KiwiRail was believed to be close to finalising plans to replace the ropaxes currently operating between North Island and South Island, New Zealand.
KiwiRail’s Interislander ferry service (KiwiFerry) is an extension of State Highway 1 and the Main Trunk Line across Cook Strait, linking road and rail networks between the islands.
Three ferries – ‘Kaiarahi’, ’Kaitaki’, plus the rail ferry ‘Aratere’, cross the strait a combined total of 4,000 times a year.
‘Kaitaki’ can carry up to 1,400 pax, while the ‘Aratere’ has capacity for 600 and the ‘Kaiarahi’ around 550. Between them they transport nearly 800,000 pax and 250,000 cars per year.
KiwiRail said that the ships are reaching the end of their useful lives and recently began the procurement process for two new, large rail-enabled ferries, which the company hoped to have in operation by 2024.
Along with the fleet replacements, KiwiRail said it was working with stakeholders, including Wellington and Marlborough ports, on the facilities for the new ships.
“Our current ferries need to be replaced due to their age and we’re planning for future growth in passenger numbers and freight volumes. The terminal infrastructure also needs to be upgraded, due to age and also to meet the requirements of the new ships,” KiwiRail said on its website.
This once-in-a-generation investment is expected to garner significant tourism, economic and environmental benefits for the whole of New Zealand, the company claimed.
At 220 m long, the new ships will be significantly larger that the current vessels and will be able to transport more people, cars and freight. The sisterships will be able to take both rail and rolling freight.
The new ships must be designed to contribute to meeting KiwiRail’s carbon emission reduction targets of 30% by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2050. Currently, Interislander contributes 40% of the total KiwiRail carbon emission 2012 baseline.
Working jointly with Port Marlborough and the NZ Transport Agency, KiwiRail has developed a design to reconfigure the Picton terminal facilities. Transport changes are also being considered to mitigate the effects of longer trains and more vehicles travelling on the ferries.
The work with CentrePort in Wellington is also underway although not as advanced. A range of options have been analysed for upgrading the Kaiwharawhara terminal and the preferred option has now been identified that is now being progressed to concept design.
Upgrades to Kaiwharawhara are also being considered within the larger, long-term context of the multi-user terminal being planned in Wellington by the NZ Future Ports Forum.