ARC Tries To Flush out Govt On Train Funding


broken Good on ARC chief Mike Lee for trying to flush out the Government over its disturbing cone of silence about funding for Auckland’s train electrification.

As the chairman summed up the situation so well:

“Auckland has lost half a year in its electrification programme. People in Auckland will soon be paying higher fuel taxes and road user charges, and still there is no sign of electric trains.  There has been a lot of talk about electric trains by the Transport Minister but no hard cash. If Auckland is to develop a world-class public transport system, we need those electric trains and we need to move now. The Transport Minister has been active about building new roads and state highways. We would like him to also focus on just how important rapid transit is to Auckland, for the city’s economic growth, productivity and urban development.”

The minister’s office response has been an equally worrying vague mumble about processes being underway.

The “process” the minister’s office is hinting at involves the government’s new National Infrastructure Unit within the Treasury coming up with a recommended solution. This group is now  the centre of Government “expertise” on such matters , covering areas such as major project evaluation, infrastructure-related regulatory issues and contracting with outside finance.

It will no doubt be saying the government needs private financing to help complete the project in this dire economic environment where several major roading projects are also favoured and vying for the transport infrastructure funding available.

The government is trying to find a way out of fully committing money to the electrification project while still achieving the goal. The holdup is likely to be because of negotiations to find a private enterprise partner to join the government in the project and once that has been finalised, an announcement can be made. The transport minister was over in Australia earlier in the year and liked what he heard about private / public rail and transport funding.

Finance Minister Bill English has been pressing for this - and in a significant and under-reported speech last week made it unequivocally clear that the Government intends to involve the private sector in infrastructure projects “where it makes sense for both taxpayers and users.”

“The private sector is already contracted to build most of our infrastructure. Overseas experience shows that extending this through public-private partnerships can introduce new design, financing and maintenance techniques that provide better services and value to taxpayers.”

English says he wants to mirror the Australian example where up to 20% is privately funded per project. In his speech to the captive audience of the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development, he repeated several times that Private Public Partnerships (PPPs) as they are innocuously known will be adopted where it made economic sense.

“Done properly, the benefits should be better whole-of-life management of infrastructure, and a better deal for both users and taxpayers. ”
Well, whole of life management sounds like some health and exercise regime that will lead you to live a longer and happier life. If it means this is the only way we can get electrification, let’s get on with it.
The government is not in love with commuter trains as a way of life but feel pressured to follow through the programme begun by Labour and the Greens for which there can be no return unless the government’s prepared for a political storm in Auckland  - not good timing as it’s also trying to sell suspicious Aucklanders the new super city concept.

It’s fair to acknowledge the government’s clear statement that electrification will happen. But there is no clear when and how.

The road transport and freight friendly government has had to face the fact that commuter rail is now a part of Auckland’s public transport and even National-friendly Auckland mayor John Banks has come around to the same way of thinking.
Transport Minister Steven Joyce, without reservation, went on record in a speech to the Australasian Rail Association in April:

“The government is totally committed to electrification in Auckland and has provided $500 million on top of the DART investment to carry out the network electrification work.In addition the purchase of electric trains to run on the new network was to come from Auckland’s regional fuel tax but will now be supported by the Crown through KiwiRail.”

The problem is the second part of the statement - finding a way to now get the money. He gave that speech way back in April. Since then the proposed Auckland regional petrol tax didn’t happen and there was suppose to be a clear ministerial statement by July on funding for the $1 billion electrification project.

In the last few days, the transport minister confirmed that the previously announced increases in fuel excise duty on petrol and road user charges will take effect as scheduled from 1 October. The 3 cent per litre increase includes an annual increase of 1.5 cents per litre scheduled by the previous government. The additional 1.5 cents partially replaces the previously planned regional fuel taxes. He said the increases will ” assist investment in transport projects throughout the country.” Never forget there are a lot of massive transport projects in the pipeline and we’re just talking roading.

Mike Lee now says the hope of electrification by 2013 now looks unlikely. That’s beyond depressing for a project that could have been completed for the Rugby World Cup if the previous government had also not procrastinated.

Especially frustrating for him is the inability to invite tenders for 35 four-carriage trains which was supposed to have happened in May. The chances are the government will prefer second-hand imports and the search is on for them.

Now that Mike Lee has cranked up the heat, we can cross our fingers for a some sort of announcement from Key or Joyce especially if some overseas partnership to build electrification has been stitched up.waikatotrainsNew look Silverfern

Meanwhile the deafening silence on the plans for the Waikato - Auckland rail plan  involving the new look Silver Ferns (left) is just as frustrating.

The Campaign For Better Transport is doing its good work in visiting towns in the Waikato asking residents and businesses to show their support for commuter trains to Auckland and they received an overwhelmingly positive response, with over 1,000 postcards signed in just a few hours the other day.

Postcards are available here




  1. William M says:

    I wonder what Steven Joyce would have said sitting next to a barrage of students at Penrose station this morning. The 0700 to Newmarket failed at Penrose this morning. A recently refurbished SX set (complete with aircon and PIDs) - the train should never been allowed to run with the said set - we continuously have issues with it, and no amount of patching up is going to make it any better. Mr Joyce has to understand this is beyond a joke - Auckland will not continue to be treated as second class.


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