There is talk – from a number of quarters – about shifting some of our freight from road to rail. What would this involve?

To move forward, we need to look back for a moment. What was the freight sector like in New Zealand a dozen years ago? How – and why – has it changed since? As I remember it, things in 2010 were reasonably similar to today:

  • There was a bias towards road freight, with insufficient use being made of rail – the safety, maintenance and sustainability benefits it provided were largely ignored.
  • Our trucks were too large – for open roads and city streets alike – and involved in too many serious crashes.
  • On particular roads and parts of the country, people restricted their movements to avoid coming into conflict with heavy trucks. People walked, cycled and even drove less, and certainly placed restrictions on their children’s movements, in order to keep safe.

Solutions to these problems were readily available. For example, the Dutch Advancing Sustainable Safety had been published five years earlier, with plenty of advice about designing a sustainable freight system:

We need to acknowledge that there is a high level of incompatibility between the heavy goods vehicles and all other road users. There is very little else that can be done about this structural problem other than separating heavy goods vehicles from other traffic. From the Sustainable Safety vision, everything possible has to be done to prevent unnecessary movement, and then to manage the mileage travelled as safely as possible.

A fully separated truck road network was clearly impractical, but good policy would have sought solutions that combined:

  • Smaller and safer trucks
  • Slower speeds
  • Shifting freight to rail
  • Isolated stretches of truck only road
  • Ongoing professional driver training and monitoring

So what’s interesting is what the Government decided to do instead. They permitted heavier trucks – up to 62 tonnes – on certain routes. And they set about increasing the number of routes that could take those heavier trucks.

This required a bridge strengthening programme, and it required a more intensive road maintenance programme. While the government acknowledged at the time that ratepayers would be picking up a fair bit of the cost of the additional road maintenance required, they justified it on the basis of “benefits” to ratepayers:

The ministry says local authorities will receive 50 per cent of the cost of extra wear and tear as Government subsidies, leaving ratepayers “who benefit from the regional stimulus and economic and community benefits” to meet the rest.

Local Government NZ initially objected, but eventually said they were convinced that there would be “mechanisms” to mitigate the effects.

Bridge Strengthening – are they done yet?

In August this year, Waka Kotahi announced they’d found damage in the SH2 Esk River Bridge, just north of Napier:

Recent assessments have identified the bridge does not have enough capacity to sustain increased traffic demands. The bridge is 81 years old and wasn’t designed to carry modern day traffic, specifically, the number of heavy vehicles and the weight of these trucks…

The bridge is on the route taken by trucks carrying wood pulp from the Pan Pac mill in Whirinaki to the port in Napier. This is one of the earliest routes permitted for use by the largest (62 tonne) trucks.

Whirinaki Mill, Pan Pac Forest Products

Five years ago, trucking lobbyists were hailing the shift to the monster trucks on this route as a “magical story of success”:

Bridges are not insignificant in the asset base of the Hastings District Council. Their website gives details of their bridge strengthening programme required for the bigger trucks, and a link to their interactive Bridge Restrictions Map:

Neither Hastings District Council Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, nor the Regional Transport Committee Chairman Martin Williams have been impressed about the problems with the Esk River Bridge, with the mayor saying:

When the government brought in new restrictions around vehicle weights and dimensions for bridges in 2017, Hastings District Council committed $9.9m over seven years to strengthen 22 bridges on our roading network in our 2018-28 Long Term Plan to ensure our bridges met the new specifications…

We took ownership of what was required on our network, and it is disappointing that yet again we don’t seem to see the same commitment from Waka Kotahi on the network they are responsible for.

The nation’s scale of bridge strengthening work required to cope with the bigger trucks has been significant, and is ongoing. Just north of Hastings District, for example, the $137 million Connecting Tairāwhiti programme of capital projects across Tairāwhiti and northern Hawke’s Bay seems to be a mix of:

  • bridge strengthening for heavy trucks
  • bridge widening, (with strengthening for heavy trucks at the same time)
  • passing lanes, slow vehicle lanes, slow vehicle bays and resilient roads (plantings to stabilise slopes).
Tahaenui Bridge is the last single-lane bridge on SH2 between Wairoa and Gisborne, being widened through the Connecting Tairāwhiti programme.

