Over the summer break we’re digging into the archives. This post by Matt was originally published in August 2017 and is particularly relevant to some current debate.

It’s been a crazy few weeks, and the last week especially since the launch of our Regional Rapid Rail, which has been quickly adopted by both Labour and the Greens. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve been blown away by the level of support out in the general public for the idea. We knew it would be popular but it seems this has been another level entirely.

But with opposition parties quickly jumping on to support the idea it has meant the government has quickly shifted on to the defensive. This includes deliberately misrepresenting what is proposed and claiming it will kill rail freight. This came after being less hostile to the idea initially when he said

However, Mr Bridges said he was supportive of exploring the options.

“What it requires is a business case process that works through the numbers and the details.

This is a shame as we would have no objection to them also using the idea, or even just promising to investigate it properly.

The comment about needing a business case that stacks up is quite relevant given the new batch of Roads of National Significance announced the other day. One of those happens to be an extension of the Puhoi-Wellsford road all the way up to Whangarei. A summary of the project is provided in the “fact sheet” that accompanied the announcement:

There’s no doubt this is a really massive project. It’s around 83 km from Wellsford to Whangarei, over double the length of the 38 km Puhoi to Wellsford RoNS that has a cost that probably will probably exceed $2 billion once fully completed.

Just a two weeks ago the NZTA started discussing this very corridor as it ties in with the plans announced a while ago to four lane SH1 from Warkworth to the Marsden Point turnoff. When I first heard about that project I went looking on the NZTA website for information and found the business case they did recently on the whole corridor between Whangarei and Auckland.

There is a summary of the business case, which outlines the options analysis process that was undertaken:

All the options, other than 2 and 6, are really expensive and all the options appear to struggle to deliver value for money with a BCR above 1. The recommended programme, with a Benefit Cost Ratio that barely scrapes over 1, is a mix of upgrades – some online, some offline, some section of four-laning but other areas of more minor upgrades:

The struggle to deliver value for money, even from this targeted option, isn’t that surprising when you see that only 6 minutes is saved along the whole corridor. Compare this against the 40 minute time savings delivered by the Waikato Expressway (along a much busier corridor too!).

Yet, it seems like National’s RoNS announcement is a larger investment than the recommended programme in the business case. Probably more like the “ONRC option”. So a cost of $2.1-3.2 billion and a BCR barely reaching a 50c return for every dollar spent.

I then thought I’d dig into the business case for a bit more detail. It’s linked from the project’s main page, is the first response in a google search and was available just last week:

Mysteriously though, the document is gone. Given recent history on transparency issues, it’s hard not to see a little bit of a conspiracy on the issue, but fortunately Google cache has saved the business case (albeit without the images) so we can take a look at some of its key findings. Especially in relation to the higher investment options:

So at the early phase of options analysis it was already clear the larger scale options were struggling to provide value for money. Various levels of further refinement were undertaken, before the preferred programme was developed. Crucially, this analysis highlighted that four-lane expressway simply could not be justified within the next 30 years:

Yep, that’s NZTA’s analysis saying a four-lane expressway is not warranted within the next 30 years and cannot deliver value for money. I’m sure this conclusion has nothing to do with the business case being pulled off the NZTA website in the past week. I wonder if any of the other new RoNS are in the same position?

Given his own agency have said that what he’s proposed is not viable, I’m sure we’ll be hearing from Bridges soon to wind back the promise of four lanes to Whangarei.

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  1. National tried to bribe the Northland voters during a byelection with 10 bridges which never happened and now this new Government is starting to get the NAL rail line upgraded as per this item from the NZ Herald dated 11 Dec, 2018 under the title:- Auckland to Northland rail line surveyed for greater use and the picture at the top of the page shows why with the grooves in the tunnel showing why all track has to be lowered from damage by containers


    And with the work being done on the surveying of the future line between Oakleigh and Marsden Point on Maori television Monday 29 October 2018 goes to show that rail still has a future in the North .

    “KiwiRail Acting Chief Executive Todd Moyle says the scoping work will inform the business case for Northland rail currently being developed by the Ministry of Transport.”

    “We’ve held a designation for this rail spur for several years, and are very pleased to be now taking steps to determine how the line would be built,” says Moyle.”

    So it now goes to show RON’s are just a waste of good farm land , and if all this can be started before the next Election National won’t hopefully pull the pin on it


    And with this paragraph from Wikipedia The passenger services could come back

    “In addition to freight traffic, there is also the possibility of passenger traffic. The last passenger trains to service Whangarei were mixed trains that were cancelled in 1976. However, Northland Regional Land Transport Committee chairman Bill Rossiter suggested in February 2006 that passenger trains may be introduced for commuters between Ruakaka and Whangarei. This is being considered as a long-term option. The population of Ruakaka and surrounds is expected to grow by 15,000 in the ten years from 2007, and proposals for commercial precincts, residential subdivisions, and a tertiary education centre have called for a commuter rail and industrial development that would require a rail-road freight transit centre.”


  2. NZ First campaigned on rail freight to Northport so I will not be surprised if that is funded from Shane Jones’ regional fund, announced some time during 2019. Better focused economic development investment than a duplicate highway to Auckland.

      1. “Shane”, Kiwi Rail are in the process of the surveying and testing of the soil for the track and it all started 26th Oct check 1 of my previous posting on this page , I have put 2 pieces on it

  3. I wonder if it would be cheaper to order special wagons to handle 9ft 6in containers on the north line rather than rebuildng the two problem tunnels. The wagons could run in dedicated rakes, as is the case with Metroport trains to Tauranga.

        1. “Bryce P” If you check out tunnel 103 [3.53min] it shows the grooves in the ceiling/sides of the tunnel and there are 13 tunnels on the line and some have had their floors lowered . And this youtube video starts from the Auckland end of the NAL and with the 6.30mins of it it does to prove what a great national treasure National wanted to get rid of .

