Last week Parliament’s Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee announced they are holding an inquiry into the future of inter-regional passenger rail in New Zealand.

The Transport and Infrastructure Committee has opened an inquiry into the future of inter-regional passenger rail in New Zealand.  The aim of the inquiry is to find out what the future could hold for inter-regional passenger rail in New Zealand. The terms of reference below will guide what the committee investigates.

Greg O’Connor, the Chair of the committee, said “We hope interested New Zealanders will take the time to have their say and help us better understand inter-regional passenger rail and its future in New Zealand.”

The committee welcomes your comments and ideas on the topic and is looking forward to learning what the future of passenger rail could look like for New Zealand.

Terms of reference:

  • Investigating possibilities and viability of passenger rail in underserved communities, those with prior rail links that have been disestablished, and those currently advocating for improved rail links;
  • Gaining insights into viability of passenger rail sitting alongside KiwiRail’s freight network;
  • Evaluating existing inter-regional passenger rail, such as the Capital Connection, and how these services work between local and regional councils and central government;
  • Gaining insights into the integration of regional rail into existing local public transport networks;
  • Investigating the climate and emissions reductions possibilities of passenger rail, and how this links to VKT (vehicle kilometres travelled) reduction targets in the Emissions Reduction Plan, and including electrification between regions; and
  • Investigating potential rail expansions and investments in specific areas, such as Tauranga (following a recent report on the re-introduction of passenger rail) and the Lower North Island (following a business case funded at Budget 2021).

We haven’t put a submission together yet but here are some of the things we’ll be thinking of when we do.

1. Regional Rapid Rail

We’re no strangers to thinking about how inter-regional rail might work with many posts over the years and in that regard it’s hard for us to go past our Regional Rapid Rail proposal from 2017 – as a side note, that remains our most commented on post by a long way. The proposal looked at how we could, over a staged period, deliver inter-regional rail linking the Waikato and Bay of Plenty to Auckland.

The complete Regional Rapid Rail network in stage 3
The final Regional Rapid Rail network overlaid on a population density map of the Upper North Island. This places half the population and economy of New Zealand on one transit system.

2. A Unified Fleet

As I wrote about recently, Greater Wellington Regional Council is looking to purchase a fleet of new tri-mode trains for use on the Capital Connection and Wairarapa Line services. We think the government should look to buy national fleet that can also be used for Te Huia on the Auckland electrified network as well as other potential future routes.

3. Integrate with the metro networks

Inter-regional trains should be thought of as part of our existing metro networks rather than a standalone service. With the changes noted above we are seeing this happen with the Wellington lines but this should apply to Te Huia and any other future services too. What do I mean by forming part of the metro network, as an example, there have been suggestions that post CRL and completion of the third main that we could see limited stop services reintroduced on the Southern Line. If that happens and if we’ve got tri-mode trains why not incorporate Te Huia as part of that rather than have it operate separately. It doesn’t mean every service has to extend to Hamilton, maybe just every 3rd or 4th does at peak times, but does mean you could for example could use Te Huia to get to Puhinui faster to speed up a trip to the airport.

4. A single agency for planning inter-regional travel as well as funding

Currently each region is responsible for the planning and contracting of public transport within their region and they get funding assistance from Waka Kotahi via the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) to do that. But there is no one that is doing this for inter-regional travel. There should be.

A national public transport agency should be established with the same remit as regional councils have with the responsibility to plan, procure and fund inter-regional public transport, including buses. It should also assume responsibility for the existing inter-regional tourist trains run by Kiwirail, such as the Northern Explorer.

The use of inter-regional buses should be included in the inquiry as improvements to them through such a national agency could yield strong mode-shift/VKT reductions. Making improvements to buses can also form a useful first step before or while rail services are established.

Such a national agency should also be able to access NLTF funding just like any other public transport service.

5. Clear separation from Kiwirail as a freight company.

Kiwirail is tasked with running our rail network but its primary business is moving freight. Those two roles can often conflict with the idea of running inter-regional services as those services could use up track slots Kiwirail may want in the future and Kiwirail is often only maintaining the network for slow and infrequent freight services – that’s partially what’s led to issues like the Rolling Contact Failure that saw massive disruption to Auckland’s network in 2020 and 2021.

In order to resolve this the government may once again need split apart the infrastructure and logistics functions of the organisations.

6. Sleeper Trains

While not practical for all routes, sleeper trains may be a possibility for routes like Auckland to Wellington.

Concept design for new sleeper train cabins in Europe, Bloomberg

7. Infrastructure hurdles

In order to make inter-regional rail services viable, there is almost certainly going to be a need investment in infrastructure. That could vary from new/upgraded stations to new passing loops or double tracking, to electrification and even new lines or deviations of existing ones. Funding for this will almost certainly need to come from the government.

What other areas do you think should be included in a submission?

The closing date for submissions is Thursday, 06 October 2022

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  1. The Save Our Trains group will be preparing a template and resource material for submissions so will alert readers when that is available.

    1. You lost me with this comment “Night trains are a realistic alternative to flying on longer journeys”, not when time is concerned.

      1. Could you please use a username rather than @-ing other people? Preferably your own.

        Night trains serve many purposes. Flying needs alternatives because it cannot usually be justified, given how many people have died even this year due to climate change.

        It is not “realistic” to continue to trash the planet.

      2. The point with a night trains is that the overnight time is free because you are asleep.

        Let say you had to get from Auckland to Wellington for an 8:30am meeting in the CBD.

        Right now you go to bed and then wake up at 6am and getting to the airport to catch a Auckland to Wellington flight.

        With a Night Train you’d go to bed on the train and then wake up at 7:30am in time for it to get into Wellington at 8.