Had we invested all that money in rail, rather than in strengthening bridges for bigger trucks, what would our rail network look like today?

Maintaining the Roads – how’s that going?

There is increasing media coverage of potholes and the problems they pose for everyone on the road network:

Transport Minister Michael Wood has responded to the pothole coverage by posting the road maintenance figures on facebook last Wednesday, and twitter took no time in linking the shortfall in maintenance funding during the National Government with the monster truck policy:

Meanwhile, road building ramped up. As Matt wrote in 2020:

The money that should have gone for maintenance was sucked away to help pay for the Roads of National Significance.

Councils all over New Zealand are now feeling the pinch. In this RNZ article, Waka Kotahi siphons $500m out of Taranaki to spend elsewhere the New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom says:

Targeted Rates for Forestry – is this the best solution?

Wairoa District Council has introduced targeted rates for forestry operators, to help cover the costs of maintaining the roads their trucks damage. In response, forestry operators took the Council to the High Court for judicial review, and lost, which paves the way for more councils to follow suit. Stratford District Council is another council taking this pathway. John Williamson’s article Let’s have a closer look at the cause of the pothole problem is worth a read.

However, is this the best solution? The benefits of directly charging truck-related costs to the trucking companies instead include:

  1. All trucks would pay to maintain the roads they use, not just trucks from one industry.
  2. Industry would be encouraged to consider other options, to avoid the truck-related costs – such as rail.

The extra danger to communities – how is that panning out?

This video shows some of the progress being made. Unfortunately, it also showed that some basic safety misconceptions linger on at Waka Kotahi. Safety is not something to ‘balance’ with ‘the economy’:

“We’ve got to strike a balance between keeping everyone on the road safe, whilst also keeping the economy going and keeping freight moving around the country”

A safe transport system is a non-negotiable platform upon which a sustainable economy can be developed. Fundamentally unsafe practices – such as permitting these oversized trucks to operate on the same corridors as other people – are preventing human activity of all kinds, including the activity of sustainable businesses.

To get a feel for the danger involved, watch the trucks roaring past each other between 4:54 and 5:12 in this video of trucks at the Whirinaki Mill. And compare the curves taken by the drivers when turning right to enter – depending on whether a truck or a car is present.

Can rail provide a solution?

Given the problems larger trucks create in terms of bridge strengthening, road damage, safety and transport choice, it’s good to see that the Hawkes Bay Regional Council’s Regional Land Transport Plan 2021 – 2024 identifies the need for shifting some of this freight to rail:

A focus on rail for freight, including consideration of re-establishing rail links north to Gisborne is also relevant. Substantial forestry planting occurred in the 1990s, with peak harvesting expected to occur over the next 10-20 years. Heavy vehicle traffic is predicted to increase due to forest harvests… Renewed rail links offer the opportunity to take some pressure off logging truck movements.

Increases in heavy vehicle transport near Napier Port could increase conflict with other land uses in the area, although there is sufficient network capacity for growth. The significant primary production in Hawke’s Bay means a range of slower agricultural machinery and stock uses of rural roads and state highways.

But what about a place like Pan Pac mill, which doesn’t have a rail connection?

One regular email I receive – always topical and interesting – is “The view from across the ditch… an expat railwayman’s view on rail in NZ” by Stu Dow. In August, Stu wrote about the bridge over the Esk River:

In my opinion, this situation is but the tip of the iceberg…

This debacle goes all the way back to the Government of the day allowing the construction of the mill at Whirinaki between 1971 and 1973 and not ensuring that Carters (now Carter Holt Harvey), the major shareholder with 60 percent initially, should connect to the adjacent Napier – Gisborne railway line, approx. 2 kilometres away. (The plant is now 100 percent Japanese owned)…

In addition, this is certainly NOT the only large forestry related facility around NZ that – even if it has a rail siding – is subject to little or no service from KiwiRail, which is a scandal in itself

It’s surely time to look at all the disused rail lines, opportunities for new sidings, and question KiwiRail priorities.

