Row Over NZ Made Trains


The lukewarm reception from the transport minister and KiwiRail CEO today to a call for Auckland’s electric trains to be built here has triggered a political storm.

As reported here this morning, a Berl economic report recommended that much of the work could be done at either Dunedin or Wellington workshops or both.

The minister and KiwiRail CEO seemed unconvinced it was the way to go especially as it meant KiwiRail would be bidding for its own contract.

The Rail workers union and friends today launched a campaign for this to happen at a function in Wellington, attended by the Council of Trade Unions secretary Peter Conway, who said NZ has the people, the expertise, the engineering capability and local suppliers.

He said  KiwiRail workers in Hillside and the Hutt are already building and refurbishing trains.

Labour’s Dunedin South MP Clare Curran says a lack of support for a KiwiRail build of Auckland’s electric trains shows no faith in Kiwi skills and capability.

She said that for four months the Dunedin 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 quietly behind the scenes.

“We have been supported by the Hutt workshops and Hutt South MP Trevor Mallard.

“Why can’t we build these electric trains here? Perhaps not every single bit of them, but we do have the skills and capacity. And isn’t there a very strong case for keeping Kiwi jobs and skills Kiwi?”

But Auckland Chamber of Commerce head Michael Barnett says we need a reality check.

“The rest of the country is unlikely to require rail carriages on the scale and volume of Auckland.”

He said building Auckland’s new electric trains locally should be assessed against the viability of a long-term rail infrastructure upgrade strategy for the whole of New Zealand.

He said the Auckland contract for 114 railcars to start running on Auckland’s tracks in 2013 will need to be internationally competitive and actioned with some urgency.

“Whether we can develop a production plant that gets the Auckland contract completed on time, and then provides orders long-term to sustain the investment needs to be assessed.

“The last thing we want is to create a ‘think big’ mentality around rail only to find that once the Auckland contract is complete it has no future.

“I agree Auckland needs a world-class metro system and it’s urgent, and we also need to develop a long game for upgrading rail across the whole country which includes a serious assessment of skills, apprenticeship and other employment opportunities – and that’s urgent too,” said Mr Barnett.

“If a New Zealand company can build the Auckland rail carriages competitively either alone or in a joint venture with a recognized international rail infrastructure construction company, then they should be strongly encouraged to seek the contract.”

Green Party Co-Leader Metiria Turei said the government needs to assist KiwiRail to bid successfully for the contract to build  the units in order to future proof our economy,

“The lukewarm response to BERL’s report from KiwiRail’s CEO Jim Quinn and Transport Minister Stephen Joyce is deeply disappointing.

“If the Key Government and KiwiRail are committed to a market approach and a level playing field then KiwiRail should allow its own business to tender for the work. “





  1. Cierat says:

    Jim Quinn is surely between a rock and a hard place on this issue, as KiwiRail are in charge of procurement there is a conflict of interest, as well as an implied political directive not to bid….

    Thinking smart, KiwiRail would own the intellectual property to the Ganz Mavag units, which were very reliable until planned refurbishment and maintenace was delayed due to delays with the Matangi procurement and build. Indeed, I recall vaguely these GM units were built by an unknown Hungarian machine shop that was able to use savings to build a far higher spec product than would have been possible elsewhere. There was also an AC/DC dual supply design that was designed but was surplus to requirements. Why can’t we do the same here? Build to an enhanced Ganz Mavag Spec which is proven in NZ and substitute with direct AC traction, computer monitoring and other innovations, but keep it simple for the sake of reliability.

    Face it guys, we don’t need bullet trains here, we just need simple, reliable units that get us from A to B. The technology hasn’t changed markedly except in a few limited respects. It’s not rocket science and we’re not building Mercedes Benz’s here. Anyone that says otherwise needs to get real.

    If KiwiRail want to make it work, they will. Sadly, they didn’t even consider it properly. The resource and knowledge is there. The real shame is an apparent lack of vision and leadership, I’m horrified that the Union is the one pushing for this rather than top management!!! :(

  2. Brent C says:

    So the only way we can create economic development is New Zealand is through mining our protected and most value land? That seems to be what the current government are telling us. This further signals there idea of rail in New Zealand and their lack of interest.

    I disagree with what Michael Barnett has said. I believe that there is real opportunity for these workshops to work in creating future light rail in our large cities. Wellington Grans also wont last for ever!

  3. Jeremy Harris says:

    It’s the same problem we had with the Navy contract, a lack of courage to say we can compete with the rest of the world and if we make the investment we believe we can produce ships and locos the rest of the world will want at a price worth their quality…

  4. rtc says:

    I think there has to be a lot of caution in regards to building them here. Detailed design plans would need to be drawn up and based on the experience in Zurich when they decided to build their own trams rather than going with an experience provider it can be a disaster. This choice in Zurich lead to 10 year delays on the production of the trams, cost-overuns and the resulting tram has turned out to be pretty unreliable. The point being that we should be aiming to make sure we get these trains on-time, within budget (which is already limited), and backed by a major supplier.

  5. Eric says:

    It’s kind of ironic that Labour and the Greens are calling for us to build our trains when they ordered the new ones for Wellington from Korea.

