25 Nov 2009

Electric trains for Auckland: fantastic, says Lee

6:14 am on 25 November 2009

The head of the Auckland Regional Council (ARC) is describing new government funding for a billion-dollar rail electrification project as a breakthrough.

Cabinet has approved a $500m loan for KiwiRail to buy the new fleet of trains - on top of an earlier $500m grant to build the infrastructure required for the trains' operation.

Earlier this year, the Government scrapped plans for a regional fuel tax out of which the funding was supposed to have come.

ARC chairperson Mike Lee says Auckland has been battling for rail electrification for years, and the commitment is fantastic.

It will give the city, he says, "fast, quiet, new, comfortable electric trains which will put Auckland in terms of public transport on the same basis as any other international-standard cities."

First e-trains expected to be running by 2013

Mr Lee says he's confident the first electric trains will run in 2013, an expectation shared by Transport Minister Steven Joyce, who says that 114 new units are to be ordered and that, once up to full speed, the network will achieve a 10-minute frequency for Aucklanders.

To a degree, the minister says, fares will depend on how much subsidy taxpayers are prepared to pay.

At present, train fares are cheaper than bus fares, and once integrated ticketing is introduced "they'll even up", Mr Joyce says.

The announcement has also been welcomed by a group lobbying for improvements to Auckland's public transport system. Cameron Pitches from the Campaign for Better Transport says it will change the way Aucklanders feel about public transport.