- Watts Shipping Register
- Watts Shipping Register
New Zealand Railways
Notes by John Brown and from Ray Munro's book "Cook Strait Ferries as I Knew Them".
In 1898 it was suggested by the then Prime Minister that a regular Wellington - Picton ferry service should be established and indeed the Union Steam Ship Company started a regular service about that time. Four years later his successor predicted that a rail connection across Cook Strait was "bound to come". Various reports in subsequent years were adverse to the proposal even one after the rail link from Christchurch to Picton was completed in 1945.
In 1958 a Cook Strait Transport Inquiry Committee issued a report recommending a roll on/roll off rail and road ferry. The Union Company declined a Government suggestion to construct and operate a proposed ship and the following year New Zealand Government Railways announced that they would build a ship that would commence service in 1962. The design and construction was overseen by Railways General Manager Alan Gandell and Marine Department naval architect Hugh Jones in conjunction with British consultants Burness Corlett and Partners. A contract was signed in 1960 with William Denny and Brothers to build the first ship. Denny's had a long association with ships in New Zealand and in particular with the Union Company. This was early days for roll on roll off ships. Many mariners were sceptical. It was a new concept and already one such vessel had sunk in the Irish Sea in 1953. A similar ferry although not rail, started operating across Bass Strait about the same time.
The first ship, ARAMOANA, arrived in Wellington in July 1962. It had many innovations in addition to the roll on roll off concept. The bridge was completely enclosed which was an anathema to masters of the day; it had a gyro compass, 2 radars, a bow thruster and a bow rudder (which was never used) and stabilisers. It had 6 diesel engines generating direct current power to four electric engines on 2 shafts and usually operated on 3 or 4 diesel engines. The engines were similar to those on the diesel electric locomotives operated by New Zealand Railways and were designed to be removed for major servicing although this never occurred. ARAMOANA commenced service on 13 August 1962 when it replaced the aging Union Company ship TAMAHINE. It started with 6 return crossing a week departing Wellington at 1000 and Picton at 1420 Monday to Saturday. Although the Government owned the ship, NZ Railways arranged cargo which was all on rail but it was managed by Union Steam Ship Company who supplied the staff. It was not long before the number of sailings was doubled. In its last year of operation TAMAHINE carried 60,000 passengers, 11,000 cars and 14,000 tons of cargo. ARAMOANA'S first year resulted in 207,000 passengers, 46,000 cars and 181,000 tons of cargo.
A second ship similar ship was ordered in 1963. ARANUI arrived in Wellington on 9 June 1966 from builders Vickers Armstrong, Newcastle. Both these ships were 112 metres long with service speeds of 17 knots. ARAMOANA carried 778 passengers (later increased to 800) and ARANUI carried 800 passengers later increased to 950. It the late 1960's with the onset of containers it was expected that container handling facilities would be only at one or two ports in New Zealand and that Cook Strait ferries would play an important part in cargo distribution. There were still government restrictions of the distance that road transport could carry cargo in competition to rail.
Two more ferries were built - ARAHANGA delivered in 1972 and ARATIKA in 1974. In November 1971 before the delivery of ARAHANGA, New Zealand Railways took over the complete management and manning of the ships. It already had a department called Air Sea Services. Railways had for many years' charted aircraft to carry cargo across Cook Strait and for the previous 9 years had organised cargo for the two original ferries. The Manager at the time of the take over was Ray Munro.
ARAHANGA broke new ground. It was a mainly cargo vessel but could also accommodate 40 passengers later increased to 100 and made history as the last passenger ship constructed at the famous John Brown shipyard on the Clyde then called Upper Clyde Shipbuilders. It also had a vehicle deck for trucks although in the first year of operation very few were carried because of constraints put on the vessel by waterfront workers who could see all their jobs going with this new form of moving interisland cargo. ARATIKA was built in France by Dubigeon-Normandie. And was a purely rail ship with no passengers. On her delivery voyage she had a serious engine room fire in the mid Pacific and called at Tahiti for repairs. Both these vessels were larger than the first two ships having 4 tracks for rail cargo and were powered by two diesel engines operating two variable pitch propellers. These were among the first variable pitch propellers on New Zealand ships and proved very successful in a service such as this. ARATIKA also has the bridge design in that the Master could operate the engines and thruster from his conning position. They were both 127 metres in length and had a service speed of 17 knots. They were fitted with two variable pitch bow thrusters whereas the earlier two ships had a single Voith cyclodial propeller in a transverse tunnel in addition to bow rudders which were never used. In 1976 ARATIKA was substantially altered in Hong Kong to enable it to carry, in addition to rail cargo, 70 cars and 800 passengers.
