Chinese-built trains pulled from service in New Zealand amid asbestos fears

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
5 March 2014

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5 March 2014 | Will Green

KiwiRail in New Zealand has pulled 40 locomotives from service after asbestos was discovered in them – in breach of a contract with the Chinese supplier.

The locomotives have been removed on safety grounds until tests have been completed, after “routine testing of a paint sample indicated the possible presence of asbestos”, said KiwiRail.

The DL locomotives were built and supplied by China-based Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Company Ltd, which confirmed the presence of “white asbestos” in a soundproofing compound, according to KiwiRail.

KiwiRail said the inclusion of asbestos was “in breach of the contract specification which clearly stated no asbestos”.

The state-owned enterprise said: “Additionally assurances had been sought and given last year, following reports of asbestos in Chinese-manufactured locomotives in Australia.”

KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy said: “We are clearly very disappointed with this situation and working closely with the manufacturers to understand how this could possibly have occurred.  They have taken full responsibility for this and have undertaken to do whatever is necessary to rectify the situation as quickly as possible for us.”

He added: “With the safety of our people our priority, we will not resume using the DL locomotives until the full results have been received. However, preliminary results so far from air tests taken from 11 locomotives show no presence of airborne asbestos fibres. Our intention is to have the testing independently validated before we determine the appropriate next steps.”

Wayne Butson, general secretary of the Rail and Maritime Transport Union, said New Zealand’s asbestos regulations were “inadequate” and that “trains built locally would not have contained asbestos”.

“Instead the government took a short-sighted view of procurement with these DL locomotives and went for the cheapest possible option, regardless of the consequences, and in the process have put the safety of their workforce at risk,” he said.

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