The Government Is Systematically Destroying Rail – The Rail Advocacy Collective

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TRAC believes that the Government’s decisions regarding non-rail enabled ferries is a direct attack on the New Zealand railway system and is similar to the previous attack on the Gisborne and Taranaki regions where they closed lines from Napier and the northern route from the Taranaki with no mandate from those regions.

TRAC National Coordinator Niall Robertson says that the mainstream media are not challenging this and appear to accept false claims without more questioning. A recent article which interviewed people from the trucking industry, but no rail advocacy or rail business people, said this, “Sector observers say if new ferries – probably two – are recommended, they won’t be rail-enabled. They say ships to take rail wagons are not being built or used much globally these days, and that KiwiRail’s proposal for a rail ship added hugely to the infrastructure cost of the now abandoned project. They say KiwiRail already has the equipment for loading and unloading containers and freight on ferries without rail wagon capacity”.

Firstly, Rail ferries for New Zealand were always bespoke builds due to New Zealand’s narrow gauge. Secondly, shore infrastructure cost was reasonable until new earthquake legislation was passed that affected to Kaiwharawhara site only. There was the possibility of looking at Kings wharf again, in light of this new knowledge or Seaview, but this was not done. Thirdly, there are still many rail ferries in the world including one that crosses the Gulf of Mexico from Mexico to Alabama. Most other rail ferries in the world that have been replaced have been so by rail bridges, tunnels or a combination of the two, which is not possible across the Cook Strait; and, finally, anyone with any knowledge of logistics will tell you that if freight has to be double handled, then time and cost is added. Robertson says that this leaves rail with a major disadvantage, meaning mode shift will go to road. Ex Railway Minister Richard Prebble said this, “The world-famous consultants, Booz, Allan and Hamilton modelled New Zealand railways. The modelling revealed the key to a sustainable railway is the rail ferries. The ferries extend the main trunk railway line [across the Cook Strait] making sending freight by rail economic”.

Mainfreight CEO Don Braid whose company uses rail as much as possible, says that such [non rail enabled] ferries would force 5700 more MainFreight trucks onto roads. That is just one company. Guy Wellwood says, “This is the wrong way for mode shift to go during a climate crisis and this will cost our country in the long run when we have to pay for the carbon”.

Wellwood says, “In short, this move threatens the existence of all rail between Hamilton and Christchurch, which the country can ill-afford to lose”.

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Meanwhile Fonterra, currently sending freight that is carried on two trains from Hawera to Hamilton and Tauranga, and have to go an extra 230 km via Palmerston North due to the northern route being closed, are considering going to road transport. This would put an extra 86 trucks a day on the Hawera to Hamilton route, with half of them continuing to the Port of Tauranga.

Our roads are awash with trucks currently, requiring $4 billion to fix the potholes they have caused since becoming heavier and faster, for which they pay just 14% of the maintenance and road building costs!

Robertson says KiwiRail has been hobbled by government interference and the government has neglected its responsibility to keep regional lines open and fit for purpose. Wellwood says, “KiwiRail have not bathed themselves in glory and are poor advocates for rail having to follow the wishes of their masters” Robertson said, “KiwiRail should not have been responsible for keeping these lines open as they didn’t have the resources” He added, “They should have been able to use the resources they had to run the most profitable parts of the system and allow private, short line operators to handle the less profitable areas and feed the KiwiRail system”, but adds, the government should still be responsible for the below wheel infrastructure.

Robertson says that New Zealand risks becoming a high carbon pariah in world trade, and he adds, “I can’t understand the strong level of anti-rail policy the current government is promoting, because it is nothing to do with economics, as the trucking industry are currently surviving off an 86% subsidy, which is something that few journalists have followed up on, yet it is a scandal when rail is being run down as it is!

Wellwood says, “It is time for better integrated transport policy, and better services to ALL regions!”

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