Budget absence of new trains surprises and disappoints regional councils
The Budget’s failure to contribute funding for a fleet of hybrid electric trains in the lower North Island has surprised and disappointed Greater Wellington and Horizons regional councils.
The trains, which are battery powered on non-electric track, were proposed by the councils in a business case paid for by Waka Kotahi.
Greater Wellington chair Daran Ponter and Horizons chair Rachel Keedwell said the government’s decision was, “Like the lights being turned off”.
“It’s especially disappointing for commuters and surprising for our councils. But we’re not giving up,” Cr Ponter said.
“When enacted, our business case will significantly reduce transport emissions while providing for population growth and the replacement of aged rolling stock.”
Supported by Manawatū-Whanganui’s seven mayors, as well as the eight mayors of the Wellington region, the business case recommends a $762 million dollar investment in a fleet of 22 four-car, tri-mode trains, and associated infrastructure.
With funding commitments from Waka Kotahi, Horizons and Greater Wellington, $360 million was needed from the Budget to enable the full investment.
The business case estimates every dollar spent will yield $1.83.
It predicts the trains will quadruple peak-time services between Palmerston North and Wellington on the Manawatū line and double them between Masterton and the capital on the Wairarapa line.
Horizons chair Rachel Keedwell said the government had turned its back on commuter wellbeing by not supporting New Zealand’s first low-emission long-distance rail services.
“Given this is a health and climate budget, it’s incomprehensible that these trains are not being funded,” Cr Keedwell said.
Palmerston North mayor Grant Smith and Horowhenua mayor Bernie Wanden agreed, calling the decision, “Incredibly disappointing” and, “A blind spot” of the budget.
Greater Wellington deputy chair and Wairarapa councillor Adrienne Staples said the government, “Is holding back livelihoods” in her community and delaying development.
“Commuters who work and do business in Wellington and Hutt cities desperately need better service from our regional rail network,” Cr Staples said.
“Off-peak services are almost non-existent. Half-price public transport fares are welcome, but they fly in the face of our current fleet of 50-year-old trains at the end of their working life.”
Her sentiments were shared by Kāpiti Coast councillor and Environment Committee chair Penny Gaylor, who said hybrid electric trains were, “An elegant solution to a dirty problem the government knows needs fixing”.
“A reliable, low-emissions rail service is the missing link for the increasing number of commuters living in Kāpiti, Horowhenua and Manawatū.
“Their access to employment in Wellington, Porirua and Palmerston North is being stymied by ancient trains that won’t last another five years. Businesses are being stifled by talk not turned into action.
While recent funding to upgrade Kiwirail’s Capital Connection carriages was encouraging, Cr Ponter said the hybrid electric trains should have been part of the budget’s suite of initiatives to reduce emissions.
“These trains will enable the Wellington region to grow around our transport hubs in a way that protects the climate,” Cr Ponter said.
“We will continue to work with the government to unlock existing funding for the purchase of these trains. We need to get the tender process under way in the coming financial year to prevent commuters from being squashed in like sardines in five years’ time.”