By Peter Owens
Hillside Engineering Group is a division of KiwiRail Limited. It is also a major New Zealand heavy engineering company. The massive buildings housing Hillside’s operations have been familiar to thousands of sports fans for well over 100 years as they loom over the northern end of Carisbrook Ground, the scene of many international sporting features.
However, few of those thousands ever really knew just what went on at the Hillside plant. In fact the Hillside Workshops (as they were then known), were built late last century to build and maintain rolling stock for New Zealand Railways, a government department. New Zealand Railways also established a similar facility at Addington in Christchurch. This was closed some years ago and no trace of it exists anymore.
Hillside became the sole engineering facility for New Zealand Rail and retained that role when the government sold its entire interests to Toll Holdings Limited. However, its entire undertaking was incorporated into a number of registered companies, which today operate under the name of the Hillside Engineering Group. From being a government department Hillside became a commercial entity. It could no longer rely on Government financial backing and had to stand on its own financial feet.
From being regarded as just another government operation from the grey days when the government tightly controlled the New Zealand economy, Hillside Engineering Group is now highly regarded for its work both in Dunedin and throughout New Zealand.
Hillside current operations consist of a Components Unit, which incorporates a machine shop, Inventory group and foundry, and a Projects Unit, which performs all project work, both fabrication and refurbishment. In doing this the group has joined the mainstream of the long tradition of heavy engineering in Dunedin. This began in the 1860s with the gold rushes and which has continued, unabated since that time.
Since incorporation, Hillside Engineering is no longer just focussed on railway work. According to site manager, Kevin Kearney, it is now active in the New Zealand heavy engineering market. In order to establish itself in this role, the group has now focussed on providing value added products and services, while building strong business relationships with its customers and suppliers.
Having done this, Hillside aims to maintain its leading position in the heavy engineering industry by ensuring staff are not only qualified and competent for the tasks they are required to undertake, but also adaptable to every change of circumstances that may arise. At the same time, the group’s organisational knowledge and capacity and performance are constantly under review.
Currently, Hillside is working on a $63 million, two-year contract to rebuild 36 railcars, imported from Britain, for Auckland metropolitan rail. These are 30 SA railcars and six SD railcars from British Rail. The first of the “remanufactured” railcars will be commissioned in June next year and all 36 will be in operation by the end of 2010.
The latest contract will bring to 104 the number of SA-SD railcars delivered to the Auckland Regional Transport Authority from Hillside.
Other engineering companies in the Dunedin area have welcomed the $63 million contract with the Auckland Regional Authority. Hillside Engineering Group is a company member of the Dunedin City Council Engineering Cluster.
This is a corporate engineering cluster of companies facilitated by the Dunedin City Council’s Economic Development Unit. Members co-operate in the completion of large contracts undertaken by individual members. It means Dunedin engineering companies can confidently tender for major contracts even when they themselves do not have all the skilled staff or facilities to undertake the work by themselves.
Having won the Auckland Regional Authority contract to “re-manufacture” the 36 railcars from the United Kingdom, Hillside Engineering will be sub-contracting a significant section of the work to other companies in Dunedin.
Since 2004 Hillside Engineering Group has won contracts worth $150 million. Kevin Kearney believes the new government ownership of the rail network may increase further business opportunities.
KiwiRail now owns about 150 locomotives, most of which are more than 30 years old, plus 3500-4000 rail wagons around the country, including many out of commission and requiring repair or replacement.