16 Mar 2022

New machine keeps KiwiRail on track to meet lower emissions goal

6:18 pm on 16 March 2022

KiwiRail's oldest diesel shunt is rolling full steam ahead into retirement with a more environmentally friendly electric version taking its place.

The 85-year-old locomotive known as TR56 is being replaced by a zero-emission electric shunt, which offers better control and lower emissions.

TR56 has been moving trains in New Zealand since 1936 and has been based at KiwiRail's Hutt workshops since the late sixties.

Anthony Higgison leads the team that overhauls carriages.

He spent five years working with the shunt and said while it was sad to see it go, he was stoked to have the new machine.

He said the new shunt has wheels that are able to go off-rail and is also operated remotely, instead of by someone in a carriage.

"It's a lot safer because you can be at the head of the movement and see everything and be where you need to be, instead of relying on relaying information from the TR if you're behind the load," Higgison said.

The new machine was funded as part of the government's $1.6 billion investment into KiwiRail.

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TR56 has been moving trains in New Zealand since 1936. Photo: Supplied / KiwiRail

Transport Minister Michael Wood said diesel trains had 70 percent fewer emissions than trucks carrying the same load.

However, only about 12 percent of New Zealand's freight is carried by rail.

"It's incredibly important that KiwiRail continues to make the shift within its operations towards cleaner ways of generating its energy," Woods said.

"But separate to that, every tonne of freight that we shift from other modes into KiwiRail and every carriage-load of passengers that we bring into the KiwiRail and rail network, that is a massive saving in terms of carbon emissions in New Zealand.

"There's a dual-fold benefit here in terms of giving KiwiRail the capacity to do its job."

KiwiRail's acting chief executive David Gordon said the state-owned enterprise was on track to reach its goals of reducing 30 percent of emissions by 2030, and being net-zero carbon by 2050.

KiwiRails's new electric shunt and acting CEO David Gordon

David Gordon addresses guests at an event to mark the arrival of the new electric shunt. Photo: Supplied / KiwiRail

The company was expecting 57 fuel-efficient and low-emission trains to arrive beginning in 2024, and two new ferries the following year to replace the current Interislander fleet.

"Our emissions are almost totally comprised of locomotives and ferries," he said.

"Changing the ferries out does the 40 percent reduction. The type of locos we're running, even the one that's refurbed behind me, doesn't meet any real modern European standards. The ones we're buying from Stadler now are right down at the bottom level of emissions."

Meanwhile, TR56 will make its way to Silverstream Railway in Upper Hutt, where it will be used to pull passenger carriages, under the care of the Rail Heritage Trust.

KiwiRail's TR56 - 85-year-old locomotive being withdrawn from service

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Executive officer Barry O'Donnell said the trust was excited to add the shunt to its collection.

A former graphic designer, he has even created a colouring book commemorating the TR56.

"It's KiwiRail's oldest locomotive and arguably the oldest locomotive to ever work continuously for the national railway network," he said.

"A steam locomotive worked for 93 years, but its time with railways was broken by working with the public works department."

And with that, a new era of rail transport has been set in train.

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