At least the Labour government has already indicated it wants to shift some freight to rail in the New Zealand Rail Plan, and mentions the emissions reductions benefits from doing so:

At present, freight carried by rail saves at least 70 percent of the carbon emissions compared to heavy road transport, so each tonne of freight that moves from road to rail makes a tangible difference to New Zealand’s carbon footprint. There is much more that could be achieved, and choices to be made on whether to pursue a more aggressive carbon reduction strategy.

Yet, as we noted in July, they are still intending to subsidise truck growth, if the Waikato & Bay of Plenty Freight Action Plan is indicative of their direction, with only $88m earmarked for rail, out of the $2.6b being spent:

We built a railway for this country once. We need to do so again – to look after our people, our roading assets, and our planet.

Maungaturanga railway viaduct under construction, part of the Wairoa section of the Gisborne-Napier line. Photograph taken 30 July 1931. Smith, R Trevor :Photographs of railway and road construction / Napier-Wairoa railway construction

Don’t forget to submit on the Inquiry into the Future of Regional Passenger Rail.

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  1. I understand that the PanPac Whirinaki mill was built primarily to process logs from plantations accessed from the Napier Taupo road , hence the lack of a rail connection.

    1. Looks like it’s needed now. The “magical story of success” article suggests there is in the order of 200,000 tonnes of wood pulp taken from the mill to the port each year.

      “In five years two Super B trucks have carted one million tonnes of wood pulp on the designated route between Pan Pac mill in Whirinaki and Napier Port,”

      When the mill was built, where did they intend to take the product? Wasn’t it always to the port?

  2. It’s a travesty the rail network has been allowed to languish. Trucks should be taxed off the road network. Not just because of wear and tear but also many of the drivers are unsafe and take crazy risks. It’s no coincidence the number of crashes involving trucks and when trucks roll or lose their load they can take many more hours to get the road reopened. They also regularly block up the fast lane illegally and refuse to allow traffic to pass at passing lanes. Invest in the rail network for freight AND passengers and far less money will need to be spend on roads which will also become much safer. Win-win for drivers, cyclists, peds, and the environment.

  3. Yes, freight (the excess of stuff that we humans like to send around the place) and people, deserve a national rail network. This needs to be Kiwirail’s only concern. Make our railways great again. A fully electrified national network, sustainable powered, with battery electric or hydrogen or whatever the less fossil fueled minor options. There has for too long been this non commital, perhaps seventy years? The climate demands that we turn around this truck centricity within the next seven years. And rail is the only solution, it always has been, but now the sun, and the wind, and the waves, and the rivers can power the trains, so we don’t have to go down the mines anymore, and we should not be importing from poor other countries that still send poor souls deep into the earth. But who will force Kiwirail’s hand???

      1. I feel the standard of driving and how these trucks bully other vehicles on the road.
        I was towing a caravan at 90km/hrs heading north to Taupo, one B train tried to run me off the road at end of Passing lane Aramex unit, a second B train north chilly, passed on a stretch of road, and finished passing on a blind corner and double yellow lines, third unit Peter baker then proceeded to tackle the Aramex B train… all while I am following the speed limit towing caravan.. 90km which is the speed limit of a truck… these drivers are on such tight deadlines… they must break speed limits…
        North chilly… owner doesn’t want to know about issue, and driver Said I was going to slow….
        Have video footage of Peter baker and Aramex unit taking each other on… in passing lane…
        Shear stupidity

    1. Moving freight by rail pretty much *is* KiwiRails only concern. But they can only work with the little profit they make from shifting freight and whatever money the government of the day gives them.

      Electrification will only happen if the Government funds it – KiwiRail doesn’t have the money to pay for it.

  4. +1 – great article.
    Clearly the road freight industry is heavily subsidised which is bad for resource allocation, bad for road safety, bad for road maintenance and bad for bridge replacements.

