KiwiRail is in the early stages of planning to replace the current fleet of three ferries with two new, large rail-enabled ferries from the mid-2020s. Our current ferries need to be replaced due to their age. We also need to accommodate future growth in passenger numbers and freight volumes.

Why new ferries?

KiwiRail is progressing plans to replace the current fleet of three ferries with two new, larger rail-enabled ferries from the mid-2020s. Our current ferries need to be replaced due to their age and we’re planning for future growth in passenger numbers and freight volumes.

This project represents a transformational investment in critical infrastructure that also provides an iconic New Zealand experience. This once-in-a-generation investment is expected to generate significant tourism, economic and environmental benefits for the whole of New Zealand.

Key project features

The key components of the project include procuring two new sister ships and upgrading both the Wellington and Waitohi Picton ferry terminals.
The new ships will be 220 metres long, compared to the current 180 metres. They will provide a maximum capacity of up to 45% more people and freight than the current fleet. While we won't require all this capacity immediately, it gives us room to grow and meet future demand.

About the new ferries

The new ferries will be bigger, cleaner and more modern than the current fleet.

They are expected to cater for 30 years’ of freight and passenger growth, carrying twice as many passengers as the current three ship fleet, 300 per cent more rail wagons and almost double the number of trucks and other vehicles.

They will be powered by a diesel electric hybrid system that is much more fuel efficient and produces significantly lower CO2 emissions. The power generation plant will also be future-proofed so KiwiRail can adapt it to new, more eco-friendly fuel sources as they become available. The ferries will run on battery power for the last part of each journey and can use either battery or shore power while at the berth.

Fitted out with the latest propulsion systems, they will produce less wake energy than the Kaitaiki does currently, even though they will be much larger. This reduces their impact on the seabed.


The new terminal design

North entry view of proposed new terminal building

Concept design for the new ferry terminal, North entry view

Concept design for the new ferry terminal, South view

Concept design for the new ferry terminal, South entry view


The new Interislander terminal building will service both rail and ferry passengers. We’re still working through the detailed requirements for the new terminal but the concept design is for a two storey option. The terminal will offer a modern customer experience with state-of-the-art check-in.

The new wharf will be 280 metres long, compared to the current wharves that are 160 metres and 186 metres long.

Other works include construction of a seawall and new jetties. The existing jetties will be demolished and we are exploring options for new jetties.


Rail corridor

Sections of the rail corridor may need to be widened and could encroach closer to some adjacent properties. In that event, we may put in place acoustic walls to reduce noise.


Transport network

We haven’t confirmed our plans yet, but we will need to make some changes to the local transport network to manage increased waits at rail crossings and other expected transport impacts.

We have shared some changes proposed as part of the Ferry Precinct Redevelopment and sought feedback on them from key stakeholders and the community. Waka Kotahi NZ Transport and KiwiRail are also looking at what additional transport changes might be needed to improve how people move around and through Waitohi/Picton.

We expect to complete this investigation work by mid-2021, and will publish additional information then.

The diagram shows the proposed layout of the new terminal and changes to the rail corridor and roading network being considered to mitigate the impacts of the new ferries.

Considering the land transport implications

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency with KiwiRail and Port Marlborough are jointly investigating the transport network adjacent to the port. The investigation will consider how introduction of the larger ships will affect the traffic and whether further improvements are needed.

Key considerations will be the access route to the port, walking and cycling impacts, safety, increased wait times at level crossings and other impacts on journey times.

The roading changes are subject to a joint transport investigation. We invited the community to share their views on how they travel in this area. Feedback closed on Tuesday 3rd November 2020 and we have published a summary of the feedback, available via this link: Transport Feedback Report