        1. By taking the night train I turn a there and back day trip into a 2 nights away from home trip, no thanks.

        2. I used to travel a lot between Auckland and Wellington on business, and first up if you had to be in Wellington for an 8.30 meeting you’d better be on the 6.30am flight. You might just make it on the 7am but wouldn’t chance it if the meeting was important. So more like 4.30 wake up… And probably home around 10pm if all goes well, and faced with the office again the next morning.
          I can assure you it was a nightmare, and if there was a sleeper train I would have taken it without hesitation. You can arrive much more rested and not be a zombie at your meeting. Yes you are away 2 nights, but overall it would be far more relaxing and less tiring.
          The sad irony was the old Silver Star overnight train was intended for just this sort of business travel. But it got killed when the 737s came into service and people couldn’t see beyond a 45 minute flight vs an overnight train, but overlooked all the extra time getting to/from the airport and all the security and other airport delays.

        3. Dr Zito – And the other thing that killed it was when they went to upgrade it was all the asbestos in the carriages which nobody here wanted to touch , so they sold it to an Asian railway system to run between Singapore and Thailand .
          If KR could do a deal with the group that are turning the 30 SA’s in to a high end sleeper train we may end up with another proper overnighter .

  2. Nice summary, I intend to make a submission along the same lines.

    One thing that I haven’t seen talked about in great detail is provision for carrying a lot of recreational equipment. e.g. mountain bikes to Rotorua, surfboards to the BoP, skis and snowboards to Ohakune if a service ever goes that far.

    The other thing on my mind is electrification – I would like to see a 10 year programme of electrification. Tri-mode rolling stock emissions would reduce over time as electrification was extended. A steady programme of work would mean stable employment for the people tasked with building it, rather than a piecemeal approach.

    There’s probably a constraint in the Kaimai tunnel because of diesel fumes from freight locos – that will need consideration. Are we likely to see dual-mode freight locos in NZ?

    1. “One thing that I haven’t seen talked about in great detail is provision for carrying a lot of recreational equipment. e.g. mountain bikes to Rotorua, surfboards to the BoP, skis and snowboards to Ohakune if a service ever goes that far.“

      This is very important. Te Huia bizarrely limit bikes to 4. Also for at least a while they completely banned ebikes on the service.

      1. Agree – and not just for recreation. We know that there is a useful range extension by being able to use the bike or micromobility at the start and termination of the rail journey to make actual connections to the places you need to get to.

        1. Agree – it really does my head in that the. only passenger train gong. from Wellington to Auckland will only take 2 bikes! for the whole train. Surely it would take nothing to put. on a guards van that could take. 30 bikes

      2. Te Huia is not limited to 4 bikes, they have a flexible approach and find room for up to 8 if required. Depending on how busy the train is. The ebike ban was Kiwirail Tranz Scenic trains, not Te Huia.

      3. Yes the 4 bike limit on Te Huia is frustrating, as I used this service over a couple of years on and off to commute from Palmerston North to Wellington, with my bike when there was room. Note they happily hauled around an open viewing-deck-carriage, mainly for smokers and sightseers happy to inhale diesel fumes from the front loco, when heading south.

        1. I thought they stopped peoples smoking there on the viewing platform ? , I know with the old overnighters you do it .

  3. And it needs investment in driver training too. There are only so many drivers to go around and a driver taking a passenger service can take 60 cars off the road but that is one less freight service that can run which just puts 30 or 40 trucks back on the road. So it might even be a net loss climate wise.

    Don’t agree with a different agency to run passenger. You just double up on admin and bureaucracy, while creating safety issues with two agencies to coordinate in event of a major issue rather than one. And then drivers will just swap between kiwirail and the passenger one (like they do now with transdev) It’s just to do with the overall number of drivers, mechanical staff etc, not whether they are in different organisations.
    Just increase driver numbers, mechanical staff numbers, Loco numbers, carriage numbers at kiwirail and save yourself a bunch of unnecesary admin and paper pusher costs for a second organization.

    1. Agree, it works will in Germany and Switzerland. The public own Kiwirail so can direct them to do whatever we want, it would just need a change of direction from their current one.

      1. “The public own Kiwirail so can direct them to do whatever we want, it would just need a change of direction from their current one.”

        Ah no.

        Kiwirail is an SOE with a controlling minister. You and I cannot direct KR to do anything, only the KR board (and, arguably the minister) can do that.

        1. I’m aware I can’t just walk into Kiwirail and tell them what to do. My point was the government can do whatever they want with Kiwirail, if the SOE Act is too limiting they can legislate to change it or remove Kiwirail from it if needed.

        2. SOE act was written at the height of NZ’s immersion into neoliberalism by the crowd within Labour who shortly after baled to form ACT. Like all legislation it can be amended, rewritten or discarded by the government in power at the time. Given what happened to many of the SOEs created it is debatable whether the act has served NZ well at all.

  4. All for this!
    I’d also like to see the network eventually extended to Taupo (probably via Rotorua but possibly via Tokoroa). It’s such an important destination especially for tourism these days.

    1. An oft-overlooked point when looking at the competing priorities of passenger and freight rail is this: People are not cargo! We are sensitive to delays, disruptions and unpredictability. This all seems painfully obvious, but it can be difficult to understand from the perspective of freight-oriented rail operators.

      This point was raised in ‘Transport for Humans’, a recently-published book that looks at transport planning from a basis of behavioural science. It’s a good read and I recommend it to all readers of Greater Auckland.

      1. I disagree. Te huia has its own separate dedicated team within kiwirail with dedicated captive locos and drivers. They can focus on passenger quite well. If there is an issue on the network then the whole business is set up to prioritize passengers on te huia and capital connection etc. The freight trains are at the back of the queue.

        1. To clarify: I wasn’t saying that this necessitates separate organisations. It’s simply a question of ensuring that passengers’ needs are reflected at all levels of operations, managements, governance, etc. There are lots of ways to do this.