By 1980 it was planned that another ship be ordered to replace the ARAMOANA. Initially this was to about the same size as ARATIKA but the Government would not approve the expenditure unless a replacement ship could be built to replace both ARAMOANA and ARANUI. This was not simple as the berths at both Wellington and Picton restricted the beam of any ship to just over 20 metres however the original ship length was stretched by 20 metres.
ARAHURA was ordered from Aalborg Vaeft, Denmark in 1982 and delivered in 1984. 149 metres long, it was designed to carry 975 passengers which was surprising as the various maritime trade unions were very demanding and crew accommodation took much valuable passenger space. It is powered by 4 diesel engines providing alternating current to 4 electric engines, 2 on each shaft with a speed of 19 knots. Each shaft has a controllable pitch propeller. It has 2 bow thrusters and stabilisers. As with previous ferries it had some innovative features. The bridge was one of the first cockpit designs. This allows for all bridge watch keeping to be done from a sitting work station and all controls to navigate the ship are within arms reach from the sitting position. This is now standard practice on many modern ships. Berthing work stations were situated on each bridge wing allowing a one man operation. It was fitted with ARPA, radars and an auto pilot although trade union intransigence meant that this was never fully utilised. Two marine escape systems were also fitted.
With the arrival of ARAHURA, the 2 oldest ferries were sold to Saudi Arabian interests. ARANUI was still a relatively new ship only 18 years old. Both vessels continued to trade for a number of years after being sold. The name of the department was also changed to Searail and the funnels changed – the third funnel design since the first ferry. Shortly afterwards the hull colours were also changed to white.
Prior to 1983 New Zealand Government Railways was a Government Department under ministerial control. Air Sea Services was a part of this Department. From 1983 to 1991, NZ Railways was a State Owned Enterprise with more control over the handling of its finances and known as New Zealand Railways Corporation. In this time Air Sea Services became SeaRail. In 1991 NZ Railways Corporation was made a private company called NZ Rail Ltd and charged with preparing itself for sale. It was sold in 1993 and name changed to Tranzrail in 1995.
After a visit to Tasmania by four senior sea staff in 1990 to inspect and travel on one of the first fast ferries, SeaCat TASMANIA, the first of 3 fast ferries on delivery to South America called at Wellington. , who recommended that fast ferries were not economic nor suitable for Cook Strait, arrangements were made for one of the new-builds to call at Wellington on its way to the South America. This vessel was taken for a trial run across Cook Strait to Queen Charlotte Sound before it departed for the Chatham Islands and Magellan Strait. In 1994 a Christchurch businessman announced that he was starting a fast ferry run between Wellington and Picton using a monohull fast ferry ABYZAN built in Spain. NZ Rail Ltd was concerned about losing market share and at short notice leased the catamaran CONDOR 10 from UK owners. This vessel arrived in Wellington in December 1994 which began 9 year association with fast ferries which usually stayed for the summer months and then returned to the northern hemisphere for the southern winter. Interestingly, the ABYSAN was troubled with engine and other problems from the start and only stayed a short time in New Zealand. Another operator, using a catamaran commenced operations in 1999 but this operation was to last only 2 years. Catamaran ferries chartered by Tranzail were 1994-1999 CONDOR 10, 1999 – 2000 CONDOR VITESSE and 2000 – 2003 INCAT 57. Tranzrail's fast ferries were all called THE LYNX, regardless of the vessels name. If nothing else, the fast ferries started a change in the type and attitude of crew employed. They were mainly young persons with no previous seagoing experience, who did not want to stay away from home overnight and preferred shift work. The last fast ferry left in 2004 probably because it was uneconomic. The enthusiasm for fast ferries, which have superficial attractions when compared to the conventional ferry, has never really delivered long-term profit, despite being able to leap about the world with the seasons.
