to Australia, where rail engineering jobs are on the increase.

All because this government doesn’t believe that investment in the local economy is worth its while. Shame.

Stuff website

KiwiRail plans to lay off Dunedin staff

Last updated 13:00 09/06/2011

Proposals announced today to lay off around a quarter of the staff at KiwiRail’s Dunedin engineering works have been greeted with anger by workers.

KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn met staff today and outlined a proposal to make redundant approximately 40 of the 172 workers at the plant – a South Dunedin landmark and one the biggest employers in the city.

If it smells like a dog…

Posted by on April 23rd, 2011

Pretty disappointed with Vernon Small’s analysis in today’s DomPost of the Mediaworks debacle, where he lets Steven Joyce off the hook and by implication the rest of his government for any dodgy goings on in giving Mediaworks a $43m loan to defer radio licences.

Small neglects to mention that it wasn’t just Joyce involved. What about Key, Brownlee and Coleman’s involvement? That’s quite a lot of Ministers.

It’s my understanding that Joyce may not have been the first point of call from Mediaworks. There certainly were others involved in pushing for that decision against departmental advice. That doesn’t make him any less culpable for his government’s decisions. But the issue isn’t just about Joyce.

It’s about how a government can be so lacking in transparency about how such a deal was entered into.

And whether it should have been entered into at all.

And what it represented.

Instead Small says this:

You might even wonder if the pressure applied to local subsidiaries by the financial requirements of their overseas owners – in this case MediaWorks’ owners Ironbridge – should be ignored for fear it will be used to “game” extra concessions from the Government.

But describing the arrangement in the strong terms the Opposition has adopted goes too far in an effort to make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse.

Suggestions that Mr Joyce, the communications and information technology minister, had some sort of conflict of interest in helping out the Brent Impey-led company (that Mr Joyce established) survives only till you know that Mr Joyce and Mr Impey are . . . errr . . . not close.

I dunno what other terms one could use to describe it. Dodgy and cronyism seem pretty tame to me. And making Steven Joyce into some kind of maligned being is a bit rich. Look at what’s going on in two of his other portfolios.

There’s currently an Auditor General inquiry  into the link between former National Party Minister Pansy Wong’s husband Sammy and the deals being done by Kiwirail and the Chinese rail company that Wong was associated with. It appears that the Govt has backed off sending the major Auckland electric trains contract to China North Rail (decision in the last few days), but there are other major flatdeck wagon deals likely to go their way.

This week we discover that Joyce’s current chief Ministerial adviser on broadband was named as the chief adviser to Telecom during a major anti-competitive deal in the early 2000s. This has resulted in Telecom receiving a record $12 million fine and the adviser, Bruce Parkes, being named in the court judgement. Did Joyce know about this case when Bruce Parkes was employed? Did he care? It appears not.

But it’s interesting that Joyce’s broadband scheme is being accused of the same anti-competitiveness right now.

Re Mediaworks, the essence of Small’s analysis seems to hinge on the fact that Brett Impey from Mediaworks and Joyce are no longer close. That may well be. I reckon I know why. It’s not really the point. Because Joyce’s relationship with Mediaworks goes back a long way.

And TV3 and the mediaworks radio stations wield considerable influence on our news screens and airwaves. And it is election year.

Another interesting thing. Did Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman attend a Mediaworks board meeting a few months ago? Was the future of TVNZ7 discussed? What else was discussed? Would have loved to have been a fly on the wall.

Oh, and then a week ago former Jim Bolger press sec Richard Griffin was made chair of the Radio NZ board. Keep them quiet and compliant will no doubt be his brief.

TVNZ has already been instructed it is no longer a public broadcaster.

So much for independent, vibrant, critical analysis and public broadcasting.

Wellington rail upgrade

Posted by on March 10th, 2011

Today the government and the Greater Wellington Regional Council have announced another major upgrade of the commuter rail network, completing a project started under the last Labour government to deliver Wellingtonians the quality, reliable public transport options that they deserve.

The latest package includes $88 million from government to complete the upgrade of the signalling and tracks, and a commitment by the Greater Wellington Regional Council to takeover and refurbish the 30 year old Ganz Mavag trains at a cost of $80 million. GW will then own all the trains, maintain all of the stations, and pay a fee for access to the tracks, offset by a central government subsidy.

For the past couple of years, residents of the Hutt Valley, Johnsonville, Porirua, and the Kapiti Coast have put up with frustrating delays, breakdowns and cancellations as the upgrading work has been going on. Some of it was avoidable, but some of it just reflects the fact that under privatisation our rail services were badly neglected and there is a huge backlog of upgrading and maintenance work to get through, a task made all the more difficult by the need to keep the trains running while it happens.

