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Exploring the Growth Potential of Intermodal Transport in New Zealand

Updated: Apr 4

As the world continues to grapple with the effects of climate change, it's imperative to focus on reducing carbon emissions across all sectors, including transportation. With road erosion problems in New Zealand due to extensive long-haul trucking, reduced funding for rail infrastructure, and a shortage of national maritime shipping companies, the need for a diversified and more sustainable approach to goods transportation is more critical than ever. This article delves into the opportunities that sea, rail, and truck transport present in reducing carbon emissions and improving the transportation landscape in New Zealand.

Intermodal transport use of trucks in NZ | DPS Consulting NZ
Intermodal transport use of trucks in NZ

Long Haul Trucks

Long-haul trucks have long held a dominant position in New Zealand's goods transportation sector. However, their impact on the country's roads and the environment cannot be overlooked. Heavy trucks have contributed significantly to road erosion, leading to high maintenance costs and frequent disruptions. Moreover, they are significant contributors to the country's carbon emissions. Therefore, diversifying the modes of transportation is not only an environmentally conscious move but also a strategic one.

For several reasons, trucks play a crucial role in New Zealand's intermodal transport network. Firstly, New Zealand is comprised of two islands, meaning that goods need to be transported efficiently between the North and South Islands. Trucks provide a flexible and reliable mode of transportation to move goods to and from ports and inland distribution centres.

Additionally, trucks are vital for providing last-mile delivery services, delivering goods directly to businesses and consumers. This is especially important in urban areas where access by other modes of transport may be limited. Trucks also allow for door-to-door delivery, offering convenience and speed in the supply chain.

Furthermore, trucks can reach remote and rural areas where other modes of transport, such as trains or ships, may need to be more practical and cost-effective. This is essential for connecting all regions of New Zealand and ensuring access to goods and services across the country.

As such, trucks are a key component of New Zealand's intermodal transport network due to their flexibility, reliability, and ability to reach various destinations efficiently. Their role in transporting goods between islands, providing last-mile delivery services, and reaching remote areas makes them an indispensable part of the country's logistics and supply chain infrastructure.

While trucks are a valuable part of New Zealand's transport network, balancing their use with other modes of transport can help address environmental, infrastructure, cost, and energy challenges associated with over-reliance on trucks. A more diversified and integrated transport system can lead to a more sustainable and efficient logistics network for New Zealand.

Intermodal transport use of coastal shipping in NZ | DPS Consulting NZ
Intermodal transport use of coastal shipping in NZ

Maritime Transport

Maritime transport is a promising alternative. Despite the lack of sufficient national maritime shipping companies in New Zealand, sea freight could significantly reduce carbon emissions. Ships can transport large quantities of goods over long distances, reducing the number of journeys and thus, the overall emissions. Additionally, adopting technologies such as energy-efficient engines and optimal hull designs could further decrease fuel consumption. To enhance the effectiveness of coastal shipping, New Zealand could incentivise the establishment of more maritime companies and invest in national carrier port infrastructure.

With its expansive coastline and significant reliance on international trade, New Zealand is uniquely positioned to benefit from enhanced maritime coastal goods delivery services. The country's archipelagic nature, combined with our economic structure which leans heavily on exports and imports, makes maritime transport a crucial element of our logistics and transportation framework. Increased investment in this sector could unlock economic, environmental, and societal benefits.

Economic Benefits

Cost Efficiency: Maritime transport is renowned for cost-effectiveness, especially over long distances. By investing in coastal delivery services, businesses can reduce their transportation expenses. Lower shipping costs lead to reduced cost of goods for consumers and higher margins for producers, stimulating economic activity across various sectors.

Boost to Local Industry: Enhancing coastal shipping capabilities could invigorate local shipbuilding and maintenance industries, creating jobs and fostering technical expertise. Furthermore, it would provide growth opportunities for ports and related services, such as logistics and warehousing, contributing to the broader economy.

International Trade: Improved maritime services would streamline the export-import process, making New Zealand products more competitive globally. Efficient coastal shipping can link inland producers and international shipping lanes, enhancing the country's trade capabilities.

Environmental Benefits

Reduced Carbon Footprint: Shipping is among the most carbon-efficient transportation forms. By shifting a more significant portion of the domestic freight load from road and rail onto coastal shipping, New Zealand can significantly lower its transport-related emissions, aligning with our climate goals.

Decreased Road Congestion and Wear: Less reliance on trucks for long-haul transportation would alleviate congestion on roads, improving travel times and reducing the maintenance burden on national highways. This shift could also lead to a reduction in accidents and enhance overall road safety.

