International Cruise and Ferry Review - Autumn/Winter 2019

101 explains. “To do otherwise, keeping them in the dark with a ‘them and us’ mentality, is simply wrong. They are the Interislander brand and if they don’t feel valued then we have a real problem.” The ships have performed well but they are getting towards the end of life in New Zealand, so KiwiRail has started looking at a five-year design and replacement plan. “We need to introduce the latest technologies, infrastructure and all of the smarts that can be seen in the European ferry industry today,” says Thompson. “The procurement to replace the existing three- ship fleet is underway and the new vessels will enter service by 2024.” KiwiRail is placing great emphasis on the design of the ships to ensure high levels of reliability and allow for a one-hour turnaround time during peak periods. With passenger levels expected to reach 1.7 million a year by 2025, it is clear KiwiRail’s new ships would need to be bigger. “The two new train ferries will be able to transport 1,100 more passengers a day than the three currently crossing Cook Strait (Kaitaki, Aratere and Kaiarahi),” notes Thompson. “They will also need to accommodate 40 rail wagons, about 3,000 lane metres for vehicles and room for about 1,800 passengers each. The newbuild project, known as the Interislander Resilient Connection Project (iReX), will also see port services upgraded to align with the design of the new ferries. We are working with the Port Companies in Wellington and Picton on designs and delivery pathways.” In the meantime, Interislander continues to build on the advances it has achieved by committing itself to being reliable and flexible, to meeting the market and to keeping the ships’ facilities fresh. A very strong New Zealand flavour has been adopted across the fleet and ranges of food are now offered to suit all tastes – it’s a strategy that obviously works as onboard spend has doubled. But even while the business worked to shift the focus from assets to customer service, performance and reliability, there were other challenges. Some of these were significant, such as the 2016 Kaikoura earthquakes when the main north rail line between Picton and Christchurch was destroyed. KiwiRail was back on track in 2019, however, with a lift in freight and profits, and Interislander recording its best December (southern hemisphere summer) ever with fare revenue 13% ahead of pre- earthquake levels. Buoyed by Interislander’s success, Thompson now feels it is time to move on and has accepted on the role of general manager of logistics at Wellington port authority CentrePort. “We have seen unprecedented growth over recent years and given the investment and backing provided by the current government and KiwiRail leadership, I am very optimistic for its future prospects,” says Thompson. “With the restoration of faith and trust in the Interislander brand, and the business now well into the ship replacement programme, the time has come to hand over the keys to take Interislander into a new era. The team now knows what to do and to them I say, keep doing it!” C&F Interislander’s ferries provide a three-hour crossing between Wellington and Picton in New Zealand ”We have seen unprecedented growth over recent years”