Safety and commercial prudence KiwiRail’s priority in Wellington ferry plan

“KiwiRail’s research and due diligence into the best location for its Wellington ferry terminal shows King’s Wharf is the safest and most prudent outcome for all stakeholders,” KiwiRail Group Chief Executive Greg Miller says.

 KiwiRail is in the early stages of procuring two new, larger and more energy-efficient ferries to replace its three ageing vessels that carry freight and passengers between Picton and Wellington. New terminals are required to serve the ships which are expected to come in to service in 2024/25.

 “KiwiRail’s responsibility is to make safe and practical decisions when investing on behalf of New Zealanders in infrastructure that will serve the nation for more than 50 years,” Mr Miller says.

 “The terminals in Wellington and Picton will be relied upon by the New Zealand public and freight movers for two generations. We are making every effort to use this opportunity to make the best decisions on this critical infrastructure which supports the nationally important transport link between the North and South Islands.

 “While all of Wellington is seismically prone, independent engineering and geological experts have advised that the proximity of the current terminal at Kaiwharawhara to the Wellington Fault rupture zone makes it a higher risk than other sites around the harbour. As there are limited options to locate a ferry terminal in Wellington, King’s Wharf is the most viable location.  It makes sense to explore the site which offers the most resilience because the ability to keep the North-South link operating in the event of an earthquake, and to service Wellington by sea if it should be cut off by road, are factors that should be considered now.” 

Interislander General Manager Walter Rushbrook says that with the right controls, maritime operations at Kings Wharf can be safely managed, if that becomes Interislander’s base.

“Interislander and BlueBridge currently successfully operate side by side in a confined harbour area in Picton,” Mr Rushbrook says.

 “Picton Harbour is near a large marina, with water taxis and other commercial vessels operating alongside many small recreational craft. Subject to the right harbour management controls being in place in Wellington, we can operate successfully there, too.

 “Ports are shared spaces where navigation rules apply and directions of a harbourmaster are followed.

 “KiwiRail is currently undertaking an assessment that considers safety and manoeuvrability in Wellington Harbour and no final decisions will be taken until that information is available, and until there is agreement with other authorities.

 “It’s worth noting that although the new ships are larger than the current ones, they have improved power and manoeuvrability and a lower wake. We are confident that they will have no trouble operating safely in and out of a King’s Wharf terminal,” Mr Rushbrook says.

 Mr Miller said that having adjacent terminals for Interislander and BlueBridge would allow for a shared road traffic management plan and a single entrance and exit to the port for ferry traffic.  Current vehicle access to the Interislander is cramped and difficult and presents risks for cyclists and passengers without vehicles. 

 “We can take this once in a generation opportunity to actually improve the transport connections to the Port and ferry terminals.

 “Interislander needs its own berth that caters for the size and configuration of our new ships and because we carry rail freight, we require linkspans that can take roll-on-roll-off wagons.”

 Siting the Interislander at King’s Wharf would in no way affect the walkways that Wellingtonians currently enjoy around the inner harbour near the city and Te Papa.

 “BlueBridge is already operating closer to the city than the area we are proposing to occupy.

 “For now, we’re concentrating on working with maritime navigation experts and the Wellington Harbour Master to ensure we can operate the new ships in the harbour before we progress further. This includes input from affected groups about how we can together safely use the inner harbour, just as we do in Picton.”