Well interestingly enough the more I dig into today’s electrification announcement, the better the news is that I come across. As I outlined in my very brief previous post, the long-awaited funding for Auckland’s electric trains has finally been approved – as a loan to KiwiRail from the government. I’m not really sure about the long-term impacts on KiwiRail of this money being a loan, rather than a grant – but for now I think we’ll ignore that aspect as it’s not particularly important. The reaction from the ARC is very positive, and I agree that this is a pretty historic moment – nothing now will stop Auckland’s railway system from being electrified:
Public transport in Auckland is set to take a huge leap forward following the Government’s announcement today of $500 million for electric trains, says Auckland Regional Council (ARC) Chairman Mike Lee.
“This is an historic moment for Auckland. Fast, frequent, efficient and modern electric train services can now be a reality,” he says.
“The announcement is of major importance for public transport and Auckland itself. The decision will not only significantly improve the quality of Auckland public transport but also change the way Aucklanders view public transport and their city.
“I believe Auckland’s new electric train fleet will be something Auckland will be proud of.”
Mr Lee says all this has not come easy, but good things never do.
“Auckland has been waiting for this announcement for more than 60 years. Electrification of Auckland rail was first proposed in the 1940s, but advanced plans were ditched on two occasions in the mid-1950s and mid-1970s.
“Users and supporters of public transport in Auckland should be hugely encouraged by today. The decision by Transport Minister Steven Joyce will help the city solve its transport issues and provide significantly greater numbers of people with viable public transport alternatives to their cars.
“This is great news for everybody. The Government and Transport Minister Steven Joyce are to be congratulated for finally delivering on their promise.”
Some of the concerns I had previously have also been allayed by a bit of detail that wasn’t in the initial press release, but can be found in the Ministry of Transport’s Questions and Answers release. Of particular note is this one (and of particular interest is the bit that I have bolded):
What is this announcement about?
The government has approved funding of $500 million to enable the procurement of new electric trains for Auckland.
The $500 million will initially be provided to KiwiRail as a loan. Final decisions as to whether the funding will be provided as a loan or equity will depend on other work on KiwiRail’s capital structure.
Work is already underway on electrifying the urban rail network – a $500 million project to erect power lines, provide new signalling and adapt bridges for electric power cables. This next lot of funding will enable the procurement of up to 114 new electric trains to operate on the modernised network.
Now while ARTA’s original tender was for 140 trains, while an August “Working Group” report sliced this back to 75 trains due to budgetary constraints. The 114 trains will each be four metres longer than the previous trains, which makes up for a lot of the “loss”, as trains will now be able to run as three car sets rather than four car sets without much loss of capacity. While perhaps this isn’t quite as good as the original proposal (in that a three 24m car train is only 72m long whereas a four 20m car train is 80 m long) but it is certainly miles better than what we were looking at in August.
It will be interesting to see where the savings have come from that have allowed more trains to be ordered though. The government has been very keen to repeatedly say that funding for electrification is absolutely capped at $1 billion for infrastructure upgrades and rolling stock. The previous Working Group report put the emphasis on getting the infrastructure right, even if that meant cutting back on the number of trains. This latest plan would suggest that balance has shifted the other way, and if the budget hasn’t been increased it will be interesting to see what infrastructure upgrades have got the chop to allow the funding to be freed up for the trains themselves.
Nevertheless, I think that’s a worry for another day. For now we can just feel happy about things.