6 May 2021

Rail funding plan rubbished by trucking lobby and opposition

7:09 pm on 6 May 2021

The government's plans to rejuvenate rail are being rubbished by the opposition and the trucking lobby as ideologically motivated and wasteful that will take resources away from badly needed road safety improvements.

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Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

This morning it released its 10-year plan for rail investment, signalling it is full steam ahead with plans to shovel in billions of dollars to get the country's rail infrastructure back on track.

The plan's light on new announcements - there's no new money - and the detail about what new projects will leave the station won't come until later this year.

The government has already spent $6 billion on rail, and at the event today it signalled it plans to plough in billions more in the coming years.

Transport Minister Michael Wood said decades of under-investment left the sector in "managed decline" and the money would put the network on a new track.

He said much would be spent on unflashy but important stuff.

"One of the things that we're trying to be upfront about - a lot of the investment is pretty unsexy.

"It's replacing bridges that have been there for 80 to 100 years, it's putting in second bits of track here and there, it's widening and deepening tunnels so that containers can get through them.

"Stuff that people won't necessarily see."

Investments will likely include upgrades in rail infrastructure, safety improvement, new locomotives wagons and ferries, and mechanical depots.

The recommitment to plans to revamp Dunedin's Hillside rail workshop drew cheers at the event.

State-owned Enterprises Minister and Dunedin MP David Clark said the spending would benefit the wider economy and provide good jobs.

KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller said it previously had to go cap in hand to the Government for money every year, which made long-term investment decisions impossible.

"[We have a] workforce of over 4000 journey men and women ... you've got to keep those skills, but [when] you've only got one year of certainty for your wage bill - it is all out of sync.

"So by having a 10-year plan, we can plan labour, plan infrastructure build, plan our customer negotiations. We're talking with clients about 10 and 20-year deals now."

One of the few concrete changes is that soon freight rail will also be financed from the same pot of money that pays for roads, public transport and walking and cycling infrastructure.

"We don't think that it makes any sense, or makes for a good transport system, to fund and have a strategic plan for roads here and for rail over here," Wood said.

"We need to look at a mode-neutral way at the best investments we make. And that recognizes that there are benefits across the system."

Wood said roads would not lose out to rail under the new funding model.

But the National Party transport spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said the government intended to raid the national transport fund to pay for rail.

"What that's going to mean is that much needed safety improvements and roading improvements around the country are going to be sacrificed in order to pump money into rail.

"That's wrong. We need those roading improvements and they shouldn't be raiding one tin to pay for another."

The Road Transport Forum represents the trucking industry. Chief executive Nick Leggett said Labour's commitment to rail was based on ideology, not evidence.

"Eighty years ago when trucks started rolling [rail] couldn't compete.

"And as much as the government tries it will still not be able to compete.

"We just don't think that billions and billions of dollars should be wasted in that pursuit. We should invest it in the roads for people's safety, and for the efficient and effective movement of freight today."

Leggett claims a reliance on rail could push up prices for consumers.

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