Gerry Brownlee spoke this week to the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce on the possibility of the terminal for the Interislander ferries moving from Picton to Clifford Bay. He stressed no decision has been made, but his speech was all about the benefits of doing so and suggests that a positive decision is likely. Some extracts:
By bringing travel times down between our major population centres, we could increase trade between the two islands and in doing so increase economic prosperity.
We have made no decisions, but information to date has suggested we need to further test the viability.
Clearly any benefits must be weighed against the cost of developing and operating a port.
It would need to be a commercially viable and sustainable operation.
Decreased travel times is good for trade and tourism.
By way of comparison a Clifford Bay terminal would cut 30 minutes off the ferry trip between North and South Islands.
The road trip from Wellington to Christchurch would be 50 minutes shorter and the same rail journey would reduce by 80 minutes.
So a road trip would be 80 minutes quicker and rail would be 110 minutes quicker – almost two hours. Knocking 80 minutes off a 480 minute journey is 15% improvement – very significant.
Because of the steep terrain between Picton and Clifford bay, there would be a one-third reduction in fuel burnt when transporting freight by rail to Christchurch.
The shorter ferry journey would mean ships could be more productive, making more journeys.
Better for the environment also.
Speed restrictions through the Marlborough Sounds limit the number of return sailings ferries can make each day.
Two of the ferries have ‘grandfathered’ speeds – meaning they do not have speed restrictions – and can complete three return trips a day.
That fleet is nearing the end of its economic life and will need expensive replacements.
And replacements are going to be harder to find, as internationally rail ferries are rapidly falling out of favour with operators.
Larger, faster ships are becoming the norm.
But if the route stays the same those replacement ferries will also be speed restricted.
These restrictions affect operating efficiency and cost, and any potential tightening of the speed restrictions will further constrain ferry services.
If you can’t get as many sailings out of the fleet, more ships will be need to provide the same capacity.
And that comes at a high cost.
That suggests that Picton is just not very viable in the long-term.
I think it is clear the Government would like a new terminal at Clifford Bay. The challenge is who builds is, and for how much.