        2. MRB – Te Huia train is almost bottom of the priority list when it comes too train control in the the Auckland Metro area. Highest is Auckland Metro train services, then priority freight, then Te Huia and at the bottom is normal freight.

  5. And for the separation of infrastructure and logistics. This already happens. The networks side of kiwirail is separated from the freight but it’s just under the one umbrella of kiwirail.

    1. Kiwirail Holdings Ltd (KHL) is both the train operator and rail infrastructure operator operating a ‘closed access’ national rail network.

      Being the gate keeper of the national rail network is a conflict of interest in favour of KHL as the company can restrict or block access the national rail network to other train operator/s.

      Currently, 64% of the national rail network is not being utilised.

        1. Also for your te huia comment I don’t know about train control in the auckland area. From a freight point of view they would never steal drivers from te huia for freight trains, even premier freight. And freight trains are planned to not hinder te huia.
          Also the premier freight goes well after te huia has gone back to HAM so it doesn’t really get in the way

        2. MRB – Have been held up by a freighter at Ngaruawahia while on the Te Huia heading South as it was running ahead of time , all because of that single track bridge .

        3. MRB – Te Huia has 6 dedicated drivers including a team leader all based in Hamilton.

          Te Huia is not hindered by freight trains outside the Auckland metro rail corridor but currently has low priority within the the Auckland metro corridor. This will probably change once the third line is completed and becomes fully operational.

  6. A National payment card, which provides the framework to resolve the issues around payment collection and distribution, reducing the number of cards that need to be carried.

    This also allows for system wide upgrades of the payment infrastructure. On a recent trip to Sydney, there were posters on the way to the train, talking about using a debit/credit card for travel, rather than requiring an Opal card (the brand name for contactless payment in Sydney).

    The reduction in friction for those traveling as a big barrier to get over. Making it easy for occasional users removes an excuse to trying a different route/service.

    1. Yes, why aren’t we using a one-stop ticketing system with Paywave?
      Your debit/credit card could serve as your ticket’s ID, once the journey is paid, tagging at gates, boarding or inspection.

      I enlisted my 2016 HOP card to take the kids out for the day, then found it wouldn’t swipe at the bus. The driver kindly let us on and suggested sorting it out at the mall by the railway station.

      I had to buy HOP card credit at a supermarket checkout, then bring the physical receipt round to the customer service desk to get a new HOP card activated. Even in-store, the process is weirdly clunky and awkward. Why could I not sort this all out at the station or bus stop kiosk? I was using a fairly major interchange, after all.

      Full credit to the staff at AT HOP helpline who guided me through the similarly janky website to transfer credit from the old card to the new. Thank you James.

      1. Or be like the Chinese and put ticketing on smartphones. Show your QR code and it’s done. What’s with this obsession with cards? I’ve a wallet full of them.

        1. Phone or CC/debit/EFTPOS card please. No hop, bee or other silly name with the added back office complexity they introduce.

  7. One thing that should be part as part of the planning is providing link buses to the trains.
    It’s already done in Kapiti where local buses to and from Otaki link into the stations at Paraparaumu-major shopping and Waikanae- the end of the commuter train service.
    Otaki people I speak to want the units to come there but in the meantime they also want a more frequent bus service
    In Waikato this could be from say Morrinsville and Otorohanga specifically to catch Te Huia as its services increase. (As far as I know this is not happening apart from existing commuter connections to Hamilton morning and night).

    1. There is one (bad) afternoon connection from Matamata/Morrinsville for the afternoon train but it does not run via the station. There is no return connection

  8. The Transport and Infrastructure Committee solution for the “inquiry into the future of inter-regional passenger rail in New Zealand.” is completing the network from the fragmented one to an integrated inter-regional passenger rail network. Looking at “The Great Journeys of NZ” Rail NZ Map clearly shows the gaps in the current network for inter-regional passenger rail travel in NZ.

  9. “This places half the population and economy of New Zealand on one transit system.”

    This is the selling point for regional rail.

    1. The selling point for regional rail is making the journey faster and cheaper than driving. Unless you can do that regional rail is a dead duck. Based of Te Huia I don’t think were are anywhere near that situation.

      I travel to the UK 4-5 times per year, a cluster of my customers are in Southampton, I fly to Heathrow, express train to Paddington then Underground to Waterloo and another train to Southampton, there are at least 40 return services to Southampton from Waterloo daily, the longest I’ve had to wait for a train is 30 minutes, it’s turn up and go. If I can’t get that kind of frequency for regional rail in NZ I’m going to drive.

      1. I think there has been a big change in behaviour that will make trains cool again – mobile phones and laptops. 2.5 hours on a train can actually be more productive than 1.5 hours driving. Add to that many people moving out of Auckland as they can work from home, on the days they do need to go into the office I doubt they will want to drive for hours.
        Yes trains that are faster than driving would be nice, but that is many billion dollars away. For now I think any trains at all would suffice.

      2. There are multiple selling points to regional rail, speed is good but just having a train is a start. There have been a number of Te Huia services during the school holidays that have been standing room only.

        Te Huia definitely needs to be quicker but I think if we can get it to 2 hours or a little under it will be very competitive.

      3. As someone who works at LHR, try taking the train to other parts of England, not as frequent and bloody expensive. Let’s not forget that unofficially, 3 times NZs population lives in London alone, not including people like me based in South East England.

  10. It is a distraction like putting on a public fireworks show. Nothing will come of it other than a bill for the public to pay. “Don’t look over there, look at my shiny cycle bridge, see my gleaming regional rail plan, imagine what fun it would be to ride on light rail”.

    1. I drove over Transmission Gully for the first time the other day. That is certainly leaving a big bill to pay.

      But on the subject of trains, the lengthy process to save Auckland trains and then improve them has been described here several times. Change is not only possible, it has already happened.

