23 Jan 2023

Better to 'bite the bullet' and get rail work done quickly, Transport Minister says

6:24 pm on 23 January 2023
Upgrade work on Auckland's rail network

One of the sites in south Auckland visited by Transport Minister Michael Wood. Photo: RNZ / Finn Blackwell

Transport Minister Michael Wood says Auckland's rail network is "neglected".

The government is investing more than $1.5 billion in upgrades to Auckland's rail network, with two of the key projects unfolding in southern Auckland - extending the existing electrified metro network 19km from Papakura to Pukekohe and building three new stations.

The minister received a guided tour of the south Auckland sites on Monday to see first-hand the work that was being done.

Renovations and an upgrade at Pukekohe station and the southern line will mean a direct journey into the city, something Wood said was long overdue.

It is one of the biggest investment projects in Auckland. The construction of a new housing development just out of Pukekohe will be the size of Dunedin and the Paerātā station will accommodate commuters.

Surrounding it will be a new electrified train line, which will carry passengers from Pukekohe into the Auckland CBD.

There was shock among commuters and businesses last October when it was announced several train routes would be temporarily closed this year.

A major rebuild on foundations underneath railway lines means everyone will be steered toward buses for several months at a time over the next two years.

This year, there will be rolling closures on three major Auckland train lines.

Wood said the projects were part of the government's commitment to providing better transport options for Aucklanders, defending the disruption they would cause in the short-term.

"We can either bite the bullet and get on and make sure we get that maintenance done, or we could make it slower and drag it out over years and years," he said.

Transport Minister Michael Wood at Pukekohe Station

Michael Wood says it is better to have short-term disruption rather than let work drag on for "years and years". Photo: RNZ / Finn Blackwell

He described the state of the rail network as "neglected", saying the government was working hard with KiwiRail and Auckland Transport to deliver the project, on time and on budget.

"Our government inherited a rail network that was in a state of managed decline, that had been left to go to rack and ruin by the previous government," he said.

Wood said the last government was dismissive of investments in rail, leaving Labour to make up for decades of under-investment.

The best option was to get maintenance done now and make sure the network was safe, something he said would spell bad news for Aucklanders if it was not completed properly, he said.

Wood said light rail in Auckland remained a priority for Labour, even with the change in leadership from Jacinda Ardern to Chris Hipkins.

Auckland Transport's interim chief executive Mark Lambert said the upgraded train line will help keep commuters moving, without disruptions.

"Aucklanders are looking for improved public transport, improved rail, new stations, and Auckland Transport's already put in an order for additional trains."

An additional 23 trains had been purchased and would roll out over the next few years, he said.

Mixed response from residents

Those living near the maintenance in Pukekohe had mixed feelings about the disruption.

One couple had recently moved back into the area from the South Island and were surprised to find they could not use the train.

They said they would use the new station once it was up and running.

"Probably wouldn't mind taking the kids out for a train ride, they've not been on a train before and the oldest is 14."

Another said she would be sticking to her car.

"I just drive where I need to go, and I work locally so there's no need for me to catch a train."

However, her teenage daughter had a different view.

"Before I got my restricted [driver's licence] we all had to catch the train all the way to the city, but we can't now. We have to bus all the way to Papakura and have all those stops, before we can even get on the train," she said.

Meanwhile, a National party spokesperson told Local Democracy Reporting the new stations would cost "a lot of money".

They said when the government took a long time to make decisions, there would always be a subsequent rise in costs.

Additional reporting by Luka Forman.

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