KiwiRail loses $248m; ferry on course

Troubled Interislander ferry the Aratere is back to full steam in Cook Strait but the future is looking less bright for the Capital Connection rail service.

KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy said that the Aratere had returned to its regular schedule of three round-trip sailings a day after being reduced to two trips last month because of teething problems with its replacement propellers.

It was a small piece of good news during an otherwise bleak press conference yesterday as the state-owned rail and Interislander ferry company reported a $248 million loss for the year to June 30.

What began as a promising year for KiwiRail went sour in November when the Aratere lost its starboard propeller during a routine Cook Strait crossing.

That left Interislander a ferry short for eight weeks during the busy summer period until a replacement, the Stena Alegra, was secured. The total cost of repairs, lost revenue and charter of the Stena Alegra was about $27m.

That hit was later compounded by the discovery of asbestos in 40 new DL freight locomotives, which were taken out of service for repairs, reducing KiwiRail's fleet by 20 per cent.

Reidy said yesterday the Aratere's crew had managed to improve the condition of the hull and fine-tune the performance of the ship to compensate for a lack of speed from its propellers, which were designed for shorter trips.

"The last 10 days we've been getting some good speed . . . it's back to normal."

Interislander passenger revenue was down more than 9 per cent because of the Aratere, but some of that was regained by a nearly 2 per cent increase from commercial vehicle freight.

But on the rail tracks, it appears there is little chance that the Capital Connection rail service between Wellington and Palmerston North will shake off its troubles any time soon.

In 2013 the commercial service was given two years to reclaim the passengers it lost when Wellington's electric commuter trains began running as far north as Waikanae.

KiwiRail general manager of external relations Deb Hume said yesterday the service was still about 30 passengers a day short of being financially viable.

"We'd love to get 30 more passengers - tell all your friends - but at the moment we're out of ideas about where they're going to come from," she said. "We've lost so many passengers to the metro service and we just don't think they're going to come back."

Reidy said KiwiRail's entire operation would be reviewed in light of the $248m loss, which highlighted the need for a more cost-effective business model.

The Dominion Post