Slow progress made on wagon repairs

Kiwirail's controversial Chinese-made freight wagons continue to cause problems.

More than a dozen China CNR Corporation staff and a team of translators, working under the supervision of KiwiRail staff, have been carrying out repair work on 500 faulty wagons for the past two weeks in Picton.

KiwiRail was also using the period to upgrade wagon brake components, KiwiRail spokeswoman Jenni Austin said, although she declined to reveal the cost of the upgrade work.

''It is work we planned to do anyway to bring the wagons in line with a new standardised design.''

The work was being completed under warranty, but Rail and Maritime Transport Union general secretary Wayne Butson yesterday said that was ''a false economy''.

''Without transparency of costs, it is hard to see whether the warranty work does, in reality, come at no cost.

''Is the loss of revenue while these wagons are out of service being taken into account? Is the involvement of KiwiRail staff supervising the Chinese workers being realised? ''When all costs are totalled, the result will support the RMTU and our members' views that the new wagons should have been built at Hillside.''

The state-owned enterprise was criticised after its decision to award the $49 million contract to CNR Corporation, rather than have the wagons built at its workshops in Dunedin and Lower Hutt, The loss of work contributed to 44 workers being made redundant at Hillside.

Basic problems would have been avoided if the wagons had been designed and manufactured in Dunedin, Mr Butson said.

The repair work was also ''running way behind schedule'', he claimed.

''We are told the Chinese will not work. They have two-hour lunches and so KiwiRail now provides them with food ... to get them back to work quicker.

''Our questions around what they are being paid and where they are staying are being stonewalled.''

The Chinese were repairing about two wagons a day, Ms Austin said.

It was hoped that would increase to three or four a day within the next month.

KiwiRail had estimated it would cost about 25% more to build the wagons in New Zealand, but that was a short-sighted view, Mr Butson said.

''Value is not just money, nor is it just the purchase price. It is also about ongoing repairs and maintenance work, as KiwiRail are finding out,'' he said.

nigel.benson@odt.co.nz

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