New rail lines, better trains, and stations could be on the way for rail users, after the Government signalled it will continue to invest heavily in rail.
The Government today unveiled its Rail Plan, which sets out a vision for what it wants to get out of the country’s rail network over the next decade and – in broad terms – how it plans to achieve it.
It considers the future of things like further electrification of the network, double tracking between Auckland and Hamilton, the completion of the fourth main line, Westfield to Pukekohe in Auckland, and reducing the length of single track on the Kāpiti North Line in Wellington.
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The strategy doesn’t promise specific projects or funding, but it gives KiwiRail and Transport officials over at the Ministry of Transport and Waka Kotahi-NZ Transport Agency a strong indication of what investments the Government would like in rail over the next decade.
It’s also a strong signal from Labour that it plans to continue to invest in rail, even without its enthusiastically pro-rail coalition partner NZ First, who held rail delegations in the previous Government and helped get $5 billion worth of rail funding commitments over the line.
The plan was commissioned alongside a report into the value of rail, which the Government says proves the value of rail to the economy “far exceeds” the investments the Government has made in the network.
“Rail is worth up to $2.1 billion to our economy every year and reduces emissions and congestion.
“Annually it prevents 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions and 26 million car trips in Auckland and Wellington,” said transport minister Michael Wood.
The rail plan looks at the closer integration of how rail is funded and investments are planned for. Under legislation passed last year, KiwiRail will draw up a plan of rail investment for the Minister every three years.
Those investments will be funded either fully or in part from the National Land Transport Fund, the pot of money paid for thanks mainly to fuel taxes and road user charges.
Under the new legislation, trains will also pay into the fund thanks to track user charges, although it’s not clear how onerous these will be, with the Government saying it’s wary of the pressure the charges would place on transport operators, “particularly those who rely on passengers, including tourists,” who may still be facing reduced patronage thanks to Covid-19.
That doesn’t mean an end to road users subsidising tracks. While track users will contribute to the pot of money, the Government is keen to continue its “multi-modal” approach to transport it began last term, where transport investments in road, rail, and shipping are looked at equally and as part of the wider transport system.
The report said that Crown funding – meaning money from general taxation – will also be put into the NLTF to fund rail.
A new rail line, for example, might be assessed in terms of the pressure it would relieve on congestion by taking trucks off the roads.
The first such plan, a Rail Network Investment Programme or RNIP is meant to be ready by the middle of this year.
State-Owned Enterprises Minister David Clark said the investments would create jobs for the economic recovery.
“KiwiRail’s work renewing the Northland Rail line supported more than 560 jobs, and work to replace the existing maintenance building at Hillside will support around 100 more.
“Our investments like the new Hamilton to Auckland service Te Huia meant 40 new staff and apprentices have been taken on at Hutt Workshops. We’re building a sustainable 21st century rail network and supporting jobs,” Clark said.