      But on the subject of the transport network, we have abandoned cost-benefit analysis for investments, abandoned the principle of drivers paying for roads, and built a huge constituency in favour of new motorways. Those are challenges for planning any new directions.

      1. The price of LPV – light passenger vehicle ownership and operation in NZ is also dam expensive, see my below quick and dirty calculation:
        Conservative estimate for total annual cost of fixed and flexible costs of Light Passenger Vehicle’s in NZ: figures from stats. NZ and AA
        LPV’s 3.36million x cost $6720per/yr ($20 per/day for a small $18,000 car) = $22.6 Billion per annum

        Imagine just a portion of this LPV household expenditure was saved and redirected into the economy through the leveraging and smart development of mass transit in NZ.

    1. I am against shams in all there forms. Surely you can see that since neither Megan Woods nor Chris Hipkins are involved the Government has no intention of actually doing anything?

        1. Healthcare, housing, jobs and benefits and dignity for those who can’t work or can’t get a job. Transport? I don’t really care that much, it isn’t that important. So long as carbon is fully priced and if congestion could be fully priced I can live with how things are or how people choose to travel in that system. I come here because my job is in transport and I like to know what is going on, when I quit work I will go back to baiting antivaxers, anti government idiots and other fascists like I did in the lockdowns.

        2. Wouldn’t disagree with any of that – but what about mobility for those disadvantaged?

        3. That is barely a thing. We live in a society where people can’t afford food, where children suffer preventable illnesses caused by poverty and where fascism is on the rise. Please watch Paula Penfold’s documentary Fire and Fury on Stuff. She has absolutely nailed it and doesn’t repeat herself six times like those podcasts that assume you are stupid.

        4. But miffy, we have an evidence base that contradicts you on this.

          Have a read of the TERP, pages 14 – 15. Transport inequity compounds the disadvantages faced by people in poverty.

        5. “We live in a society where people can’t afford food, where children suffer preventable illnesses caused by poverty and where fascism is on the rise”

          It’s a good thing that forcing everyone to drive a car in order to access food, and employment doesn’t impact this at all. /sarc

  11. Great piece Matt and I wish that they (Government and Train Operators) would get on and provide inter-regional passenger rail services, as I think that it is a national disgrace, with climate change, that there are sill internal flights between Auckland and Tauranga/ Rotorua. Destinations that can be reached by a decent passenger rail service. P.S. Any work commenced today regarding the Pukekohe Electrification?

    1. “Any work commenced today regarding the Pukekohe Electrification?”

      The bad news: KR have delayed the project
      The good news: The bus replacement started on time.

      1. I didn’t see any work on the project today, but don’t forget this is
        Monday. With work being done on Saturday and Sunday, I’m
        guessing that the workforce gets a couple of days off during the week.

      2. That’s my issue with the shutdown is that they have been working on the line for months and the reason for the shutdown is to quicken the pace with more locations of work and what happens is well, not much, might as well have left the train service running!

  12. I hope the committee look at how Kiwirail charge out its drivers and locomotives. Particularly whether there is an opportunity cost charged based on what the locomotive could earn if it was used in freight service. Given the age of them I would suggest they would be scrapped if they weren’t being used on passenger trains. Is there any traffic which would suddenly appear if Te Huia was scrapped tomorrow. I doubt it. In fact freight traffic is very seasonal so perhaps the case for an opportunity charge could be made for the 6 weeks leading up for Christmas at the very best. In the longer term multiple units is probably the best however locomotive hauled carriage trains can be more flexible with extra carriages being added at busy periods. Tauranga Auckland would seem to be the next area of route expansion with connecting bus services to other Waikato and Bay of plenty towns. Many bus services are already in place so they would just require some tweaking to connect up with the train. Te Puke may be a better terminus as it would bypass Tauranga traffic woes for passengers travelling on to the Eastern Bay of Plenty or Roturua. The other transfer place would be Waharoa with bus connections to Matamata, Putararu Tirau Tokoroa and Taupo. Going the other way a connection through to Thames would be possible from Morrinsville. So anyway that will be the focus of my submission are passenger services being charged fairly by Kiwirail and can bus connections to an Auckland Tauranga train be used to provide a useful service to more locations. I will also point out that the Government has budgeted for $8.6,billion spending on rail since 2017. This is mainly to the benifit of Kiwirails corporate customers it is about time some of the benifits come back to the people who put up the money through their taxes.

    1. “Given the age of them I would suggest they would be scrapped if they weren’t being used on passenger trains”.
      They are 4 DFB locos captive to te huia and previously they were used on the NAL to whangerei and on the PNGL to napier. They may have run capital connection and northern explorer sometimes too. They would definitely still be used.

      1. MRB – There is only 3 dedicated DFB’s for Te Huia allowing for three 4 carriage train sets if in ‘push/pull’ operation.

        1. I thought there were 3 as well but according to loco control as of about 5pm today there are 4 DFBs. Although 1 is apparently being used for training this week.

        2. Anyone know what’s happened to the plan for push/pull operation? A second peak service was supposed to return to the schedule in June once this was sorted but I can’t help but notice it’s already August.

        3. jezza – The proposed push/pull operation for Te Huia is still waiting for sign off by Waka Kotahi/NZ Transport Agency which should be later this year.

          There still concerns by the union about the number of uncontrolled level crossings on the Auckland/Hamilton rail corridor, considering Te Huia is allowed to travel up 100kph on certain sections of the corridor.

  13. Lots of good ideas here. Long overdue. As a kiwi living in south Korea, it’s hard to imagine how these ideas will move beyond just that. Comparing infrastructure here in Seoul to that which is imagined here, I’m very skeptical. I remember Riding the train from Pukekohe to Britomart in 2008. Nearly 15 years later it’s still largely the same experience and not any faster/cheaper/convenient.