In 1994 agreement was reached with the various unions that enabled the three conventional ferries to do six crossings daily on the 52 nautical mile run. This was achieved by splitting the deck and engine crews into 2, with each crew working 12 hours. It also introduced a second master on each ship as the local harbour authorities would not allow the master to delegate to the mate his pilotage exemption certificate. In 1995 an order was placed for a new ferry ARATERE with H J Barreras at Vigo, Spain. This vessel is the same length as ARAHURA. The building consultants used for all the previous ferries were not employed and instead company engineering staff oversaw the building. The propulsion system was of a new design - four diesel engines producing alternating power to two electric motors through frequency converters to 2 shafts each with a fixed blade propeller. There are no auxiliary engines. The bridge was designed to be manned by one watch keeper and the engine room unmanned. The bridge was fitted with a full ECDIS tracking and navigation system. It was the first ship to be fitted with an Iron Sailor mooring system which can secure the vessel to the berth by operating a switch on the bridge. There is no galley on board. There is sleeping accommodation for only 11 crew, the remainder being shift workers who come on board for one round trip.
Some things have worked, some have not. It is a very efficient cargo carrier, although at times too big to turn around in an hour, which is necessary to fit in six crossing every 24 hours. It has been plagued by engine malfunctions and failures. The scantlings in the bow proved too light for Cook Strait conditions and required strengthening. The ECDIS system proved so good that newer officers were not familiar with its workings until one day it failed without them knowing. It has now being discontinued and the vessel is steered manually.
When ARATERE arrived it replaced both ARATIKA which was sold in 1999 to Philippine interests and renamed VIRGIN MARY and ARAHANGA which was sold for scrap in 2001. ARAHANGA was the first rail ferry to be sold direct for scrapping. It did well to carry the same name with the same owners throughout her 29 year career. From 2002 the price of Tranzrail shares fell steadily and in October 2003 Tranzrail was taken over by the Australian company Toll Holdings.
With the demise of fast ferries, other ships were required. Firstly the retired Irish Sea cargo ferry PURBECK was used in 2003/2005 and in 2005 CHALLENGER ex PRIDE OF CHERBOURG was chartered. This was the largest ferry to be employed on the run at 182 metres long carrying 1600 passenger but no rail. Following a trend started with the fast ferries, although the ship is officially named CHALLENGER, it is called KAITAKI on all advertising and this name is on the bridge wings. It has a bow and stern door and berths bow first at Wellington and stern first at Picton.
In July 2008 the New Zealand Government bought back from Toll Holdings the rail and ferry operations and re branded the Company KiwiRail. The ships comprised ARAHURA which was in Singapore having some passenger accomodation removed, and two leased ships, ARATERE and KAITAKI.
ARAHURA arrived back in Wellington in September 2008 with some accomodation removed and beam extensions to deck 5 to make it easier to turn road trucks around.
In 2010 ARATERE went to Singapore and extended by 60 metres. Two more diesel engines were also fitted to assist with total power management.
NZ Railways played a major role in the start of the Shipping Corporation of New Zealand. In 1973 the Union Steam Ship Company decided to finish the service it was operating between Auckland, Lyttelton and Dunedin. Following pressure from interested parties, the Government of the day decided that it would purchase a ship to replace the WANAKA and keep the service going. The ship selected was the Finnish ship SILVIA and NZ Railways (which was still a Government Department) was instructed to operate the ship. Before the ship left Finland the Government decided that it would set up Shipping Corporation (which had been promised in the 1972 elections) and this ship would become part of that venture. The name of the ship was changed to COASTAL TRADER. NZ Railways delivered the ship to New Zealand arriving 18 February 1974 but on arrival it was taken over by the new Corporation and the delivery crew returned to the rail ferries.
See also http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/culture/cook-strait-ferries
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