I’m pleased that the rail upgrade is going to be completed, but I’ll be very concerned if GW increases fares in order to pay for their share. Wellington rail commuters have already been hit with increased fares and the improved service they have been promised hasn’t yet eventuated. I don’t think commuters should be asked to stomach another fare increase until the problems are fixed and the service is more reliable.

Why don’t Kiwi jobs matter to this govt?

Posted by on December 15th, 2010

Under a National Government and with the current Kiwirail mindset it appears that the rail engineering business in NZ has a doubtful future.

Yesterday’s announcement by Kiwirail to choose China CNR Corporation (CNR) as its preferred tenderer to supply 300 wagons to bolster its ageing fleet is a huge and possibly terminal slap in the face for the Hillside Workshops in Dunedin and Woburn Workshops in Lower Hutt.

NZ could never have competed with China on labour costs. CNR may be a cheap and efficient supplier, but that doesn’t take into account the wider economic benefits and spin-offs for New Zealand of using KiwiRail’s own staff at the Hillside Workshops in Dunedin (and in Woburn) to do the work.

Does this government intend to invest in NZ industry and Kiwi jobs? If so, tell me how, where and when?

Keep the train lines open

Posted by on December 12th, 2010

I recently received a letter from the Kiwirail PR people alerting me to the fact that they will be sending freight trains through the Wairarapa and up to Woodville from Boxing Day until mid-January while upgrade work is done on the Main Trunk Line. The northern part of the Wairarapa line is one of those often cited as unprofitable and under consideration for closure. It’s a good example of how important it is that we maintain a proper rail ‘network’ and don’t make short term decisions that will affect the ability of rail to operate effectively and efficiently in the future.

Just what deals are being done to build trains for Auckland?

Posted by on September 13th, 2010

Just over a week ago Kiwirail made a quiet announcement. Without any fanfare it had surprisingly extended the number of bidders from 4 to 10  for the $500m of Govt money to build trains for Auckland’s electrified system.

Now that might not have caught attention, except that an independent  group of people led by an Aucklander Danise McEvoy had several months before been charged with deciding on who the short-listed bidders would be based on a rigorous process. They had announced a group of four in July.

Yet inexplicably on 3 September, Kiwirail changed the goalposts and when the RFP was announced six more companies were included (several of which I understand had been excluded first time round). The big question is why? And who will gain? I suspect the original four won’t.

In his media release Kiwirail CEO Jim Quinn said the number had been increased because:

“in extending the number to receive the documentation from an initial shortlist of four,  we have reflected on the critical importance of securing the best possible whole of life outcome taking account of quality and cost.”

Whatever that means! Despite him claiming otherwise, it’s my understanding that the six new companies did not meet KiwiRail’s original qualifying criteria.

I also understand that at least once of the four companies on the original short list are considering their options given the change in the bidding process. (Update: that view has since been reinforced strongly)

And you’ve got to admit it looks pretty damn odd. Even dodgy. And just who decided to include the six new bidders?

They are:

  • CSR Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive Co Ltd The Chinese company was founded in 1936. In 1958, ZELC successfully developed and manufactured the first main line electric locomotive in China. In 1978, it switched to electric locomotives. It calls itself the main development and manufacturing base of electric locomotives in China.
  • CSR Nanjing Puzhen Ltd. It build this high  speed train in time for China’s Olympics.
  • UGL Rail Services Limited – the largest end-to-end rail technology solutions provider/integrator in the Asia Pacific region, and Australia’s largest supplier of outsourced asset management and lifecycle engineering services. Its clients include RailCorp in New South Wales, Yarra Trams in Victoria, MTR Corporation in Hong Kong, Queensland Rail (QR) and Pacific National (PN).
  • a consortium of  Japan’s Sumitomo Corporation and Nippon Sharyo Ltd,
  • China’s LORIC Import & Export Corporation Limited and
  • Downer EDI Rail Pty Ltd (which has been producing passenger vehicles for use throughout Australia since the mid-1800s).

Thankfully there’s a blogger in Auckland called Jon C who writes a blog called Aucklandtrains and pays pretty close attention to this stuff. He points to increasing speculation about China chasing infrastructure work in New Zealand, especially after transport minister Steven Joyce and prime minister John Key both visited China recently. The NZ Herald has written about this. So has the ODT. You’d think it would be a bigger story. Not sure why the media haven’t hopped into it more.

Last Thursday, my colleague Darren Hughes asked why:

“At the eleventh hour, KiwiRail decided to increase the short-list of prospective tenderers for a $500 million contract to build Auckland’s electric trains doubling the number of interested parties and lessening the chances of a successful Kiwi bid.