    My point on posting this comment is to challenge policy makers and bureaucrats to get a move on. These plans look great on paper but by when can we actually enjoy their benefit? Probably not in my life time.

    1. Good observation Tim. I arrived in Pukekohe 2006 and was appalled that it didn’t have the same service as Paraparaumu to Wellington had – a service every 30mins weekdays into the evenings too and hourly on weekends into the early hours of the following day. We still don’t have half the service today that the PP-WN enjoyed 16yrs ago, yet we have more population to feed such a service. As for PT to Tuakau that is on the main trunk line – disgraceful!

  14. Following the recent bottle-necks in inter-regional air travel, it is very timely to point out that inter-city/inter-regional rail travel would give people more options in planning their trips. It is likely to take many years but recreating a passenger rail network will avoid the sort of travel disruption that so many experienced recently.

  15. Even a poor quality service like the Capital Connection is still better than driving. Very noticeable increase in passengers with the cheaper fares, too.

    As an academic I have to say I am disappointed that, as far as I can tell, not a single academic in New Zealand works on regional public transport. There is no data on actual or potential demand, which surely makes it difficult to plan.

    The customers for improved regional PT are (1) people who would switch from driving if the service was good enough, and (2) people who do not drive. The second group are terribly served at the moment and probably also less politically engaged.

    A better service would act as a lever to decrease cars and driving (and emissions). But it’s hard to say how big of a factor it is compared to all the other imbalances in the transport system.

  16. If the cost of inconveniencing KiwiRail freight with passenger services becomes so great and the existing infrastructure is too expensive to modernise (and potentially prepare for 160km/h running, not that excessive), you have to consider building a separate, higher speed passenger network. Standard gauge, max speed 160 – 200km/h, double track to accommodate services, etc. Not to cover the whole country, but focus around Auckland and Wellington.

    A rival to KiwiRail may also introduce a step change in how they operate.

    1. You see this in Spain. In the north there are three different gauges:

      – Metre gauge, used on regional rail near Bilbao and San Sebastian, the Bilbao Metro and the north coast line to Galacia.
      – Standard gauge, for high-speed rail (of which Spain has loads)
      – Iberian (broad) gauge; most railway lines in Spain are broad gauge.

      Spain is large and immensely hilly; the different gauges represent what was available at the time. Spanish rail and road infrastructure are both superb.

      Other countries with more than one mainline gauge:
      – Japan; Standard gauge for Shinkansen and some subway lines, mostly 1,067mm elsewhere
      – South Africa; Standard gauge for Gautrain passenger rail serving Johannesburg and Pretoria; 1,067mm network elsewhere.

      These are both deliberate decisions, as opposed to the separate gauges that arose in Australia for historic reasons.

      Building an entirely self-contained system is worth considering. The benefits around speed, comfort, cost, etc must offset the downsides of non-interoperability. A new metro line would be a good example.

      It’s worth remembering that Japan built the Shinkansen having wrung all it could out of the speed and capacity of the traditional lines; track straightening, four-tracking, electrification, banked corners and so on. We have a long way to go here. To my knowledge there’s only section of four track and flyover in NZ just north of Wellington. There are lots of improvements that we can do incrementally, as part of a programme, before investing in a new standard gauge line.

      Japan’s 1,067mm regional trains (e.g. Kyushu Sonic Express) are fast, spacious and comfortable and would be an absolute treat to have in NZ.

      1. I used to imagine how amazing it’d be to have the 885 series running regional along with the 815 series for commuter rail in NZ when I lived in Kyushu. Heck just get JR Kyushu running the operation..

    2. It would be cheaper to update the existing national rail network for speeds between 110 to 140kph by knocking out the kinks with better track alignment, derivations, etc, strengthening and upgrading bridges, tunnels, etc, adding more passing loops or double track where possible, complete electrification of the North Island main trunk line and Hamilton to Tauranga, better signalling and train control systems like ETCS 2 or ETCS 3 or similar for increase freight and passenger train movements for a back of an envelope cost of $30 billion over a period time and for speeds up to 160kph for approximately $40 billion.

      1. Shouldn’t be more than a third of that price. No expensive land acquisitions etc generally and not building to HSR specs.
        There are potentially some good (but expensive) deviations that could be implemented, but not necessary for the most part.

    3. Keith, George, Kris, you are all absolutely dreaming, if you think that NZ is going to build another rail network with wider tracks, considering we have not even completed the existing one. Honestly guys, come on, think about it! Just never going to happen, ever.

      1. average human – The current national rail network is under utilised, under invested, predominantly freight network that connects 13 of the 16 regions in New Zealand including our 6 main cities with the 13 provincial cities, major towns, semi rural towns and rural communities from Kaitaia to Bluff and a has potential passenger catchment of nearly two thirds of the country’s population.

        I am proposing the upgrade of the existing national rail network not building a new one, to a sustainable, environmentally friendly national ‘steel’ highway network that can have higher utilisation of freight and passenger train movements to reduce carbon, nitrogen, methane, etc emissions.

      2. @average human please re-read my post. The points I made were:
        1) Upgrade existing lines before building new ones. There are lots of upgrades we could do.
        2) If building a self-contained line (e.g. a light rail line through the Auckland isthmus) where interoperability is not a concern, consider using standard gauge.

        Neither of these points are advocating “building another rail network with wider tracks”.

    4. Obviously you haven’t seen, what they done in WA or QLD with its 3ft 6 Gauge Pax Services?

      The WA & QLD Freight Services is complete bonkers especially in Central QLD & KiwiRail can only dream of having such heavy & fast freight trains.

      It’s not the operating gauge that is causing problems in NZ, but NZ’s woeful loading gauge that is keeping NZ Pax Service to operate at a meaningful speed, or the ability increase axle weights & or width of the carriages etc.

