27 Oct 2022

Passenger rail campaigners creating 'enormous inconvenience' for thousands, transport minister says

8:56 pm on 27 October 2022
Restore Passenger Rail protest on gantry on SH1 near Johnsonville

Protesters occupied the State Highway 1 gantry in Wellington on Thursday morning. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The transport minister is "grumpy" with passenger rail campaigners and will not meet with them until they stop "aggressive actions".

Restore Passenger Rail campaigners staged a protest on top of the State Highway 1 gantry - the steel structure over the motorway - at Johnsonville in Wellington on Thursday morning.

Three were taken into custody at the protest which disrupted commuters.

The protesters planned on speaking at Parliament's Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee via Zoom from the gantry but the committee refused to hear from the activist group while they were breaking the law.

Minister of Transport Michael Wood told Checkpoint people who thought the way of making progress was to "make threats and disrupt thousands of people" would not be invited to a meeting to have "good faith dialogue".

On behalf of the thousands disrupted, Wood said he was grumpy with the activists.

"I think that these actions are dangerous, they are not acceptable and actually many people who have been advocating for better public transport and better passenger rail agree with me that these actions are counterproductive."

It was counterproductive because the groups way of getting its point across was to "create enormous inconvenience and frustration for people just going about their ordinary lives", Wood told Checkpoint.

Minister Michael Wood

Michael Wood Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

If the group stopped its "aggressive actions", Wood said he would consider engaging with them - like any other group that wanted to meet with ministers.

Restore Passenger Rail was campaigning to restore the country's passenger rail services to the levels that existed in 2000.

The group released a statement criticising the select committee for being too slow on the issue of climate change and expanding the passenger railway network.

Spokesperson Rosemary Penwarden said the current NZ Rail plan was focused on freight and tourism.

"We need the minister of transport to commit to restoring an affordable nationwide passenger rail system."

A protest banner, hung across State Highway 1 in Wellington.

Thursday's protest was not the first from the activist group. Photo: Supplied

Wood was yet to agree to meet the protesters despite their request, she said.

"Transport emissions, the fastest growing contributor to New Zealand's emissions, can be solved. An affordable, accessible nationwide passenger rail system is part of the solution. The tracks are there.

"Restoring passenger rail will reduce emissions, reduce the cost of living for struggling New Zealanders, create jobs and bring people together. Restoring passenger rail is a no-brainer."

She said until this happened the group regarded motorways as "legitimate sites of peaceful non-violent civil resistance".

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