KiwiRail buys 57 new mainline locomotives for South Island

An artist's impression of the new locomotive. Photo credit: Supplied

KiwiRail has signed a contract with Swiss rail manufacturer Stadler Rail Valencia for 57 new mainline locomotives worth about $403 million.

The new locomotives will mainly be used in the South Island servicing both freight and passenger rail. They'll replace the existing aging South island fleet which has an average age of 47 years. 

Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU) general secretary Wayne Butson welcomed the locomotive purchase.

"This is a quality product which will help KiwiRail to provide a safe, sustainable and reliable service to Kiwi businesses well into the future," he said.

RMTU had previously been critical of the purchase of the CRRC Dalian locos known as the DL from China, which were regarded as unreliable by many workers who operated them.

"The procurement process for the new locomotives has resulted in the selection of the best bidder and best machine to support rail operations in the South Island for the next 20 - 30 years," RMTU national president Howard Phillips said.

The new locomotives will be two-cab, narrow-body locomotives equipped with a diesel engine providing diesel power of 3000 kW, that will allow KiwiRail to operate its trains with fewer locomotives than what would be used by current services. The locomotives, which will be made in Spain, will begin arriving in the country in mid to late 2023 - and will likely enter service in New Zealand between early 2024 and 2026.

They'll likely replace the DX and DC locomotives currently in operation.

"Each new locomotive will also be significantly more powerful and efficient than our current machines. This means there will be less need to use multiple locomotives to pull heavy trains - reducing fuel use and potentially reducing fleet CO2 emissions by 20-25 percent," KiwiRail Group chief executive Greg Miller said.

"It also means KiwiRail is future-proofed for the freight growth expected in the decades ahead by having locomotives that can pull larger trains.

"KiwiRail has worked closely with the Rail and Maritime Transport Union and our locomotive engineers as we developed the machines' specifications and I would like to thank them for their invaluable input."