Trains carrying logs from Wairarapa to Wellington are going to be longer from this month, ultimately increasing capacity by a third and taking 6000 logging trucks a year off the road.
KiwiRail’s group general manager of sales and commercial, Alan Piper, says about 15 wagons will be added to one of the two daily trains once more wagons become available.
“We expect this to be within a few weeks,” he said.
“That will increase the capacity by around 100,000 tonnes a year from the current 270,000 tonnes.
“It will also mean around 6000 fewer logging truck trips annually across the Remutakas.”
KiwRail runs two log trains each day from Waingawa to Wellington’s CentrePort. CentrePort has an inland hub for logs at Waingawa.
Piper said the log trains can carry more so they will be lengthened rather than extra trains being put on.
Two hundred new wagons intended for logs are due to arrive by the end of the year and KiwiRail is also converting container wagons nearing the end of their useful life to carry logs.
The conversion process will provide an additional 100 wagons this year on top of the 200 new wagons.
Log exports from the region are booming and when Shane Jones visited last year the industry raised the issue of capacity constraints on log trains. He is Forestry Minister and Regional Economic Development Minister.
The damage logging trucks do to roads has been an issue and the trucks have been in the news with a logging truck overturning on Monday on the turn into Norfolk Rd at Waingawa, and a log dropped on the northern roundabout in Masterton last December.
Forest Enterprises is part of a new company called Log Distribution Ltd, which is trying to make transportation of logs as efficient as possible.
Spokesman Bert Hughes, the Forest Enterprises chief executive, says LDL is happy to see the new log wagon capacity.
“It is the amount we expected based on our long-running consultation with KiwiRail and CentrePort. Longer trains are an efficient way to better utilise existing transport capacity.”
He acknowledges that log harvesting levels are rising and says the peak volume is difficult to predict because much of the increase comes from private woodlots where harvesting tends to correlate with change in log prices rather than be programmed into an annual plan.
Most of Forest Enterprises’ annual export log volume could go to Wellington by rail, except for three-metre length logs which are difficult to stow on rail wagons, he said.
Hughes said transport planning is dynamic by nature, and rail is the best way to deliver consistent daily volumes from aggregated stockpiles to the wharf where they are accumulated for log ships.
Truck carriage is more adaptable to volume fluctuation and widespread harvesting sites, and therefore remains a crucial part of the transport plan.
Daily volume fluctuations are common due to the influence of weather on forest roads and production rates as well as normal variability in the ability to utilise labour and machinery.
Not all logs are exported.
“We are harvesting approximately 350,000 tonnes per year from the forests we manage in Wairarapa. Around 60 per cent [210,000 tonnes] is exported via CentrePort – two-thirds of which is transported by rail; the rest by truck and around 40 per cent [140,000 tonnes] is supplied to local mills.”
Forest Enterprises and LDL prioritise rail transport over road cartage where it has benefits of increased efficiency of resource use and reducing impacts on the travelling public.
The costs of road and rail delivery are similar. The rail transport cost is less affected than road cartage by fuel cost increase, but any rail delays have much greater and more expensive impacts on product flows because there are no options to use a different route to the port.
CentrePort handled 1.3 million tonnes of logs in its last financial year and it’s tracking to handle 1.8 million this year, according to a spokesman.
Labour list MP Kieran McAnulty said it was marvellous news that the size of the log trains was increasing.
Last October Transport Minister Phil Twyford announced the New Zealand Transport Agency Board approved a $96 million investment in the Wairarapa Line.
About $50m was for track infrastructure for Wairarapa and $46.2m on the rail line south of the Remutaka Hill tunnel, including double-tracking between Trentham and Upper Hutt.
McAnulty said the double-tracking would help log trains.