The discovery of asbestos in KiwiRail trains built in
China - after Dunedin's Hillside Engineering Workshops was
overlooked for the work - shows what can go wrong with
cost-cutting, Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull says.
He was commenting after 40 of KiwiRail's locomotives were
withdrawn from service following the discovery of the
potentially deadly material in a soundproofing compound
inside one of the vehicles on Friday.
The discovery has prompted health fears for workers
potentially exposed to asbestos but Mr Cull told the Otago
Daily Times it also showed the problems that came with a
narrow focus on the bottom line.
''This is an example of why you have to look at all the
costs, not just the financial ones.
''If you only think of the financial costs, and not of what
effect will this have on the resilience of our engineering
sector, or our ability to be self-sufficient, or whatever,
then you're likely to get some surprises.''
Rail and Marine Transport Union general secretary Wayne
Butson said as well as raising health concerns for KiwiRail
workers, the wider issue concerned Government procurement
''skewed towards'' seeking the cheapest option.
''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
Hillside closed in 2012, ending 130 years of history with the
loss of about 130 jobs. The closure came after KiwiRail opted
to order 40 locomotives, at a total cost of about $150
million, from China.
The locomotives had since been plagued by a string of faults,
before the latest discovery of asbestos, it was confirmed.
Initial tests confirmed the asbestos was contained and not a
health risk, KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy said.
However, further testing would be carried out today to see if
the material had leaked into the air or on to surfaces of any
of the trains.
Mr Butson said the situation 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.
KiwiRail at the weekend said the inclusion of asbestos in the
trains was in breach of a contract specification which
clearly stated the material should not be used.
Additional reporting by Patrice Dougan, of