Rail capacity cut

CATHIE BELL
Last updated 15:31 19/03/2014

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South Island rail services are at reduced capacity because locomotives have been moved to the North Island to cover for those taken out of service over of asbestos fears.

KiwiRail confirmed yesterday that about 8 locomotives had been moved from the South Island to the North Island to maintain services after the 40 DL locomotives were withdrawn from service for testing for asbestos.

Spokeswoman Jenni Austin said the DLs, built in China, could pull 2000 tonnes, and one often did the work that two locomotives of other types did.

With the locomotives moved to the North Island, KiwiRail was running "shorter, lighter trains" instead, reducing its freight capacity, she said.

The company had not cancelled services, but some South Island services were not running as frequently, Ms Austin said.

"We are working with our customers and optimising the remaining loco fleet . . . We are spreading the load. We are still running the same number of trains up and down the country but there is less capacity on them."

The South Island passenger trains were still running.

KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy said yesterday a second round of testing had been completed and he was confident the level of risk from exposure to airborne asbestos in the DL locomotives was minimal.

The company was working with WorkSafe, the new government safety regulator, on an operational plan to re-introduce the affected locomotives.

"We have repeatedly said no locomotive will operate until we are completely satisfied it poses no risk to our people. To that end we are working through a robust process with our expert advisers and WorkSafe to determine a safe re-entry into operation for the locomotives."

Mr Reidy said the lack of capacity was causing supply chain issues for many industries and businesses.

Meanwhile, a locomotive was out of service after it broke a window when it hit a tree on the track between Picton and Blenheim on Sunday.

A KiwiRail spokeswoman said the train made it to the Spring Creek freight depot in Blenheim where it changed locomotives and continued on to Christchurch.

The incident caused a two hour-delay to the service.

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- The Marlborough Express

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