    The heavy vehicle RUC’s need to be increased to remove the heavy subsidies:
    – full funding of heavy trucks road maintenance costs – most of the potholes are heavy vehicle initiated
    – full funding of all the bridge strengthening
    – partial funding of road safety along with other road users given our long term vision zero target
    – increased road safety funding proportion to cover “high productivity routes”
    – full funding of heavy vehicle carbon prices, although I assume this already occurs
    – almost full funding of slow vehicle bays

    I note there are dedicated truck roads where I am. These may not be practical in NZ though.

  5. Kiwirail needs to reduce diesel usage just saying we are all right because we use 70 percent less than road is not good enough we can compare it to farmers saying we should not have to reduce emissions be cause we are more efficient than oversea farmers. Electric trucks are on there way which will be cheaper to operate on the relatively short trip to the port but it won’t solve the congestion which is shown on the video. Would it be even possible to retrofit a siding into the mill. Perhaps logs could be ferried from a siding on the railway into the mill but again that wouldn’t get rid of trucks over the bridge and congestion on the road into the mill. I think we just have to accept that it’s very difficult to change now. But any new similar venture needs to be rail connected from day one.

    1. A siding could be used for the pulp to be transferred to the port though, I think this was the heavier loads too. The mill would be acting like container terminal in a sense.

      1. Yeah I have thought about that too and it’s probably makes more sense than transfering logs however the truck taking the container to the siding will still need to cross the bridge. Maybe it would have lower axle weight. The reason a siding into the mill wasn’t built is because of the river and the short distance to the port. I am confident electric trucks will be carting pulp by the end of this decade. I am not so confident if Kiwirail will have an electric shunter which could do the job.

  6. Electrifying Pukekohe-Frankton and then on to Tauranga would also be a huge boost to rail in terms of speeding up journey times, reducing emissions, improving the bottom line of KR (and then making it more appealing to customers).

    1. It’s easier to electrify sections of track than it is to get Kiwirail to use it.
      Consider Otiria tunnel, Lyttleton Christchurch both pulled out and the Wellington and Auckland Metro systems being used for passengers only not frieght, even the main trunk electrified section is not being used at the moment until more EF locos are rebuilt. This is despite record prices for diesel. The purchase of a small fleet of experimental electric locomotives would be useful especially if last mile battery or diesel generators could enably them to work away from the overhead.

        1. Two have been done. Also another two that are waiting to be refurbished are being brought back into service as KR needs the capacity for their busy season. This as per Loco news in the latest NZ Railway Observer mag.

      1. The problem at the moment is that to run a train from Auckland to Wellington right now you have to run diesels to Hamilton then change over to the EFs then back to diesels again from Palmy.
        If the Auckland to Hamilton section can be electrified then that saves around 20 mins + just from the changeover alone.

        1. When Toll was running the Passenger services they said it would take 30mins to change from an EF to a Diesel and the drivers did it in 5 mins , so if the Loco’s are ready it takes a short time to do it .

        2. You don’t have to at all. The premier trains that run direct auck to wgtn just use diesels the whole way through.
          Just because the wires are there between HAM and PNTH doesn’t mean they are used all the time. Diesels just run under them.
          There are only a couple of electrics back in service currently but they are often used on services like 234 or 225 which stop in HAM and PNTH for an hour anyway to CT or attach/detach wagons. So it’s no extra time really, extra work but not necessarily extra time.

  7. Rail was one of those terribly run government departments in the 1900’s: highly subsidised, fully unionised, prone to strikes, workers paid top dollar to sit around and do bugger all. The result was a move to privately owned trucks.
    In an ideal world rail operations would be privatised, and trucks would pay the full cost of damage, safety, pollution, etc. If everything was priced correctly I’m sure rail would get much more use and investment, but unfortunately while both our main political parties are very neoliberal, they only apply it when it suits their voters.

    1. Wasn’t Kiwi rail privatised before and run into the ground? Isn’t that why it’s so dilapidated and had to be bought back by the Labour govt? I have a feeling National govt scrapped the road taxes that trucks used to pay which made road freight far less desirable…

      1. I think they sold the track too. And privatisation won’t work while the alternative is highly subsidised.
        Probably the best outcome is the government owns and maintains the track (as that is a monopoly) but does not own or run the trains or services (just like roads).