    1. And it’s not the 1st time National has had a go at closing branch lines .
      As this item from Kiwi Rails Website shows and it all started in the 60’s so goes to show Joyce wasn’t the 1st ;-

      “Branch line closures a sign of the
      times but infuriating for locals”

      New Zealand didn’t produce an exact match for Britain’s infamous Dr Beeching when the time came to reduce the number of branch railway lines, although Railways Minister J B (Peter) Gordon was sometimes described as “the Great Train Robber”.

      Peter Gordon, often referred to as “Flash” because his energetic approach invited comparisons with the cartoon character of the same name, was the National Government’s Railways and Transport Minister between 1967 and 1972.

      The “train robber” reference was to the 1963 hold up in Britain of a Royal Mail train by a gang who got away with more over £2.6 million.

      The circumstances that led to Dr Beeching closing 4000 route miles of railway line, were as relevant to New Zealand as to Britain, albeit on a smaller scale.

      Road transport was continuing to expand at the expense of rail and rural populations were shrinking. Goods was starting to be handled in greater bulk rather than in small consignments.

      Within a hundred years of New Zealand’s first railway opening in Christchurch, the future of branch railway lines was under scrutiny and local communities were fighting to save them. In 1963, in recognition of rail’s centenary, the New Zealand Year Book published an extended review of the country’s railways. Among its conclusions were that economic conditions had focused attention on parts of the railways system that in the authors’ words, had “out-lived their usefulness”. As a result, in the nine years between 1953 and 1962, 313 miles of branch lines – 92 miles in the North Island and 221 in the South Island – had been closed to traffic. The network at the time had shrunk to 3,263 miles, 1,645 miles in the North Island and slightly less – 1,618 miles in the South Island. “It would appear that the pattern of New Zealand’s railway system, after nearly 100 years, has now been established,” said the Year Book. “Future construction is more likely to be associated with the improvement of the existing system of main lines rather than with the penetration of new territory.” The threat to branch lines had been growing for many years. The New Zealand Railways Magazine of 1 February, 1931 carried an article head-lined, “the Problem of Branch Lines”. “The growth of road transport has resulted in many changes in the Home railway world,” it reported. “Not the least striking of these changes now proceeding, is the closing down of many branch railways for passenger operation, and their replacement by railway-operated bus services. “It seems likely that eventually road buses and trucks will form the railways’ standard equipment for handling branch line business, many branch railways in sparsely populated areas being either eliminated or converted into purely freight carrying lines.” Geographer and rail heritage expert Euan McQueen documented the branch line network in a 2005 book, Rails in the Hinterland. In his introduction, he reminds his readers that the railway system in the 1950s was still geared to meeting local and rural needs, in spite of the changes that were occurring. The limits placed on the distance road transport could carry goods under the system of transport licensing introduced in the 1930s, obliged the Railways Department to serve the many small communities and farming areas on the network. He records that in 1952 there were some 1060 stations handling general freight on the network as well as many private sidings. In addition, there were more than 150 small stations handling passengers, parcels and small consignments. “In many areas, these small flag stations were well used into the 1960s for parcels and small consignments: mail, groceries, newspapers, boxes of fruit and sacks of seed were all frequently seen, especially on routes where roads were poor.” Euan McQueen says the result of the changes in transport technology and society is evident in the contrast between the 74 stations with sidings that existed between Christchurch and Dunedin in 1952 and four that remained in 2004. In the decade, 1955-65, 378 kilometres closed to traffic and contraction continued in later decades. The South Island was not being unfairly singled out. It had a higher proportion of branch lines than the North, partly because of the nature of the country and partly because the early colonial wealth and influence had been in the south. One of the lines to close was the Fairlie branch line. Railways Minister Peter Gordon announced its closure in 1967 and the last train ran on March 2, 1968.

      The decision infuriated local people who took legal action against the Minister in an attempt to keep the line open. When the last train attracted more than a thousand passengers, a group of locals decided that the legend of the Fairlie branch line would live on in one form or another. “When it was announced the line would close, I don’t know why, but I was quite upset,” said Richard Paul. “It was part of history going,”

      He and others formed a small team of volunteers who were responsible for creating a railways museum to preserve the memory of a line that had been such an important part of the community. Closing branch railway lines was never an easy decision for politicians, particularly when they ran through Government-held electorates. Peter Gordon was keenly aware of local sentiment when the Catlins branch line in his own Clutha electorate, emerged as a candidate for closure.

      But the timber that had been the line’s principal traffic was diminishing. The decision to close was made in July 1970 and in spite of local protest, carried out the following February. ”

      “Sources: NZ Year Book, 1963; Rails in the Hinterland, Euan McQueen, 2005; Timaru Herald.”

    1. And with this article dated 26th October the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway eyes Provincial Growth Fund for major project to restore part of it


      And this is from Stuff dated Sep 07 2017

      “The project involves restoring and extending the railway line from Kawakawa to Opua, and creating a cycleway alongside it, and building a large multi-purpose railway station complex at Beaufort St, Opua in the area locally known as the Colenso Triangle.”


    2. And with this new service that’s due to start with Chinese backing the run from Opua would make it an extension of NZ great railway journey’s .

      And the other lines lines that need to be upgraded/relaid are the Dargaville branch and the Kaikohe branch lines . And the Government also needs to do a case study of finishing the NAL line through to Kaitaia as there is one hell of alot of forestry in the far north and this will also save the existing roads and it might also boast the tourist industry if they can operate a passenger service similar to the transalpine run

      1. That’s the kind of thinking for projects that will actually have a positive effect on Northland’s economy. More so than 4 laning from Warkworth to Whangarei

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