Waiky electrificationThat’s what we were told over the weekend by someone who ought to know.

Last month the government announced that it had committed to funding the refurbishment of KiwiRail’s 30-year-old+ electric locomotives on the North Island Main Trunk line between Palmerston North and Te Rapa (Hamilton), providing additional capacity for rail freight growth.

Meanwhile last month, another 15 of the recent DL class diesel-electric locomotives arrived from Dalian in China, making a total of 63 of them.

In 2016, the Green Party, which is now a government coalition partner, announced that its policy was to electrify the railway between Waikanae and Palmerston North at a cost of about $300 million.

One technical problem is that the Wellington suburban train system was electrified as from 1938 in 1500 Volt DC.  The North Island Main Trunk, and the Auckland suburban system, are in 25 kV AC, so trains running from Palmerston North to Wellington would need to be dual system.  This is actually quite common in Europe where different systems exist, although the cost of dual system locomotives/power cars is a little higher than single system ones.

The GWRC has made clear its interest in extending the electric wires from Waikanae to Otaki, but one problem it has proclaimed is that the existing electric units aren’t equipped with toilets and it does not believe passengers could wait an extra 12 minutes for their comfort needs. Accordingly, new electric multiple units equipped with them would be needed for the Kapiti line.

It seems to us, if the government does electrify south from Palmerston North in 25 kV AC, that Otaki rather than Waikanae is a better system changeover point.  Otaki station has spare sidings in its yard, Waikanae doesn’t.