“Steven Joyce’s latest move as Transport Minister has been described by the industry as ‘mind boggling’ especially when figures released today show manufacturing is at a 10 year low.*

“This bizarre move raises questions about the integrity of the tender process, the priorities of this government and the transparent nature of the Minister’s dealings.

You’ve got to ask yourself why the govt (and I bet it wasn’t just Kiwirail) made the decision to include four more players in the Auckland train bid. Isn’t that intereferring in a tender process?

Given this development, just what chance does a substantial NZ build have? Is there a preferred bidder? Is it going to be a largely overseas build? What about Kiwi jobs?

I reckon the government needs to be pretty careful here. The media may not be watching closely (yet) but there’s a bunch of Labour MPs, industry reps and Chambers of Commerce who are, who care about Kiwi jobs and the sustainability of Kiwirail’s mechanical division and our rail engineering capability in this country. Because it’s not just Kiwirail jobs at stake. There’s a wider engineering industry. They’re Kiwi jobs.

And it’s NZ’s reputation in being able to run a credible tender process.

Is this an important issue or what?

Posted by on June 8th, 2010

Hillside March 001

Today nearly two hundred plucky workers from Hillside Engineering in Dunedin joined by dozens of cold, wet but staunch fellow Dunedin-ites stood in the Octagon in a freezing southerly to tell the National Government that we need a strong rail industry.

Kiwi jobs for kiwi workers was the message, along with Can we build trains in Dunedin? Yes we can is the answer. At a competitive price. And in NZ Inc’s interests.

The case has been made. We have the skills and the capability. If we can’t compete on labour costs with the likes of China, we certainly can on quality and whole of life costs. And ability to deliver on time. The case for kiwi content stacks up.

Across New Zealand, people think it’s important that we build here, rather than go overseas. It’s a no brainer. Especially right now. We need to build confidence in our homegrown industry. We need to retain a manufacturing base. It’s at the heart of Dunedin’s economy, let alone important for the rest of NZ.

Why should the profit go elsewhere? At the very least, the bulk of the actual work should be done here even if we don’t hold the contract.

The EOI contains a limp clause about NZ content. It’s not good enough. There are two particular people standing in the way of NZ’s rail engineering industry having a future. Transport Minister Steven Joyce and Kiwirail CEO Jim Quinn. Neither of them believe in rail’s future. Both are trying to talk it down and to cast those who do support it as emotional rail enthusiasts.

Interesting, given the huge resurgence that rail is having elsewhere in the world.  Quinn has a job to do. Joyce has a political imperative. The thing about Joyce is that he’s too cold, too clinical and economic rationalists don’t always resonate.

And he’s made a mistake. He slagged off at Kiwi skills. And he hasn’t even bothered to come and have a look at Hillside.

Leaving aside jokes about animal behaviour, if Steven Joyce can’t make it to Dunedin to have a look at Hillside’s ability to manufacture trains, then he’s chicken. It’s obviously not a priority.

Today Labour had five MPs at the rally. Myself, Pete Hodgson and David Parker from Dunedin. Trevor Mallard from Hutt South (where Kiwirail has its Woburn workshops) and Darren Hughes, Labour’s Transport spokesperson. Phil Goff sent his apologies and his support along with a bunch of other Labour MPs.

Labour thinks that Kiwi content should have preference in the tender for the carriages and engines for Auckland’s rail system.

What does the Government think? Is this important or isn’t it?

So Steven, come to Dunedin. Are you chicken or what?

Watch this clip from Local Channel 9 to see footage  from today’s rally

Does Steven Joyce believe in Kiwi skills and capability?

Posted by on May 3rd, 2010

Today a strong independent economic case has been made to spend close to $400m of taxpayers money building locomotives and rolling stock in New Zealand for Auckland’s electric rail. But it seems the government and Kiwirail senior management don’t want and don’t believe in a kiwi build.

A Berl economics report commissioned by the Dunedin City Council and the Rail and Maritime Transport Union details the benefits of having Auckland’s 13 electric locomotives and 114 “cars” built in New Zealand, creating up to 1275 new jobs.

The city council, chamber of commerce, local engineering firms, Hillside Workshops, the rail union and all of Dunedin’s MPs have been working on this issue for months quietly behind the scenes. Supported by the Hutt workshops and Hutt MP.

NZ has two railways workshops with considerable capacity and skill. Seems the Minister and the CEO of Kiwirail are impervious to this and intent on an overseas build. A draft capability report from within Kiwirail would appear to say otherwise. What is going on?