      The speed across the Canterbury Plains before privatisation was between 100/110kph & nowadays you would be lucky to hit 80kph. Even the Steam Locomotives & the Vulcan’s were safely exceeding the speed limits because the tracks were always well maintained & everyone knew the trains had RoW unlike today’s muppet drivers who seem to think they have RoW & not the trains.

  17. I’m curious where you get the 64% from?. I agree there is space on the tracks but not shunting space in yards or CT sites. Doesn’t matter if the tracks are clear 64% of the time and you arrive at your destination and there are no roads left to berth the train or space in the CT site to strip and reload. That’s where the bottlenecks are. Not on the tracks.
    I don’t think there are many other prospects for rail operators that will invest the necessary hundreds of millions into rolling stock, yard staff
    , drivers etc to get started in the rail business.
    Also this would make access to yards and CT sites exceptionally complicated and bizarre.
    What happens if another rail operators train derails in front of a kiwirail service? Nz is mostly single track remember. Everyone is stuck so who pays for lost or late tonnage? . What happens if a competitors train turns up late and the yard is busy shunting that train when they should be shunting yours? .

    Rail in nz won’t favour the fastest most efficient operator cause they will just be stuck behind the slowest most inefficient operator. It’s like a line of people waiting for their passports to be checked at customs. Doesn’t matter if you’re fast and a granny is in front of you. You just have to wait in line.

    If you are talking about charters from GVR or other groups these are welcomed and they just have to fill out a form.

  18. One of the delays we have down here in Wellington, on the Kapiti Line (which is really part of the NIMT), is that we have freight trains on the lines at the same time as the passenger trains. Not that many freight trains – but when one runs, the passenger services have to sit at the side of the track waiting. Takes big chunks out of the passenger timetable.

    Seems to me that if you want to increase the frequency of the Regional Rail services, and the Metro services, then you need to have the freight services running at night. They have that in Germany (and if there is any country which nows how to run an efficient rail service, it is surely Germany), and during the day the track are full of fast whizzing passenger trains – and at night the passenger trains park up and the freight trains pour onto the tracks. Last time I was there near Wolfsburg on a sleeper train, and it was just shunted into a siding and several hundred Volkswagen cars came out of the factory gates and disappeared on trains headed to far off destinations, for an hour or two – then trains full of logs for another hour or two – then containers – and then just as dawn was coming, the passenger trains reappeared again.

    1. Can they not divert a lot of Kapit freight through the Manawatu gorge and Wairarapa or is that not an option?

    2. Have you actually used German rail services? Having freight and passenger trains on the same network is horrible. Long-distance trains were on time only about 60% of the time this year. It ‘works’ because it has to work but starting in 2024 a lot of bridges will be under construction putting huge additional stress on the system. Funny enough, lorries are not the answer – highway bridges start to fail, too.
      Night time freight trains are also only a good idea if you don’t live too close to a railway. But then you can’t use the trains neither!
      If you have the opportunity to build a new network, build separate freight lines. Or at least just more tracks in general so that trains can wait and let others pass…

      1. “Have you actually used German rail services? Having freight and passenger trains on the same network is horrible.” Have you actually read what I was saying, at all? The entire point of what I was noting was the problem with both freight and passengers using the same network, and so I was proposing to help it by splitting it time wise, ie day for people, night for freight. Because one thing is for sure, if we are having a problem trying to get regional rail working on the existing network with the current tight financial package we have, then the answer is NOT that we need to build another rail network.

        Keep it focused in the real world and focused on the current options. Building a second rail network is not an option.

        1. Sorry, this might have come across too harsh. I guess I got triggered by taking Germany as an example of smooth and well-organized train services. At this point, you should not try to copy Germany’s approach but rather learn from their mistakes.
          My main message was that having freight and passenger trains on the same network creates a lot of problem if you want to use it intensely. On way around that is to create a second network which I have to admit is not feasible in New Zealand at this time. Another way around this, and much more feasible in New Zealand, is to have additional tracks in place so that trains can pass other trains. And you don’t have to do it everywhere, having extra tracks in train stations and on short sections in between would be enough.

        2. Hi, current German resident here. Germany’s rail network is by no means smooth and seamless, but that perhaps has more to do with the sheer volume of services they now run on the network (Deutsche Bahn runs over forty thousand trains a day!) and the increasing patronage that they haven’t kept up with in terms of fleet and infrastructure.

          Germany has a model of intercity trains running on the ‘normal’ mainlines, sharing tracks or corridors with freight, regional trains and in a few cases with urban S-Bahns. However, their approach to high speed rail is to duplicate or bypass large sections of main lines between cities, or upgrade the alignments. This is in contrast to the model used in France, China and Japan where high speed routes are entirely new lines.

          The obvious benefit of this approach is that improvements can be steadily made all over the network in iterative steps, each step getting a bit faster or more capacity. This is unlike the other approach where you have to build the new network line by line, and where the new lines aren’t very useful until they are more or less complete the whole way. You can do stages of course, but you end up with things like LGV Sudest ending at a station 130km away from Paris.

          The German ‘upgrade’ approach quite beneficial for the user for a few reasons, firstly it means the high speed trains use the normal train tracks to come right into the main stations in middle of towns and cities, and in larger cities they often stop at convenient interchanges in the suburbs too. This is in contrast to the other model which often requires building new in greenfields locations on the outskirts of cities, which are more like an airport to use.
          Secondly, it means there can be a lot of routes that are at least partly high speed on shared sections, even links between smaller towns that would never justify a new HSR line on their own. The German high speed network is a large countrywide grid of routes going everywhere, compared to say the French TGV network which is a few core corridors radiating out from Paris.

