For some time our rail network has suffered from a short-term approach to investment and development. The investment that has taken place has generally done so on an adhoc basis without clear thought put into long term development and how rail can play a larger role in New Zealand’s transport picture.
To address this the government. One key aspect of this is the NZ Rail Legislation Bill currently going through parliament that will create in legislation a new planning and funding framework, and which we discussed a few months ago. The other key aspect is the Draft New Zealand Rail Plan, that the Ministry of Transport are currently consulting on, which in short is meant to lay out the government’s 10-year vision and priorities for the rail network.
Note: Consultation was extended to 5pm on 11 May and can be completed via an online survey.
Here’s the what the Ministry say about the plan.
The draft New Zealand Rail Plan (the draft Rail Plan) outlines the Government’s long-term vision and priorities for New Zealand’s national rail network. It is a product of the recommendations of the Future of Rail review which is a cross-agency project led by the Ministry of Transport (the Ministry), working alongside KiwiRail, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, and the Treasury. Auckland Transport, Auckland Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council were engaged in relation to their metropolitan rail networks. The Government has agreed to key recommendations from the review, incorporating them into the draft Rail Plan.
The Future of Rail review sought to identify the role rail can play in New Zealand’s transport system and put in place a sustainable approach to funding rail over the longer-term. A key part of this is considering how to better integrate rail into the overall planning and funding approach for the land transport system, so rail is maintained alongside other transport modes.
Previous investment in New Zealand’s rail network has lacked a long-term view about rail’s role in the transport system, and has resulted in a continued focus on short-term investment decision making. We need a new approach to planning and funding rail that supports it to play its role in the transport system.
This is a significant programme of change for the land transport system and will be implemented over the next two years, with the intention that it come into effect in line with the next National Land Transport Programme (NLTP). It will also inform funding decisions in the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport (GPS) 2021 and future Budget decisions.
Similar to the Government Policy Statement a well as both Regional and National land transport programmes, as part of the changes Kiwirail will be required to create a 3-year investment programme but with a 10-year forecast. The regional rail priorities from the Auckland and Wellington metro networks will feed into this.
The plan should be incredibly useful to for us to have but my biggest issue with it is that while it talks about creating a long-term vision for the rail network, it doesn’t really show any vision. It talks about the need to improve the reliability, resilience and capacity of the rail network, listing a large number of projects needed to achieve those goals, which in itself is interesting, but never really articulates an actual vision for rail.
For example, for freight the plan talks about how freight tonnage across NZ is expected to increase by 55% by 2042 but only really says that rail need to play it’s part in that, as well as noting that on average moving a tonne of freight by rail has a 66% reduction in carbon emissions vs using trucks. In the section on measuring the benefits of investment it only says that the investment is anticipated to deliver “increased resilience and reliability of the rail network to enable rail to retain its share of the freight market“. Simply maintaining market share doesn’t seem very aspirational or visionary and still means a 55% increase in road freight is required.
The same issue plays out with the two metro networks where there’s plenty of talk about providing for growth but the plan never really says what the end state we should be aiming for is. About the most that is mentioned is that modelling for ATAP suggests Auckland will reach 46 million rail trips by 2028 and if current trends continue, Wellington will reach 20 million trips by 2030.
As a comparison, Waka Kotahi NZTA’s 10-year view – called Arataki, gives a much better picture of what is happening and how it relates five step change priorities of: transform urban mobility, improve urban form, Significantly reduce harms, tackle climate change, and support regional development.
While I think the plan lacks a clearly articulated vision for the rail network, the most interesting part of it are the lists of projects for freight as well as the Auckland and Wellington networks. These are broken into three categories, investments that improve reliability and resilience, those that improve capacity for growth and future opportunities that may be needed – although some projects clearly straddle both the reliability and capacity categories.
The projects for the two metro projects are below and there’s a little bit more about some of them in the document itself. There’s nothing too surprising in the lists given they are generally referenced in other documents but helpful to have them laid out.
The freight version is below.
You can also watch a summary presentation on the plan below.
The Green Party plans
Given we’re discussing future vision with the rail network, it’s also worth covering the recent announcement by the Green Party to push for $9 billion investment in rail infrastructure as part of the response to COVID-19. The plan appears to have a lot of similarities to our Regional Rapid Rail plan from 2017 but takes the idea further and spreads it across much of the country.
The proposal would mean significant intercity rail investment over ten years to roll out fast, electric passenger services connecting key provincial centres with Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
Over time this would see fast electric trains for passenger and freight connecting:
- Auckland to Hamilton, Tauranga and eventually Whangarei
- Wellington with Masterton, Palmerston North and eventually Whanganui
- Christchurch with Rangiora in the North, Ashburton in the south and eventually Timaru.
Green Party Co-leader and Climate Change spokesperson James Shaw said today:
“The large intercity rail project proposed will provide meaningful work whilst driving us towards a sustainable, green, zero carbon future.
“Building rail creates more jobs than building motorways and helps us tackle climate change at the same time.
With Green Party Transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter saying:
“That’s why we’re proposing a nation-wide intercity rapid rail programme that would bring our provincial centres and biggest cities closer together through fast, electric passenger rail. This will create real alternatives to driving or flying for people who want to travel around the country for work, to see their family and friends, or for domestic tourism.
Their proposal is to roll this idea out in two stages.
- A major programme of work to electrify the rail lines between these centres
- Targeted improvements to the existing track to allow travel speeds to increase up to 110km/h.
- Building new higher-speed track to support “tilt-trains” capable of achieving speeds of 160km/h
- By-passes to create faster, more direct routes (e.g. around Whangamarino wetland north of Hamilton).
They’ve also put out this map.
The plan looks pretty good although I think there’s probably a good middle ground between what we have now and large-scale electrification like proposed. In particular the potential to use dual-mode trains like are becoming increasingly common overseas – increasingly that second mode is becoming batteries too. That would mean services could start to be provided sooner and cheaper. I also wonder, if they’re talking about restoring trains to Rotorua, why not also the likes of Cambridge
This plan is not without its challenges but it at least lays out a goal for the network and one that is backed by some ambition.