The first of New Zealands biggest rail transport companies, Blackhawk Transport, is to be re-launched after a decade in the black with a new operator.
The first of five new Blackhawk trains is due to open in the coming months and will operate between Auckland and Wairarapa from the beginning of next year.
Blackhawk is the first new operator to enter the market in more than a decade.
It has already been operating on the Wairarsa-Wanganui line for six decades, and its rail passenger services, with a capacity of about 2,000 passengers a day, have been in operation since 2002.
But it is the arrival of a new operating company that will be key to the operator’s long-term future.
A new operator will allow Blackhawk to increase capacity to 2,400 to 2 and a half million passengers a year, a huge jump over the existing capacity of 900,000.
In the past, the operator had been dependent on a single operator, KiwiRail, which is now being run by another company, Wirrai Rail, which has the same operator and similar services.
Now, the new operator, New Zealand Railways (NZR), will manage the trains.
With the operator now on board, the Blackhawk will be able to operate in a much more integrated manner with a different company, Kiwitrai, operating as a wholly-owned subsidiary.
NZR chief executive Mark Burdett said the new operation would give Blackhawk “the freedom to go where we can go” and give Kiwi Railways “a competitive advantage”.
“This will allow us to make the most of our existing train assets, which have proved to be hugely successful over the years,” he said.
“We have an exciting new partnership with Kiwitrail that will see the Blackhawks rail service operating in a more integrated way with a wider range of partners.”
In recent years, Blackhawks trains have been among the fastest and most reliable on the New Zealand market.
As well as running between Auckland to Wairarrapa, they also run between Wellington to the northern tip of the country, Wairau and Taupo.
There are about 40,000 trips on the Black Hawk every day, according to NZR.
However, a new operators will mean more passengers will have to pay more for the service.
For example, if the current train operator NZR runs Blackhawk, they will be required to pay NZR more to run their trains in addition to the usual NZR fare.
And there will also be additional costs for KiwiR to run Blackhawk’s services.NZR has a contract to operate the Black Hawks between the north-west and south-west, with the cost of operating between the two parts of the route.
NZR’s fares are about 30 cents more than the current price of NZR service.
The NZR agreement with KiwiRai also means Blackhawk could start operating on a different route soon.
When the first train opened, it was operating on Waikato-Waihou line between Auckland-Hauraki, Christchurch, and the Waitangi Whakatane.NZRai has been in charge of the line since December 2013 and is expected to be the next operator.NZRail has said it will operate Blackhawk between Christchurch and Waunakere and Waihou, from Auckland to Taupo, and then to Waikatu.
Transport Minister Judith Collins said the decision to re-open the lines was “a great victory for NZRail and for the country”.
Ms Collins said it would give Kiwis “a reliable and competitive rail service for the foreseeable future”.
It is expected the new company will operate from the Waverley to Whakapara line, and from Waikatane to Taupō.
Passengers will also pay more at the Waimakariri to Waima line.
Some of the new train services will be operated by New Zealand Tourism and Tourism New Zealand (T&TNZ), with other services including Auckland’s Wairaru-Wakatara line and Auckland’s Waikati-Wairua line, the two busiest lines.