          Personally I think a smaller version of the German model is ideal for New Zealand. Use the existing lines that already come right into the middle of just about every town and city in the country. Where there are capacity issues or conflicts with freight, duplicate or triplicate tracks or build sidings and passing loops, as and when needed. Do curve easements or separations that improve things for the whole line, and then consider sections of new lines or bypasses in strategic locations built to higher speed geometry, things that add capacity and speed at the places where they are most needed.

          The best thing NZ could do is set up a steady rail upgrade fund for a programme of works stretching over a decade or two, working step by step on a prioritised list of iterative improvements to corridors, tracks, stations and fleet.

  19. What about the South Island? I get that that most of the population is in the North Island and I definitely support any further investment in Rail in the north. However, their is still over a million people and growing in the south and why procrastinate intill the problem is so bad that when we need the rail infrastructure we don’t have it and have to wait another 10 years to have the rail system in operation. A good example is the CRL, would that not have been better to have that up and ready 5 years ago then talk about it doing it and when we need it isn’t their. And in somecases, flying isn’t an option in large towns like Westport and Oamaru. The canterbury plains have long straight stretches of railway and a connection between Dunedin/South canterbury to Christchurch could easily be faster than car transport and distances that are too short to fly like Christchurch to Timaru would be very feasbile.

    1. And if wasn’t for Len Browns forward thinking the CRL would still be sitting in a filing cabinet somewhere in Wellington ;-

  20. From a UK perspective:

    * Yes, to a national agency for planning inter-regional public transport. The Swedes do this IIRC. This means funding those services which can’t pay their way and keeping a careful eye on the services which do. Something like this, perhaps?

    *However, the scope of such an agency needs to be wider than rail. Intercity bus/coach services need to be within its gambit as well. The levels of service provision, even before Covid, were quite weak. Now they are very thin indeed, and will be until the tourists return.

    * Don’t separate operations from infrastructure. This works in aviation, but only because the costs of that infrastructure are only a small part of the industry’s financial costs as a whole. In rail it doesn’t work, because of all the control issues in an industry which is heavily subsidised.

    * From British experience, I would recommend using smaller diesel-multiple-units to start with. The operational challenge is that so much of the New Zealand network is single-track.

    1. From a Swedish perspective:
      Operations and infrastructure in Sweden are clearly separated.

      The Swedish “Transport-administration” – “Trafikverket” – owns, and maintains some 90% of Swedish rail infrastructure: Trackbeds and everything up over the rails, including signals, optofiber, electrical systems. They don´t run any services. By the way the transport administration – “Trafikverket” – also owns and runs the national road system.

      Some 30+ years ago we only had “SJ” “State Railways” who owned everything related to railways in Sweden and operated all trains.

      The biggest passenger rail operator today is still “SJ” which now is a SOE. They pay fees for using the railway system. SJ ran with great deficit during covid but normally and now again runs with a profit. Private/foreign companies are also operating on Swedish rails.

      The tracks are often shared with freight rail – the biggest freight operator is “Green Cargo” also a SOE. The main trunk lines are often but far from always double tracked. Freight is often run during nights.

      Lots of investments has gone in to the railway system through government funding. One of the main goals has been (and still is) to improve travel speeds and frequency to attract more passengers.

      Typical operation is a combination of slower, stopping regional/local/commuter- trains, faster “semi-limited” stop services and the fastest non stop (almost) expresses. Also the interior design and passenger experience is a top priority, we have two classes on the faster and long-distance services.

      Three complaints are always voiced:
      1) It´s not cheap to travel with trains in Sweden.
      2) Delays are far too common.
      3) Sudden cancellations – a new post covid problem.

      Solution to no 2): Let the Swiss run it all…;-)

      1. Lars – thanks for explaining what the current situation is in Sweden, and the distinction between Trafikverket and SJ.

        My reasons for thinking why separating operations and infrastructure does not work, is specific to the British context. I am not convinced of the merits of combining rail and road network operation, but the *planning* for road and rail in NZ does need to be much better integrated than it has been historically.

        1. One of the reasons NZTA (Waka Kotahi) has been colloquially known as NZ Trucking Authority for decades. Not sure too many people in the organisation know anything about rail.

      1. I take your point, but I can assure you that the Pacers are still despised! I was thinking of the Class 158s and Class 170s

  21. We here in Nelson would like a new line built direct to Christchurch. The formation is already there to Kiwitiri then could turn up and. go through St Anaud, through the rainbow, Hanmer and onto Culverden where the old formation was before. We don’t want. to connect to Blenheim by rail as its too circuitous getting to Christchurch. Plus wouldn’t it be a lovely trip to get to Hanmer springs by rail, St Anaud by rail.
    Secondly I’d like Greater Auckland to think about making the case for railcars. People used to really love them, they are great for frequency. I’d much sooner travel in a railcar that had. no dining car but that left every hour than a full dining car equiped train that went only once or twice a day. And battery electric ones should be available ; the book. “time to eat the dog?” (note question mark and no recipes included) found that “Limburg cigar” railcars in Germany were the most energy efficient mode of transport.

  22. Serious consideration must be given to the reopening of the Wairoa -Gisborne section of the PNGL, proven traffic is pressing for a service, while Kiwirail dithers.

    1. That would be one hell of a scenic line for passengers too – the section near Mahia Peninsular is spectacular.

  23. There seems to be no plan to return the rail connection to Te Aroha and beyond to Paeroa and Thames. The Coromandel would benefit from being connected (again) to the national network. The line to Thames should never have been removed, but it could easily be reinstated.
    Even the Pokeno deviation (the proposed line which was to cut across the Hauraki Plains) should be reconsidered. This could potentially reconnect the above towns and also cut time off the trip from Auckland to Tauranga by connecting with the ECMT south of Te Aroha.
    There has been a lot of talk about rail serving small towns and communities around NZ. This can’t happen if the lines to service them aren’t there.

