Minister: We’re Committed To Rail
Transport minister Steven Joyce said this morning that the government is committed to a future for rail, but the commitment will need the support of everyone with a stake in it.
Addressing the major rail conference taking place in Wellington this week – CORE 2010 (The Railway Technical Society of Australasia Biennial Conference on Railway Engineering), Mr Joyce gave commuter rail as an example where a new model needed to be worked out.
“I’ve said before that investment in metro rail is either a feast or a famine, with governments holding off for years before making an investment splurge. It is time to find a model that is more sustainable for the longer term and I see this being done in a number of ways.
“The government’s new operating model for Metro commuter rail services in Auckland and Wellington will ensure the operation of commuter rail services is contestable and performance-based so that we get the best possible service for commuters at the best possible price.
“A track access charges project is also underway to properly understand the costs of the KiwiRail freight business and metropolitan passenger transport operations in Auckland and Wellington using the metro rail network. In addition the NZTA’s farebox recovery policy will help establish fares for equitable sharing of costs.
“The upshot of all this is that ultimately it’s important we come up with a model where the relative contributions of the NZTA, the councils, and the fare payers, gets us to the position where everyone is paying their fair share and we’re actually able to do regular renewal and maintain the system.
“It’s a big job and it’s going to take some healthy doses of financial realism on all sides. But it’s necessary if commuter rail is to have a sustainable future.”
Referring to Auckland’s rail development and the number of openings and sod turnings he had attended as part of the rail development , the minister said New Zealand’s future success is tied to that of Auckland as our largest city and largest local economy.
“Getting Auckland transport working well is crucial to getting Auckland growing faster and providing more jobs.”
The minister told delegates that achieving an actual turnaround for KiwiRail “will certainly not be easy.”
“The government sees a future for rail, but we are only one player. It will take commitment and pragmatism starting with the KiwiRail board, through to management and staff.
“Ultimately businesses, freight forwarders and customers are the most important elements of the Turnaround Plan. KiwiRails big customers have indicated enthusiastic support for the plan; and will commit significant extra business to the company as the service improvements are advanced. It is ultimately that support and certainty which convinces the government to invest on behalf of the long suffering taxpayer owners of KiwiRail.”
But the investment the government putting in was sorely needed.
“While there has been some recent funding, large parts of the network have been neglected over a number of decades, which has led to infrastructure failures and reduced customer service.
“A prime example of this effect has been on the performance of the North Island Main Trunk Line. The average travel time between Auckland and Wellington is now 12 hours because of speed restrictions along the route. When you look at these kinds of times, it is difficult to compete on an even footing with other freight businesses.”
Mr Joyce several times mentioned the government’s commitment to a future for rail.
“There is a long way to go but if we operate with a sense of realism and pragmatism and work together, I’m confident we’ll see rail make a significant contribution to our economy.
“This year’s conference theme – Rail – Rejuvenation & Renaissance – is certainly apt given the government’s commitment to New Zealand’s rail sector.
“The government’s top priority for transport is to maximise the whole transport sector’s contribution to economic growth and productivity. Moving freight and people as safely and efficiently as possible, with a minimum of hold-ups, is vital to lifting economic performance.
“The amount of freight being moved around the country is expected to double by 2040 and no single mode can meet this demand alone. While some forms of freight are more suited to rail, and others to road and coastal shipping, the real advantage to the New Zealand economy will be in delivering freight options and the required service levels at the best possible economic price, regardless of the mode; so that shippers are able to choose the mode that best suits them in terms of service frequency, transit time, and cost.
“With this in mind, the government has been very focused on developing both the road and rail network on behalf of taxpayers over the past 18 months, given the ownership interest we have in both.”
Mr Joyce took the opportunity to pay tribute the work rail workers were doing in the wake of the Christchurch erathquake.
He said that KiwiRail staff and their contractors had worked quickly to get necessary repairs underway, in spite of the fact many staff were facing damage to their own homes.
600 delegates are attending the conference which has sessions covering the whole gamut of topics relating to rail engineering from the environmental impacts of rail, regulations, policy and economics, safety and quality asset management, logistics and technology for both passenger and freight networks.