The Eye of the Fish

January 22, 2019

Rail ferries

The waterfront is a never-ending source of news for the Eye of the Fish. Buildings coming and going, going up and going down, positions for the Ferry Terminal over there, or way back here (waves hands in the air unconvincingly), but today: a good news story. InterIslander’s three existing ferries are due to be replaced, and amazingly enough, someone at KiwiRail has made an intelligent decision and decided to commission two new ferries: both to be Rail-capable ferries.
That’s a great decision on two points: one, that they are buying new, and two, that they are going to be rail capable. The other options for KiwiRail were to buy second-hand, and to forget about rail – one begets the other really. Our rail system throughout the country urgently needs to be able to carry bulk freight across Cook Strait, and securing new ferries with that capability is a great step forward.
New Zealand used to buy ferries new at some stage in the past, but in more recent years we’ve been buying second-hand old dunga piles of rust with no rail capability. Both InterIslander and BlueBridge / Strait Shipping have been guilty of it. Fingers crossed that we manage to find a company / country that can make the ferries to the right size as well as making sure that the propellor doesn’t fall off. Because, you know, we’ve been there and done that…
All of this ties in, I hope, with the conversations the various parties have been having over a new super-terminal (i.e. both BlueBridge and InterIslander all at one site). I’ve heard conflicting reports of where this is going to be. One person I spoke to said it was definitely a rebuild at Kaiwharawhara (and indeed we reported on it at the time), while more recently there was discussion over whether the proposed Arena could co-exist on the same plot of land as the proposed Ferry Terminal. Clearly only one of these can win – I’m picking that CentrePort will come to its senses and decide on a new terminal somewhere between the two. There is a lot of land where Stats and the other seven demolished buildings once stood, which could make a good location for a new mega terminal…

But but but.

Hear me out.

Currently, there is just a couple of anaemic set of tracks crossing over the Quays, taking freight trains into CentrePort land. If the terminal site nearest to BlueBridge is chosen, this will not be able to be used for the main rail route in – the clash with vehicle traffic would be just too much. The fact that KiwiRail has made a pro-rail decision on its ferry choice, sort of mandates that the only site possible for redevelopment will be Kaiwharawhara, despite the fact that it sits right on the main Wellington fault line.
existing terminal
Your thoughts?

22 - 01 - 19

Here’s an interesting idea: why not put a new ferry terminal in Seaview?


* There’s a close rail link (the Gracefield branch – which was futureproofed at the WRL end to allow a triangle junction to be formed so that trains can come in directly from Wellington without being shunted). Moreover, although they’ve pulled down the wires now, there’s enough clearance on the track to electrify it again and shuttle trains could be run from Wellington Station.

* It will provide a reason for the East-West Link Road that NZQA and the Lower Hutt Council want.

* It’s not directly on a fault line.

* Land is cheaper, and there’s room to expand.

* Big ships already come through the harbour entrance to the area (oil tankers), so it should be deep enough.


* Not in central Wellington.

* Would require reclamation, probably (although I think the bulk of the reclamation in the diagram below has been done).

* The major minus: it would be a pain to get trains from the NIMT there (although most of the ones going onto the ferries will be coming through Palmy anyway, so with more upgrades to the Wairarapa Line Kiwirail could divert some trains down there at least, doing some shunting in Palmy).

I know it’s unrealistic that it’ll happen to say the least, but it’s another option.

There was actually a report on this (a major harbour in Seaview) in 1939, and Valley Signals has a diagram of it here:

22 - 01 - 19

m28a31 – what a fantastic find, thank you. Intriguing idea, doomed to failure, but intriguing nonetheless. Imagine what the region would be like if Wellington had stayed based in the Hutt, instead of moving to its present site, way back in 1841. We would have definitely chosen a Seaview based anchorage, with lots of room for parking boats (or berthing ships, if you want to be pedantic), but I fear that the entire waterfront from Petone to Gracefield would have become a giant industrial wasteland, with all access to the sea cut off.

Andy Foster
22 - 01 - 19

Good article again Levi – and ships should be right up your alley – or is that sea-lane?

I agree with you – it is good that KiwiRail are opting for rail capable ferries – I mean they surely want to encourage rail freight use – and I think that is very much in New Zealand’s best interests too – thinking sustainability and safety.

I don’t know yet where they are thinking in terms of location but a few thoughts:
I understand there will be a need for some significant rail shunting yard space – whether that can be on the landward side of the Quay or not I am not sure.

If there is a lot more rail traffic across the Quay then it may be necessary to lift the traffic over the rail line near the Stadium. Those with long memories may recall that this was something allegedly required should we have ever built our indoor sports arena and concert facility on the Westpac concourse – but that was found not to be the case – it was always going to be rail that drove this.

If it is to be Kaiwharawhara there needs to be some careful and considerate thought about managing the Kaiwharawhara stream estuary – which is potentially very important ecologically.

There has been a lot of mumbling at management level for best part of a decade about roading changes – the existing Aotea off ramp, links to the Great Harbour Way etc. All these things could (actually should) get tied up in the discussion about how to plan effectively the City’s northern gateway. KiwiRail’s decision will I hope advance that discussion so we can actually get some serious proposals together.

Keep up the great work Levi.


Andy Foster
Urban Development Leader
Wellington City

28 - 01 - 19

In my mind, unless there is grade separation of waterloo quay from the rail line, the only place a new ferry terminal can be built is Kaiwharawhara.

And given the push for the Kings wharf area to include an indoor arena and essentially an extension of the Wellington waterfront, it does appear that it really a fait accompli that it will go where near where it is currently

28 - 01 - 19

Agreed, Greenwelly – and anyway it would hardly make sense for trucks and cars for the ferries to have to use Aotea and Waterloo Quays, adding to congestion.

A pedestrian-friendly terminal at the edge of the CBD would be very nice indeed, but I don’t think it works. Let’s hope that the new terminal has decent pedestrian and cyclist access: last time I looked at the Interislander website specifically advised against walking between its terminal and the CBD – a fine introduction to a walkable city!

The current Aratere railferry was purpose built, so with the new ferries coming on stream it will thankfully not be the last such ship (as seemed likely) in a fine fleet dating back to 1962. The period of road-only rail ferries (clearly a contradiction in terms!) will hopefully be just a short blip in history.

29 - 01 - 19

Any scope for a tentative start to light rail with a link between Kaiwharawhara and Queens Wharf for ferry and cruise ship passengers?

29 - 01 - 19

Thank you all for the comments, which I have neglected for the last couple of days. All of which you say is true – was going to be the subject of my next post, but then, you know, hottest day on record and all that…

So, at this point I’ll just say: it would be such a simple thing to connect Kaiwharawhara back down to Wellington Station, as there is a railway line already there, tracks shining, next to the traffic but not actually IN the traffic, and the only thing that gets in its way is the crappy old falling down white elephant BNZ.

Just saying.

They could do it tomorrow if they wanted to.