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Trains in New Zealand

The Rail Network
Safety Around Trains

In New Zealand trains are used to transport both freight and people over long and short distances.

Urban passenger trains

Wellington and Auckland have an urban rail network. This means thousands of passengers can travel between suburbs and the central city. Transdev operates these services.

Long distance passenger trains

KiwiRail operates long-distance passenger trains under the Great Journeys of New Zealand brand. These include:

  • The Northern Explorer (Wellington to Auckland) on the NIMT
  • The Tranz Alpine (Christchurch to Greymouth)
  • The Coastal Pacific (Christchurch to Picton).

Freight trains

Every week over 900 freight trains move around the country. These trains transport general freight and goods.

Electric trains

Electric propulsion is ideal for use in tunnels as there is no smoke build up. New Zealand’s first electrified railway was a 14-kilometre section through the Ōtira tunnel, which opened in 1923. In 1929 electric locomotives were used on the Christchurch to Lyttelton line. This included the Lyttelton tunnel. The Lyttelton line was switched to diesel in 1970 and the Ōtira line was also switched to diesel in 1997.

Currently all electrified rail is in the North Island and includes:

  • The Wellington Metro Line
  • 65% of the North Island Main Trunk Line NIMT
  • The Auckland Metro Line.

The Wellington Metro Line includes the Johnsonville, Kāpiti, Hutt Valley and Melling lines.

460 kilometres of the North Island Main Trunk Line is electrified in three separate sections. These sections are between:

  • Wellington and Waikanae
  • Palmerston North and Te Rapa (Hamilton)
  • Papakura and Auckland Britomart.

The Auckland Metro Line was completed in 2015 and runs from Swanson in the west to Papakura in the south. This includes the Manukau and Onehunga branch lines. This line is helping to reduce road traffic in Auckland by providing more public transport.

Train Control

The Train Control Centre is in Wellington. All of New Zealand’s trains are controlled from here. Trains are located using GPS and tracked so train controllers can manage signal changes.

Upgrading New Zealand's Rail Network

The government will invest a billion dollars to support the redevelopment of KiwiRail. This includes:

  • $375 million for new wagons and locomotives
  • $331 million to invest in track and other supporting infrastructure
  • $300 million for the development of rail outside of large cities
  • and $35 million to begin the process of replacing current ferries that are nearing the end of their lives.

The Auckland City Rail Link also has funding. When completed this link will provide the equivalent of 16 extra lanes of traffic into the city centre during peak times.

The railway is private property

Railway tracks and rail yards are private property. You are trespassing and can be prosecuted if you;

  • Cross railway tracks anywhere other than on an official level crossing.
  • If you enter railway property without permission.

Ready for a quiz? Try the 'Trains in New Zealand' activity.

Audio Māori keywords: 

Do you think it is important for the government to spend money on our rail network and why do you think this?

KiwiRail manages long distance passenger and freight trains in New Zealand. Image: TrackSAFE.

There are three main tourist trains in New Zealand, including the TranzAlpine. Image: TrackSAFE.

Wellington has a suburban rail network providing public transport on electric trains. Image: TrackSAFE.

Auckland also has a metro link which opened in 2015 offering public transport in Auckland. Image: TrackSAFE.

The Rail Network
Safety Around Trains