  24. The Regional Rail Inquiry is similar to what has been proposed in the Public Transport Forum NZ’s ‘Regional Passenger Rail Network Rebirth’ initiative –

    Whilst reintroducing regional and inter-regional passenger rail services across the country is the core of an integrated national public transport network, it only 40% of the public transport services, with buses being 50% and the remaining 10% being ferry services, light rail, on demand riding sharing, etc.

    1. Bit of a shock, he’s normally a ute driving, pro-parking councillor. He’s making me think my vote in a bit more detail.

  25. To me the Auckland centric inter-regional rail plan is focused on the wrong city.
    By having every service terminate in Auckland would have the already heavily used, and in parts congested, Waikato corridor even more congested with duplicated services. It also would require more vehicles to service all the services.
    To me the “secret” is in the name “Inter-Regional” and that is exactly what the services should be rather than trying to fit a number of services in to one corridor why not start with what we have in the Te Huia and keep that as the basis of the whole inter-regional network but only operating as it does now between Auckland and Hamilton, with maybe a future extension to Cambridge.
    Then on top of that we add, reasonably quickly, a service from Hamilton to Tauranga, maybe running in to Matamata before backing out to head to Tauranga.
    Assuming a stop at Matamata stop, shuttles can then be added to Rotorua and Tokoroa.

    1. I agree Hamilton would be ideal as regional hub. Key to success would be frequency of service for all services.

    2. With the biggest population Auckland will require the highest capacity irrespective of whether services are direct or involve transfer. It makes little sense to enforce transfers on what would be the core of any system Auckland – Hamilton – Tauranga.

      There may well be logic of having services from say Te Kuiti and Cambridge that are designed to connect with these core services.

      I don’t think routing services through Matamata would be sensible better off to have a shuttle to Waharoa.

      1. But would users going AKL-HAM or vice versa be the biggest users?

        I would have thought that travellers going in and out of Hamilton could – if they had a decent service – dwarf those going end to end across the boundary.

        Its why I also agree that this should have been a Waikato service first that terminates at Puhinui for the airport and transfers. Commuters aren’t carrying luggage etc, so a simple cross platform change is hardly the end of the world, particularly if they aren’t going all the way into the CBD in the first place.

        But first and foremost it should have been about servicing those Northern Waikato towns and then plugging in services from elsewhere. Long term there could have been a one seat ride in to Britomart. The problem now is to service those nothern towns for intra-Waikato travel is now going to compromise Te Huia’s service into Auckland.

        1. Te Huia’s numbers have taken off since it became possible to travel from Auckland to Hamilton during the day. The reality is there are 1.7 million people at one end.

          I don’t see why adding a few stations in the northern Waikato would seriously compromise the service, for it to succeed it is going to need to do multiple things.

          In short, yes AKL to HAM will be the biggest part of the network, it’s travelled by around 23,000 vehicles per day, nothing else outside of urban Hamilton goes even close to that.

    1. It’s an interesting thought, if the system could be setup for private operators to plan & run services when and where they want. Someone with some capital behind them could buy or refurbish few train sets and create a decent service only paying an entity, say, Kiwirail, track fees such that would return the operator a profit. eg The Capital Connection. There should be setup a government funded program of track improvements/extensions, electrification & station upgrades.

      1. Unlike many other countries, NZ does not have open access to its rail tracks. By no means impossible, and likely desirable, but like a lot of things it will take a big change in mindset with KiwiRail, government of any persuasion and NZ business.

  26. if the taxpayer agrees to fund intercity trains, will I be able to take my donkey onto the night train, so I have my own Green transport, when I arrive in Wellington for my meetings?

  27. Firstly, I think people in Tauranga would object to putting their tax dollars into an organisation advocating for a ‘Greater Auckland’ – secondly ‘Papamoa beach’? The rail line is no where near Papamoa beach. They will have to commit millions to bus transfer areas to a not-built train station and land for park and ride – and this is just ONE station – last I looked there is not even a legacy train station this side of the Kaimai’s to refurb, let alone building a new one from scratch. Also, in ALL these regions, there is no good local public transport infrastructure – if you are visiting a small area, you need a car. Last they surveyed, 97% of Tauranga drives. Finally, these lines have medium freight density already – and do you know what fast trains are terrible at doing? Passing slow freight trains. So you can’t have high speed anything on the same lines as freight, it has to be slow. OR you have to build brand-new, high-speed capable lines. California has tried to implement high speed rail and the costs are now projected to be $105 billion – it is something like $56 million dollars a km. Great Britain is also doing something and its nearly twice the cost of that per km. Then there is the cost of operation – you will never get the capital investment back, and all tickets will have to subsided until the end of time, or its sold off by a future government for a song so that they can make it viable. The government could buy EVERYONE in Tauranga, Hamilton, Auckland a Tesla Model 3 with autopilot and it would be cheaper than building a high speed rail system and produce less in emissions – a ridiculous proposition, but it only highlights how much ridiculous the plan is. Sorry, the math does not add up. Its also not like the roads won’t also need to be invested in and upgraded eventually anyway. This is like advocating for New Zealand to have its own international space station. This is like advocating for New Zealand to host the olympics and then building an 80,000 person stadium and transport hub in Tirau. You know what is more feasible, electric planes. Have you noticed how there is a station marked for Waitomo, and yet on the population density map there is no discernable population there? Waitomo has a population of 1200 – so the station would be for the 400,000 visitors who have already arrived by car with no problem anyway. This whole regional rail pitch is a solution looking for a problem and trying to pass Aucklands traffic problems onto the regions. If most us were honest, we just want to get to Auckland airport – we don’t need to visit Auckland. In fact, if you could fly internationally from Hamilton or Tauranga, I think you’d cut emissions and traffic to and in Auckland DRASTICALLY.

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