Moving freight around the country is obviously quite important to our economy and making that task easier has been a key reason behind the governments Roads of National Significance programme. Yesterday the Ministry of Transport released an update to its National Freight Demand Study. Here’s the introduction to it.

The movement of freight plays a vital role in a modern economy. The freight task in New Zealand is substantial, moving the equivalent of about 50 tonnes per year for each member of the population. Given the size of the freight task and its importance throughout the economy especially in supporting the movement of exports where the costs and quality of freight transport services may be particularly critical, effective planning is important to ensure that the freight sector is able deliver effective support for the wide range of activities in the agricultural industrial and commercial sectors. This planning needs to be supported by an understanding of the sector and of the different activities which it encompasses.

The National Freight Demands Study undertaken in 2008 (2008 NFDS) was possibly the first attempt to provide a comprehensive understanding of the sector and to provide forecasts of future activity at both a nationwide and regional level which could be used as the basis for this planning. However with the passage of time the results have become outdated, especially given the advent of the global economic crisis which emerged just as the study was being completed. This study therefore updates the earlier work and also takes the opportunity to expand the analysis, taking account of additional experience in this area and including additional sources of data particularly those derived from the Freight Information Gathering System (FIGS) developed by the Ministry of Transport. These were not available for the earlier work.

Freight movements have been measured two ways, by weight (tonnes) and by distance (tonne-kms). As expected roads are still carrying the bulk of our freight with 91% of the tonnes and 70% of the tonne-kms. Comparing the changes in freight volumes, perhaps the most interesting aspect is that overall while the total tonnes have increased slightly (up 5%) the tonne-kms actually fallen slightly (down 2%). There were only slight changes in mode share with only rail seeing an increase across both measures.

Diving a little deeper the report breaks freight volumes down by the type of freight being moved which shows some key differences between different types of freight. For example while General freight is the largest commodity group by weight, it doesn’t have nearly the same impact on a tonne-km basis as many trips are likely to be local ones.

The changes in some of the selected commodities since 06/07 is shown below and in itself if fascinating as it shows some big increases in the dairy and forestry sectors but a big decline in aggregates in particular. If anything with all of the road building going on I would have thought aggregates would have been up.

The report even manages to break the regions where freight is going to and from. This is just the Tonnes measure but a quick calculation shows that the region that has the highest percentage of freight leave for somewhere else in NZ is Taranaki with 40% destined for elsewhere while the region with the least freight leaving it is Northland with only 10% (4.9 million tonnes) leaving the region. That’s quite a key point as one of the things we’ve long suggested is that if the government was really about helping Northland, it wouldn’t be building the Puhoi to Wellsford RoNS but would instead spend a decent chunk of that money on actually improving transport in Northland itself.

Going forward freight volumes are predicted to keep rising with the biggest increases by origin being in Auckland which is largely due to its population growth and associated increases in economic activity. Auckland is also expected to continue to grow as a national distribution centre. Modeshare changes have also been predicted and despite the recent increase in the use of rail to move freight around, the prediction is for trucks to handle a a larger share. It will mean a lot more trucks on the roads (~48% more) and freight trains on the tracks (~44%) to get goods around.


We’ve suggested before that something we should look at in more detail is rolling out truck only lanes to some key routes which is something that would be possible with better alternatives for commuters like the CFN. It also means the third main from Westfield south to Papakura is going to be essential but perhaps we will eventually need a fourth too. On the issue of the third main I’ve heard that the total cost to complete it is only $39 million and the only reason it isn’t being built is that Kiwirail are trying to force Auckland Transport to pay for it using the argument that if they don’t that there will be increased impact on passenger services.

There are also big increases predicted in Canterbury, Waikato and Bay of Plenty. Of course the latter two form part of the “Golden Triangle” through which large amounts of freight already flow.

Show more