Societal and Operational Benefits

Resilience and Redundancy: Strengthening coastal shipping provides an additional layer of resilience to New Zealand's transport network, which is essential given the country's susceptibility to natural disasters. In events where road or rail infrastructure is compromised, maritime routes can serve as vital lifelines for delivering goods.

Accessibility: Improved maritime services would greatly benefit rural and remote communities, particularly those on smaller islands. Enhanced coastal shipping can ensure more regular and reliable delivery of goods to these areas, improving living standards and economic opportunities.

Tourism Potential: In addition to goods delivery, investment in maritime infrastructure can boost the tourism sector by facilitating cruise ship operations and coastal sightseeing tours, further diversifying the country's tourism offerings.

Increased investment in maritime coastal goods delivery services represents a significant opportunity for New Zealand to bolster its economy, enhance environmental sustainability, and improve societal outcomes. The strategic importance of maritime transport for an island nation cannot be overstated, and by tapping into this potential, New Zealand can secure a more prosperous, sustainable, and resilient future.

Intermodal transport use of trains in NZ | DPS Consulting NZ
Intermodal transport use of trains in NZ


Rail transport, although currently underfunded, is another viable option. Trains are more fuel-efficient than trucks and emit fewer greenhouse gases per ton-kilometre. An increase in funding for rail infrastructure upkeep could bolster rail transport's efficiency and reduce the strain on road networks. Electrification of rail networks and using renewable energy sources could make rail transport even more sustainable.

Underfunding rail infrastructure has long been an issue in many countries, and New Zealand is no exception. The nation's rail system is a crucial component of its transport framework, supporting the movement of people and goods. However, the lack of significant investment has led to various challenges over the years. Yet, the benefits of investing in rail infrastructure are substantial, underscoring the need for more dedicated funding and attention to this vital sector.

The Issues Stemming from Underfunding

Aging Infrastructure: Much of New Zealand's rail infrastructure, including tracks, bridges, and stations, is ageing and needs significant maintenance or upgrades. Without adequate funding, the deterioration of these assets progresses, potentially leading to operational inefficiencies and safety hazards.

Limited Service Reach and Frequency: The current state of underfunding restricts the expansion of rail services into more regions and the frequency of trains. This limitation not only affects passenger convenience but also hampers businesses' ability to rely on rail for freight transport, leading them to depend more heavily on road transport.

Environmental Impact: Rail transport is widely recognised for its efficiency and environmental "friendliness" with a 70% reduction in emissions compared with road freight. However, the lack of investment in rail infrastructure hinders New Zealand's efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and combat climate change.

Economic Implications: The rail system's inefficiencies and limitations can have broad economic ramifications. For businesses, this means higher transport costs and delays. For the economy, it reduces competitiveness and potential job losses in sectors reliant on efficient freight and logistics networks.

The Benefits of Investing in Rail Infrastructure

Environmental Sustainability: Investing in modern, efficient rail systems could dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by shifting freight and passenger transport away from roads and into a more sustainable mode of transport.

Economic Growth: Enhancing rail infrastructure can bring considerable economic benefits. Improved freight services can reduce transport costs for businesses, making New Zealand products more competitive on the international stage. Moreover, the construction and modernisation of rail networks generate jobs and stimulate local economies.

Congestion Reduction: By making rail a more viable option for freight and passengers, road traffic can be significantly reduced. This decreases travel times and pollution and lowers the cost of road maintenance and expansion needs.

Enhanced Safety: Rail is among the safest modes of transport for both goods and passengers. Investing in rail infrastructure contributes to further reducing accidents associated with road transport, thereby saving lives and reducing healthcare costs.

The case for investing in New Zealand's rail infrastructure is clear. While the challenges of underfunding are significant, the benefits of a well-funded, efficient, and modern rail system can transform the country's economic landscape, enhance its environmental sustainability, and improve the quality of life for its citizens. Policymakers, businesses, and the public must recognise and act on this opportunity, ensuring that rail transport can fulfil its potential as a cornerstone of New Zealand's transport infrastructure.

Intermodal Transport

Overall, New Zealand could optimise efficiency and significantly reduce carbon emissions by integrating sea, rail, and truck transportation into a cohesive logistics strategy. This approach, known as intermodal transportation, utilises the most efficient mode of transport for each journey segment. It's a win-win situation, leading to cost savings and a reduced carbon footprint. If New Zealand can shift from heavy reliance on long-haul trucking to a balanced mix of sea, rail, and truck transport, it is a viable solution to New Zealand's current transportation issues. With strategic investments and policy changes, the country can pave the way for a sustainable and efficient goods transportation system, reducing climate change impacts and improving road conditions.


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