AUGUST saw a doubling of bulk milk traffic handled so successfully during the 1997 season by Tranz Rail on New Zealand’s North Island. Where two daily services sufficed last year, four loaded trains are now timed to arrive at 6h intervals at Kiwi Co-operative Dairies’ plant at Whareroa. It takes 4h to unload a train, the gaps being used to discharge road tankers.

When Tranz Rail secured the contract last year to carry 1·3 million litres of milk a day from Oringi in Southern Hawkes Bay to Whareroa, using two block trains of demountable tanks, road interests were given cause for serious thought. There are few commodities more time-sensitive than fresh milk, and the financial penalties of a significant delay are serious. Road captured milk from rail many decades ago, and in a small country where rail speeds are relatively low most people assumed it would never return. If Tranz Rail can keep milk processors happy, the way is open to bid for any time-sensitive traffic offering regular tonnages.

The new trains originate at Longburn, near Palmerston North; the trip to Whareroa takes 5h compared to 7h from Oringi. In both cases, two diesels are required to haul 16 wagon trains grossing 1152 tonnes up gradients of 2·9%. Two passing loops have had to be reinstated on the Taranaki line to handle reliably the extra trains now scheduled just when Kiwi wants. o