Running between rack and ruin

Not content with buying the trains, Labour is now talking about building them. 

The Government will consider assembling new KiwiRail locomotives in New Zealand instead of overseas, State Owned Enterprises (SOE) Minister Trevor Mallard said.

 But the National Party says the plan is “an idea from the 1950s” and would waste taxpayer money.

Make that waste more money.

The Government bought rail operator Toll this month for $690 million. The purchase also included $140 million in debt. Finance Minister Michael Cullen has said an $80 million injection will be needed over the next five years to keep rail running. He has also signalled a “reinvestment package” of about $380 million which will include new locomotives.

Mr Mallard today said although the components of those locomotives would be bought overseas the Government was investigating the possibility of assembling them in New Zealand.

“There is no doubt there is a possibility of assembling locomotives in New Zealand,” he said on TVNZ’s Agenda programme.

“It’s probably a very logical thing to do from a currency perspective, from a value for money perspective.”

I don’t think logic has anything to do with this suggestion.

But National’s SOE spokesman Gerry Brownlee said the plan was “daft”.

“New Zealand’s economic well-being will not be served by returning to the glory days of NZ Railways, which everyone knew was a huge waste of taxpayer resources,” he said.

“New Zealanders still don’t know what the final bill for the railways buy-up is, let alone the cost of something like this.”

He said the fact the locomotives would be assembled in Mr Mallard’s Lower Hutt electorate suggested it was little more than a “save-my-seat campaign”.  

My first flat at Otago entered a float in the annual University capping parade. We built a railcar and one of the slogans we painted on its side was : NZR – running between rack and ruin. The more I hear about Kiwirail the more I think that slogan would apply to it too.

Update: No Minister   shows what going back to the 50s would mean and Inquiring Mind  says Labour’s indulging in time travel.

3 Responses to Running between rack and ruin

  1. KG says:

    It’s almost as if this lot hanker after the glory(?) days of the Soviet Union…perhaps they really do.


  2. Truthseeker says:

    I can see several reasons why assembling trains here might be a good idea.

    1. The people who build them will know how to fix them and refurbish them as required.

    2. Skills required to sustain, mantain and expand rail services in the years ahead will be retained.

    3. There may be business opportunities down the track (so to speak) for NZ to export locomotives as the rest of the world loks for solutions to more expensive transport costs.

    4. Making them here insulates us to some extent from currency fluctuations and makes provision and maintenance coss more predictable.

    5. We can make may of the parts here, creating opportunities for engineering firms struggling against cheap imports.

    6. For strategic reasons we can’t allow entire engineering skill sets to disappear. Someone needs to know how to make things for this country to continue to function in good times and bad.

    Those are just a few….there will be many more.


  3. bobux says:


    I respond to your numbered points below.

    1. The skills involved in constructing something from scratch are very different to those involved in maintaining something. The neighbour who used to screw left-front-wheel hubs onto Morris Marinas isn’t the guy I get to fix my car.

    2. The skills required to design and build locomotives do not currently exist in NZ- they would have to be acquired at great cost to build a handful of units, and would then probably dissapate unless there are ongoing orders

    3. More probably, there will not be any export opportunities, given NZ possesses no natural advantages in this area, and lacks most of the underlying support industries required to sustain such an industry. Note the lack of existing heavy machinery exports.

    4. Only to the extent they aren’t made from imported parts. And given we don’t have existing industries making most of these parts, local content would be extremely low.

    5. Pleased to see you accept that imported parts will be cheaper. Why then should the NZ taxpayer be forced to buy more expensive parts? And why hasn’t a market sprung up producing locally made car parts. And you vastly underestimate the benefits of large-scale production to offset high set-up costs.

    6. What strategic reasons? If NZ needs some sort of strategic engineering capacity, how do trains possibly rate higher than aircraft or boats? Given we are on an island, and all that. Has NZ EVER had the ability to design and build locomotives? Have these ever been successfully exported?

    Between us, truthseeker, we have now almost certainly expended more thought on the matter than Mr Mallard has. I strongly believe he knows his proposal is a crock – designed only to encourage support from a few retired railway workers in his electorate. Any post-electon feasibility study would quickly throw up the objections I have raised above, and plenty of others. Mallard would then announce that, regretfully, train production was not in the national interest, and life would go on. He knows it. I know it. And if you think about it, at heart you probably know it too.


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