KiwiRail calls for greater investment at Port Marlborough following earthquake
More investment is needed to make sure ports are ready for a major disaster, but before that happens they need to know what the ferries of the future will look like, a port boss says.
The earthquake last November resulted in substantial damage to the facilities at CentrePort, in Wellington, disrupting the normal flow of freight across the Cook Strait.
Port Marlborough suffered less damage, but both ports were told in no uncertain terms by KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy they needed to invest more in their infrastructure.
Reidy made the comments in an opinion piece, invoking an image of ferries burdened with crucial supplies unable to berth after Wellington was crippled and isolated by another diaster.
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He said that scenario came closer than most people realised, highlighting the need for both ports to invest in more resilient infrastructure to make sure the critical Cook Strait link stayed open.
"The connection is vulnerable to earthquakes and other natural disasters - not because of the vessels, but because of the lack of robustness in the landslide infrastructure to accommodate them."
Port Marlborough business delivery manager Rhys Welbourn agreed with the sentiment, but said the port needed to know what the future KiwiRail fleet would look like to plan accordingly.
KiwiRail was looking to replace its ageing InterIslander fleet from 2020. For ports to know what new infrastructure to build, they needed to know what kind of ships they were building for, Welbourn said.
"For ports, the investment cycle is quite a long one, we're generally talking investment in the tens of millions. To invest in the future, you need to know what the future is going to look like," he said.
Welbourn said the facilities at the port held up well in the 7.8-magnitude earthquake. There was some damage to the ferry passenger terminal, which disrupted Interislander foot traffic for two weeks.
"We were able to accommodate the first ferry here within 10 hours of the earthquake, which is probably a testament to the resilience of the port," Welbourn said,
"That doesn't diminish the risk of earthquakes and our ability to cope. We don't know what Mother Nature is going to throw at us."
Port Marlborough, which was owned by the commercial arm of the Marlborough District Council, MDC Holdings, would cover the cost of any new infrastructure, Welbourn said.
However, he said there was a case to be made that central Government should invest in increased resilience measures, like back-up berths.
A new fleet?
KiwiRail currently has three ferries - the Aratere, Kaitaki and Kaiarahi. However, it was looking at different fleet replacement options, including the potential of new ferries from 2020.
Interislander operations general manager Mark Thompson said this included working with ship designers, brokers and builders to understand the cost of leasing or buying new or second-hand ships.
He ruled out the potential for electric ferries - as used in Norway - but said KiwRail was looking at the feasibility of alternative fuel choices and innovative propulsion technologies to deliver sustainability.
"As part of the review of the future fleet requirements, KiwiRail also needs to plan to make sure that the port facilities are suitable for larger ferries," Thompson said.
"As such we have been working with both port companies to plan what the port facilities need to look like for the next 50 years."
On Wednesday, KiwiRail announced it had bought the Interislander ferry Kaitaki, which it had been leasing from Dublin-based Irish Ferries since 2005.
The Kaitaki is the largest of the three ships, capable of carrying up to 1350 passengers, more than the Aratere and the Kaiarahi combined.
- The Marlborough Express