  6. max says:

    Jeremy, I have no problem with KiwiRail bidding. What I have a problem with is how we then choose fairly from the suppliers. With KiwiRail supposed to choose. MAJOR conflict of interest* - with the decision likely to be twisted either for or against. But not likely to be neutral.

    *I assume (but don’t know the law well enough to say) that NZ, unlike European nations, does not HAVE to have “fair” tenders. So they could just say that with the benefits to NZ economy included in the calculations, they will just go for bid X from KiwiRail, thank you very much for playing, everyone else.

    But if there is any legal loophole to challenge such a decision made due to officially stated or implied benefits to NZ, we might actually see the losing bidders tie this up in court forever if KiwiRail wins.

    Wouldn’t that be sweet?

  7. THom says:

    Amazing about the Ganzs. Would be VERY interesting if Kiwirail still hold the detailed plans after all these years, those units were built to last and have kept performing. And kiwirails engineers must know these units inside and out kiwirail have overlooked a real ace in the hole here if they they could push ahead with a simpleganz based design that does the frigging job. Ps new but whats Zurich trams got to with the price o ffish?

  8. rtc says:

    @THom - the Zurich trams are an example of choosing to do something locally and starting from scratch in the process rather than buying an existing product from a major manufacturer. I think there are a lot of parallels with the train situation in NZ. The outcome in Zurich was lost time, and a flakey product. There’s one aim with the trains and that’s getting a high-quality modern product ASAP onto our tracks and I trust a reliable supplier than a homebrew design that Aucklanders become the beta testers for. Furtermore, LADA went bankrupt because they kept using the designs of ancient cars rather than designing something new. We want the modern standard as used in Europe and Asia, not some home made variant of the Ganz trains.

  9. rtc says:

    Auckland has one chance to get these trains right - and they shouldn’t be used as a platform to promote NZ made.

  10. max says:

    I like a compromise solution in which they get “bought off” (if I can be so cynical) by building our new freight rolling stock and maybe locomotives - at least I hope that KiwiRail will get some new rolling stock. Apparently, the freight trains are often even older than anything in commuter service?

  11. Geoff says:

    Something I don’t get is why Hillside don’t produce freight wagons for the international market, as they are very good at making them, and at very cheap prices. Even with shipping costs added, I’m sure they would still get orders from various countries. If they looked at going global, then there would be a much stronger case for them to build the EMU’s, once they are a global supplier of rail vehicles. It makes it more worthwhile to set up the larger manufacturing capability required for Auckland’s order.

  12. Joshua says:

    No matter what you say we have and can obtain the experience and capabilities of making these trains, which then we could turn into a export business.

    One of the main problems is that Kiwi Rail have been given the decision making process, so it becomes up to them to decide if they can form a long term business case for development in train manufacturing.

    Personally I don’t think Kiwi Rail has put much thought into it, and because they have already started the tender process could become a conflict of interest.

    In terms of Quality, and value of money, NZ made is the way to go.

    However this issue has made Labour and the Green look like fools from a transport stance. They are attacking the Government, when it’s not their decision, about sourcing from overseas, when they did exactly that with the Wellington Trains. But I guess they are just trying to gain election votes, and didn’t expect it to backlash themselves.

  13. Cierat says:

    I have to agree that the scaremongering and talk of Zurich Trams (WTF?), Ladas, Audis and BMWs are just red herrings. Zurich tried to build trams locally some time in the distant past and it failed - how was KiwiRail or even NZ involved? Give me ten examples of local build failures in NZ and then we can talk! ;)

    The Ganzs are perfect, they’re so good they will be refurbished to run alongside the new Matangi units in Wellington! A few cosmetic tweaks like larger windows and a sleeker look and additions like automating linking and delinking of units and Auckland would have some fantastic trains that would also be interoperable to a limited degree…

    Kiwirail should build Mark II Ganzs based on the refurbished Ganz design being used in Wellington. I think Kiwirail can put together a very competitive quote as the other tenderers will have a lot of R&D and other overhead for bullet trains and wide gauge high speed marvels that simply can’t be used on narrow gauge in NZ. Interior seating, carpets etc could be outsourced to local coach builders, exterior and windows to body shops, which can price very tightly, leaving Kiwirail to focus on other manufacture.

    Kiwirail should pass procurement to Treasury or MOT to handle so it can focus on making its own bid rather than just sitting on its hands and collecting a fee.

  14. Matt L says:

    We shouldn’t be building Ganz for Auckland, we need modern rolling stock rather than a tweaked 30+ year old design. Also I think that Auckland has better tunnel and bridge clearances so it allows for slightly bigger trains.

    Why not get something similar to what Perth and Brisbane have got, they are modern, fast and look good. Whats more is they are designed for our track gauge and fit the specs released so far (3 car EMU 72m long) and have about the same number of seats as our current 4 car SA sets

  15. Kimbo says:

    What’s with the obsession with fast trains that can’t handle NZ’s narrow gauge and track conditions? Let’s focus on buying something that works for Auckland

    Unfirtunately there’s not much difference between an all new Bombadier or an all new Ganz when it comes to running on track in Auckland, except the ganz will be waaaay better value for money

  16. Cierat says:

    Brand new Ganz(Mark II’s) for Auckland sounds great to me. There’s no reason why NZ made Ganz’s MII’s can’t look just like the pretty Bombadier pictures! :)


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