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KiwiRail confirms Arahura replacement
The Interislander ferry Arahura will be replaced by the Stena Alegra from mid-2015, KiwiRail announced today.
The Stena Alegra, used as a replacement vessel for the Aratere while she was in dry dock earlier this year, will be extensively upgraded before she arrives.
This will include new passenger facilities for up to 520 people, the fitting of external stabilisers, equipment upgrades and new gangway access.
The Stena is a third bigger than Arahura. She will be able to carry close to the same amount of freight in two return sailings as the Arahura can in three.
KiwiRail will charter rather than purchase the ship, as is currently the case with Kaitaki. She will also be re-named and re-branded as part of the Interislander fleet.
"This is the right decision for Interislander and for New Zealand," says KiwiRail Chief Executive Peter Reidy.
"It will increase our overall freight and passenger capacity on a critical link for the country. Interislander is an extension of the main trunk line and State Highway One across Cook Strait, and vital for our economy."
Mr Reidy says that after ruling out construction of a bespoke roll-on roll-off rail ferry due to cost, the company started looking for a replacement RoPax (road-passenger) vessel in 2013.
Four vessels, including the Stena Alegra, were shortlisted.
"The Stena Alegra's capacity gives us a big efficiency gains and future proofs our fleet for increased customer demand."
The owner of the vessel, Stena RoRo would carry out the upgrading work to meet Interislander requirements.
"They are the largest owner of RoRo ships in the world and have considerable technical and project management expertise in refurbishing their vessels to meet the needs of their customers," Mr Reidy says.
"The new passenger areas will be of the same standard as the Kaitaki which we recently upgraded."
"This decision is the result of a rigorous process stretching back several years", says Mr Reidy.
"All options have been considered, and the KiwiRail Board has been closely involved right the way through."
"The Arahura is 31 years old. She's provided outstanding service over the years and all her masters, engineers and crew have done a fantastic job."
"But for her to continue active service, we'd need to spend an estimated $25-30 million to bring her up to survey."
Commenting on the decision not to replace her with a rail capable ferry, Mr Reidy said that a new generation ship would have been required due to changes in stability rules.
"That means ships with a much wider beam, requiring new ferry berths and specialist link-span infrastructure at both Wellington and Picton.
"The total cost could have risen to over $300 million, and we would have had to order the ship three years in advance."
"We therefore focused on the second option - existing vessels that could be available in 2015 to meet our criteria."
Mr Reidy says the Aratere will continue to be the main rail ferry, carrying some 75% of rail freight for another 10-12 years.
"Freight will be loaded on the Stena Alegra by what's called 'road bridging.' We've used this process since 2011 while the Aratere was away and for dry docks, so it's already proven."
"Freight customers won't notice any difference, and it's just as efficient."
Mr Reidy says during the six months the Stena Alegra replaced the Aratere, "we got a very good feel for what was needed if she came back as a permanent replacement for the Arahura."
"We also asked the masters who had captained her to give us their views, and all that has been reflected in the changes we'll be making."
The Stena Alegra will be dry-docked for the overhaul and refurbishment around mid March, probably in Singapore, with her owners managing and paying for the work.
Mr Reidy says it is the Stena Line's responsibility to deliver the ship in good working order and compliant with all Classification Society, flag and port state requirements.
After her return to New Zealand and familiarisation for her crews, KiwiRail anticipates she will enter service in mid-2015.