This is what Steven Joyce had to say in this morning’s ODT:

Transport Minister Steven Joyce, however, yesterday said he understood KiwiRail was not intending to enter a bid. It had never done anything similar before, and there were international companies with a lot of experience.

“It would be a bit like saying we need a fleet of high-end cars, let’s go and get our mechanics to build them, instead of buying them off Audi or BMW, or somebody who does this sort of stuff for a living.”

and in the NZ Herald:

But KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn, while welcoming the effort put into the exercise, said last night that the Government-owned corporation was unlikely to bid for its own contract.

“We haven’t made our final call but think it would be very unlikely,” he told the Herald. “It is hard to see any way we could be genuinely competitive – people around the world build these things for a living, and EMUs [electric railcars] are a sophisticated bit of kit.”

It’s extraordinary that Jim Quinn, not in the job for long, would dismiss out of hand his orgnisation’s own capacity. Where is his evidence? It’s my understanding that we do have the capacity to build in NZ.

The Berl report points out that while New Zealand could produce the rolling stock more cheaply than Europe or North America but “it may be possible” for Asian sources to supply at a cheaper price than elsewhere.

“However, the quality and expected life could be less and it was possible the “whole of life” cost of the rolling stock could be higher than for that made in New Zealand.

Why can’t we build these electric trains  in New Zealand Mr Joyce? Perhaps not every single bit of them. But we do have the skills and the capacity. And isn’t there a very strong case for keeping Kiwi jobs and skills Kiwi?

Doesn’t say much for the Minister’s confidence in the Kiwi workforce and Kiwi skills. Does this reflect the government’s view?

Investment in rail

Posted by on March 14th, 2010

Last week I posted about the current woes of our rail network, noting that under private ownership there had been a lack of investment in upgrading and maintaining the trains and tracks. In hindsight perhaps the then Labour government should have bought back the whole lot in 2003, not just the tracks, and now we’d be 5 years further ahead than we are. I’m not sure that was even an option back then, but regardless of the history, looking to the future it’s clear a big investment is needed if rail is going to be a viable transport option in New Zealand.

It’s interesting to note that the New Zealand government are one of the few around the world who haven’t included investment in rail as part of their economic stimulus package in response to the global recession. In the US they’re spending $17.7 billion on ‘transit and rail’ to reduce traffic congestion and petrol use. Italy are spending 960 million euro in rail and another 480 million euro in local public transport. Korea are spending KRW 11 trillion on ‘green transport’. The Aussies are spending 1.2 billion on rail, the Canadians 480 million and France 300 million. The list could go on…

Here in New Zealand Steven Joyce is obsessed with roads as if they are the only viable form of transport. Roads are convenient, and for a lot of passenger trips they are the most logical choice, but for freight and suburban transport, rail remains a viable and important option, but only if government backs it. As I noted last week, freight within NZ is expected to increase by up to 75% in the next 20 years – does National want to see all of that going onto the roads? Why aren’t we following the rest of the world and looking to rail to ease traffic congestion and reduce our reliance on imported oil?

Let’s give Kiwirail staff a break

Posted by on August 13th, 2009

I see in the DomPost this morning that Kiwirail are taking another pasting regarding ongoing problems with the Wellington train system. I can understand why our local commuters are getting frustrated and fed up with the whole thing, but I also have a lot of sympathy for the staff at Kiwirail who are literally working around the clock to keep the trains running.

Between the time NZ Rail was sold in 1993 and the time when the Labour govt bought back the tracks in 2003, very little was spent on basic maintenance and there was no upgrading at all. There was then a bit of a lag time between the tracks returning to public ownership and serious investment in upgrading taking place. We’re now right in the middle of a major upgrade but because the whole system was so badly run-down it’s pretty fragile.

Speaking to some of the people involved in the upgrade I know that they’re facing a lot of unforseen challenges. They dig holes for new overhead power poles to find underground cables metres from where they should be. One mistake can grind everything to a halt for hours, as happened a few weeks ago. Then of course the trains themselves are all pretty old and break down frequently.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. I catch the train into town on a reasonably frequent basis and have watched with interest as the power poles have been progressively replaced and new substations have popped up. I’m looking forward to the arrival of a bunch of new commuter trains next year and the year after that. Platforms and shelters are being upgraded, and I’m told a new ticketing system isn’t far away either.

Kiwirail have a heck of a job to do. They’ve got to keep the whole system running while also performing open heart surgery on it. They can’t exactly shut it down for 6 months while the work takes place. I know it’s been frustrating, and no doubt will continue to be, but we’ll all have to keep being patient. In a year or two we’ll have a worldclass commuter train system as our reward.