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Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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Floundering ferry upgrade ‘disappointing’

No funding of an upgrade to KiwiRail’s ferry service is “disappointing” but understandable given the project’s spiralling costs, according to the manager of a local transport company.

“I can see where the government is coming from”, Martinborough Transport manager Josh Hawkins said.

“It was going to be brilliant if we got the new ferries, but seeing how the price was blowing out, I can understand how they’ve made that decision.”

Martinborough Transport uses KiwiRail’s ferry service between 10 and 15 times a week to transport livestock, and business was impacted by disruptions caused by the weather and ferries breaking down earlier this year.

KiwiRail’s contract with Korea’s Hyundai Mipo Dockyard to build two new Interislander ferries to replace the existing fleet “certainly was exciting”, Hawkins said, as it promised increased capacity, greater reliability, and a more “friendly” experience for the drivers.

Hawkins attended a KiwiRail event showcasing the new ferries, which included a simulator where captains were practising piloting the vessels, “which was quite impressive”, he said.

While he sympathises with the government’s decision, Hawkins doesn’t consider it is a realistic option to do nothing.

“The boats are getting very old, and they’ll need to have something that’s a bit more resilient,” he said.

Dom Kalasih, interim chief executive of Transporting New Zealand, which represents 1200 individual road freight transport companies in Aotearoa, agrees.

“Without a doubt, that ferry service needs upgrading”, he said, pointing out that “KiwiRail didn’t get close to meeting its KPIs [key performance indicators]” for reliability and level of service in respect to current demand, and that “demand for that crossing is only going to increase”.

Kalasih welcomes the new administration’s focus on managing the costs of major infrastructure projects, saying many of them appeared to be characterised by “pretty poor cost management given the scale of those escalations” under the previous Labour government.

Finance Minister Nicola Willis recently said the latest briefing she has received indicated the fleet upgrade, which had an initial price tag of just under a billion dollars, would now cost $3 billion if it went ahead.

Kalasih is optimistic the government and KiwiRail will arrive at a solution, but in the unlikely event that doesn’t happen, market demand is so great that “another solution will come”.

“That is clearly a very important bit of water,” he said.

“I cannot believe that we’ll be sitting here in 2026, and someone will say there are only two ferries and that’s actually Bluebridge. I also cannot believe that we will have the same or worse than what we’ve currently got with the Interislander.”

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