Location: front left seat EE set now departed
NIMT electrification milestone reached this week
As KiwiRail engineers work on the
electrification of the Auckland rail
network, the business paused this
week to remember a milestone in the
electrification of the North Island Main
On March 2, 25 years ago, a ninekilometre
section of line between
Palmerston North and Bunnythorpe was
electrified – the first section of Trunk to
Electrification of the North Island Main
Trunk Line between Palmerston North
and Hamilton was one of the “Think
Big” projects, introduced as a response
to the second oil price shock in the
A number of KiwiRail engineers and
staff members worked on the project,
including Palmerston North’s Dave
Coleman and Wellington’s Allan Neilson.
Today, Dave Coleman is a traction
trainer passing his knowledge and skills
on to others, At the time, he was the
local traction manager responsible for
the building and commissioning of the
sub-stations along the route and was part of the team that carried out the final
inspection of the overhead wires prior to
acceptance from the contractor.
“It was one of the big moments in my
career. It was such a large project,” he said.
Twenty-five years ago, Allan Neilson
was a senior engineer working on the
signalling associated with the project.
Today he’s KiwiRail’s Manager Traction
and Electrical Engineering.
“It was a major milestone in the careers
of the people involved,” he says. “It
was a huge, exciting project. It dwarfed
anything of the kind done before that.”
Allan Neilson says the experience gained
on the North Island Main Trunk has been
valuable as the business works through the
electrification of the Auckland network.
Although contractors did the physical
work of erecting the traction poles and
wiring, the then New Zealand Rail
handled all the issues associated with
There were obvious ones like signalling,
sub-stations, earthing and bonding, and
electrical protection for property and
structures. But there were less obvious, but equally important issues, like educating
people about the presence of high voltage
wiring along the rail network.
“We did a lot of work on making the
general public and different groups that
cross the network, aware of the dangers
that electrification brought with it.
“We’ve also been fortunate enough to
retain a lot of the skill and knowledge that
was developed at the time,” he says.
Dave Coleman remembers the mid 1980s
as a time when staffing levels were being
reduced. The practical effect of this
was turning people who had worked in
some other rail discipline, into traction
It also meant having to make do with
a minimum of equipment and very
“I had a group due to start work in
Hamilton on a Monday morning at
7.30,” he said. “I told Head Office they
didn’t have a vehicle, didn’t have any tools
and they didn’t have a depot.
“I managed to get a second-hand truck
and an old building for a depot that was