Asbestos scare in Chinese-made trains

Cost-cutting by KiwiRail could cost workers their lives if tests on Chinese-made trains show positive results for asbestos, the train drivers' union says.

It comes after 40 of the state-owned company's locomotives were taken out of action following the discovery of the potentially deadly material in a soundproofing compound inside one of the vehicles on Friday.

Initial tests had confirmed the asbestos was contained and not a health risk, KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy said. However, further testing will be carried out tomorrow to see if the material had leaked into the air or onto surfaces of any of the trains.

Wayne Butson, general secretary of the Rail and Marine Transport Union (RMTU), said the situation had left many workers fearing for their health and that of their families.

"There's the likelihood that they may either have breathed in asbestos fibres and be susceptible then to what is essentially a death sentence if it materialises in the lungs and triggers mesothelioma, or they may have taken it home in their clothing, put it into the washing machine and therefore any member of the family is at risk as well," he said.

"So members are extremely concerned about all of this."

Tests that were carried out last year on the locomotives, following revelations that Chinese-manufactured vehicles in Australia contained the product, had given the locomotives the all clear, he said.

"So clearly that's not true, and unfortunately the same company that's testing them now is the same one that tested them last year, and so there may be a wider discussion around that," Mr Butson said, adding that it is not illegal to import asbestos into New Zealand, as it is in other countries.

However, the wider issue was around Government procurement "skewed towards" seeking the cheapest option, he said.

"These Chinese locos cost us a railway workshop in Dunedin, they cost us hundreds of skilled jobs, and now they may end up costing some of our members their lives, potentially.

"If these locos had been made in Dunedin, or even in any other first world country, we wouldn't be putting up with this rubbish. It's pretty symptomatic of why most Kiwis are sceptical about anything that comes out of China."

Earlier KiwiRail said the inclusion of asbestos in the trains was in breach of a contract specification which clearly stated the material should not be used.

"We are clearly very disappointed with this situation and working closely with the manufacturers to understand how this could possibly have occurred. They have taken full responsibility for this and have undertaken to do whatever is necessary to rectify the situation as quickly as possible for us," Mr Reidy said.

- Patrice Dougan of APNZ


Wait till the news that the 500 chinese made wagons need their brake valves replaced, cost $10,000 per wagon! All because KiwiRail accepted out dated technology to once again choose cheap over quality.

Well said

Well said Trev, 100 per cent correct.

Railway terminology mis-use

Just for writers and broadcasters clarification. A railway locomotive is not a "train."A "train" is a locomotive plus carriages and/or wagons. Rolling stock is all units that run on rails - powered or unpowered.  The asbestos is in the soundproofing within the locomotives - not wagons. 


Well, it looks like we have well and truly failed our people with the Chinese carriages. We put New Zealand second, we put people out of work, polluted the environment by using carbon for them to be transported here. Yes we paid money into that. Yes the carriages are an inferior product. Should we be ashamed for this? What makes New Zealand a great country is that it looks after its people, even though this seems on the decline recently.

Bad purchasing policy by KiwiRail

The asbestos problem is symptomatic of the poor quality of Chinese made rail locomotives and rolling stock. Typical bad purchasing policy by KiwiRail where they buy cheap and pay long. They have never heard of Whole-of-life purchasing or if they have they ignore it at the Government's demand. If KiwiRail had chosen to pay for a highly qualified NZ quality control person on-site during the design and construction of these locomotives, then the problem would not have happened. Nor would the loco cab redesign, nor the wagon welding problems. Nor the many other problems. But not KiwiRail - oh no! They would say it would cost too much! Well how about the $$$ totally lost through having the locomotives unavailable while being checked? Or did KiwiRail buy excess Loco's in case of these sort of disasters happening, thereby wasting more $$$?   

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