IN YET another manifestation of the difficulties of operating aging vessels in tough conditions the Interisland Line’s Cook Strait rail/ropax Aratere has been forced to modify sailings while a new gearbox part is sourced.

The 26-yo vessel underwent scheduled, enhanced maintenance afloat in Wellington 11-23 May, during which a gearbox part was found to be in need of replacement, KiwiRail says.

“A spare part has been fitted but we are seeking a new replacement to ensure long-term reliability of the vessel. This is expected to take up to eight weeks,” the company said in an advisory to customers.  

As of yesterday [30 May] Aratere is operating a revised schedule that adds approximately 60 minutes to its voyage time between Wellington and Picton and vice versa. This takes transits out to 4 hours 15 minutes, with the ship sailing two round voyages per day. KiwiRail says all affected passengers are being contacted and offered an alternative sailing.

A Ministerial Advisory Group is due to hand its recommendations for affordable replacements for the three Interislander vessels to the NZ Government shortly, after finance minister Nicola Willis late last year forced the abandonment of the IreX project for two new rail/ropaxes due to budget blow-out for new terminals.

There was no allocation of funding for ferries in this week’s NZ “budget of fiscal discipline”.

Separately, in releasing its FY 23 results NZ transport and logistics company Mainfreight’s MD Don Braid noted the business was “a significant user of rail across the length and breadth of New Zealand.

“The current fiasco surrounding the future of the rail ferry services across the Cook Strait and rail services south of the Waikato is unsettling.

“The loss of rail services between the North and South Island would see Mainfreight add 5700 additional truck and trailer journeys per annum on the road, putting significant pressure on the already fragile roading network,” Mr Braid said.

“New Zealand’s roading infrastructure will not cope in the absence of rail.”