Log trains cut emissions at New Zealand port

Moving logs by rail instead of road achieves big reductions in emissions. Image: CentrePort
Loading logs at the forestry rail hub. Image: CentrePort

Environmental goals are being achieved by using trains to feed export logs from inland rural hubs to Wellington’s CentrePort, in New Zealand’s North Island. By Iain MacIntyre

Inland hubs are a means of aggregating logs at railheads close to plantation forests where the logs – mainly radiata pine grown as a crop for use in construction – are harvested.

By bringing the logs to the hubs, the use of rail becomes a possibility compared to the alternative of multiple truck movements. Capacity is being significantly increased on KiwiRail’s twice daily log train between the Wellington port’s inland hub facility at Waingawa in the rural Wairarapa region and the seaport, with consequent further reduction in emissions.

Delivering about 80,000 tonnes of JAS logs (Japanese Agricultural Standard) annually to the port when launched in 2012, the CentreRail service handled 330,000 tonnes at the log hub in the 2017-2018 financial year – about 25% of CentrePort’s total log volume.

The addition of 15 further wagons to the current 30-wagon service, which will be fully implemented in the coming months, is expected to add about 100,000 tonnes of annual capacity and eliminate another 6000 truck movements a year, a CentrePort spokesperson told Greenport: “Across the various CentrePort hubs, it is estimated CentreRail removes 30,000 truck movements per annum. Prior to the CentreRail service, all CentrePort log movements were by truck.”

Green outcomes

Although specific figures on the CO2 emissions being eliminated by the CentreRail service are not available, those numbers are expected to be significant – particularly given the steep and winding Rimutaka Hill Road the log trucks have to navigate on their journey from the Wairarapa to the port.

In light of current and projected growth in its log business, CentrePort is prioritising investment in both on- and off-port infrastructure to ensure it is in a position to accommodate this, confirms the port’s spokesperson. “Log volumes through CentrePort have nearly doubled since 2013 – from just under 660,000 tonnes to the 2018 volume of just over 1.3 million tonnes.

"CentrePort is tracking to achieve approximately 1.8 million tonnes in the current financial year, with total volumes forecast to be around 2.5 million to 2.8 million tonnes in the next four-to-six years. Investment into the Wairarapa service has focused on increasing the land capacity of the Waingawa log hub. That work is expected to be completed by March 2020.

“CentrePort is investing in its hub network to continue to enhance logistics supply chain solutions for customers. Investment in hub expansion/development is ongoing in the Wairarapa, Manawatu, Whanganui and Taranaki, covering a variety of cargoes. The log industry is forecast to continue to grow for several years and CentrePort is anticipating the demand for a logistics chain solution for customers.”

It is understood that KiwiRail is to introduce 200 new log wagons to its New Zealand fleet by the end of the year and is also converting a further 100 container wagons which were nearing the end of their useful life, to carry logs.

The CentrePort initiatives align with the New Zealand Government’s moves to cut transport emissions by transferring freight from road to rail, and in particular funding viability studies into logging rail hubs in other regions.

Late last year the government approved a NZ$96 million investment in the Wairarapa rail line, of which NZ$50 million was for track infrastructure for Wairarapa and $46 million on the rail line south of the Rimutaka Hill tunnel, including double-tracking on a key part of the line, to allow trains to pass in opposite directions. Freight will be the main beneficiary of this investment.



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