New Zealand rail operator KiwiRail has signed a $263.49m (€228m) binding contract with Stadler Rail Valencia for the delivery of 57 new locomotives.

This deal will see Stadler deliver its locomotives to New Zealand for the first time.

The contract was awarded after completing an international procurement process, which included four locomotive builders.

Produced in Spain, the locomotives will replace the South Island fleet and commence services in New Zealand between early 2024 and 2026.

KiwiRail group chief executive Greg Miller said: “These are the latest-generation locomotives, which will set up KiwiRail’s South Island freight business for many decades ahead. For rail to play its proper role in New Zealand’s freight system, we need our services to be on time, every time.

“Right now, our 65-strong South Island locomotive fleet has an average age of 47 years. Our machines have been used for 17 years, on average, beyond their economic life. The fact that some of our machines are closer to 60 than to 50 means reliability is a real issue.”

Stadler Rail’s dual-cab locomotives will be developed in line with EU emissions standards.

The vehicles will emit 25% less nitrous oxide emissions and 30% less particulate matter emissions.

The locomotives will incorporate several onboard technologies, including an auto engine start stop system that can switch off the engine when the locomotive is not moving.

To handling asset fatigue and energy performance, the locomotives will be loaded with a Train Handling System.

In addition, the units will feature a Driver Energy Reduction and Advisory System for optimal energy performance.

Miller added: “Each new locomotive will also be significantly more powerful and efficient than our current machines. This means there will be less need to use multiple locomotives to pull heavy trains, reducing fuel use and potentially reducing fleet CO₂ emissions by 20%-25%.”

The locomotives will also be installed with Remote Diagnostic System to provide data, including, fleet geographical location, speed, fuel tank status, summary indication of mileage, and more.

KiwiRail worked closely with the Rail and Maritime Transport Union, along with its locomotive engineers, to develop and customise the machines’ specifications as per its requirements.

KiwiRail recently submitted planning approval applications for two new train stations, Drury Central and Paerata, in Southern Auckland.