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.
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.
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