        1. That’s the British model, the Swiss and Germans both have state owned rail operators and have superior rail systems to the UK.

          It all depends on how the rail operator is run.

        2. I think there should be two entities – Utility provider OnTrack 2.0 that manages track/access, and SOE Kiwirail which provides the ‘NZ Post’ like option of freight. Private competitors could also access the track, but I don’t think they will do much more than compete on the most profitable routes, so there is always a space for a dominant national rail freight company.

          Best thing for all modes is price them properly. Us road users shouldn’t be subsidising trucks, and the AA does a terrible job advocating for us motorists in that area. It won’t be a magic bullet, but it should make coastal shipping and rail far more competitive, as well as saving the country as a whole money, due to freight moving from less efficient to more efficient modes (and the money saved from subsidies from ratepayers being spent elsewhere).

        3. I think kiwirail should be left alone for a while. They are currently going through a rebuilding phase . New ferries, New locos, Track improvements etc. But it won’t succeed if everyone jumps in with a new plan to restructure everything again.
          Just give them a few years.

        4. @MRB

          It’d be fine to leave them alone if they were standing still. But we’ve got the entire Auckland network going through years of shutdowns. There is a line where things are acceptable, and this is past it.

  8. Great post. Thank you especially for pointing out the massive flaw in the language we keep hearing about “striking a balance” between safety (i.e. life and health) and everything else.

    This line in particular should be doing the rounds of all the agencies and those who govern and direct them:

    “A safe transport system is a non-negotiable platform upon which a sustainable economy can be developed.”

    1. Yes. The old guard need to give up their cornering of our interpretation of what “the economy” is. Exporting bulk materials is not ‘the economy’ – it is ‘the corporate economy’. It’s not the best economy for Aotearoa New Zealand. Regional councils are deprived of the ability to develop local, green economies due to these monster trucks.

    1. Thanks, Nick. That’s an interesting video. I skimmed it a little, and found the conclusion is something to think about for the NZ situation:

      “So the truck was quicker. But the train brought more material, it burnt less fuel, it made no traffic on our roads, and it was more cost effective. The train has further economic benefits. It helps businesses in different parts of the country trade together who couldn’t otherwise because of the distances and costs associated. Trains in short are continuing to supply to the construction industry in areas where they cannot naturally produce or keep up with demand. Without this, material price would go up massively because it would be a limited resource. And this would cause massive delays on large government infrastructure projects, which would ultimately cost the taxpayer money.”

  9. The way Kiwirail operates is one way of running a railway. This involves huge container yards and trucks delivering to and from these yards. There is also a small number of very large customers who have their own sidings the smallest of these is probably the Coke operation at Slyvia Park which shunts four wagons. I often wonder if there is there is room for a parallel operation more like the days of the old NZR serving many more points on the network but without the shunting. That is the train pulls up at a station and pallets of freight are quickly added or removed. Then Heidi gets on her cargo bike and distributes them around town. In my days of dealing with NZR it was always the making up and breaking down of the trains which caused the problem and lead to delays and freight getting lost or possibly stolen. I suppose I am thinking of operating more like a very large line haul truck. Stopping in a loop or even on the mainline while freight is transferred onto smaller vehicles.

    1. You do this today except a Swinglifter to transfer either a 10’, 20’, or 40’ container. Just the same concept as in the past except with bigger ‘piece’ sizes and modern equipment.

      1. Yes it could be swing lifter or just a forklift. It doesn’t seem to happen though. Maybe Kiwirail is too confident in its operating model and another company with a bit more “can do” needs to be let out on the network.

        1. It does happen. An auck to wgtn train will stop at the CT site in Hamilton where auck to HAM containers are taken off the wagons and HAM to PNTH or wherever containers are loaded on the same wagon. Then in the yard Auck to Ham wagons are detached and Ham to PNTH or wherever wagons are attached then the service continues south . A train from auck to wgtn could end up in wgtn with 40 completely different wagons that it left auck with. Yet still called the same service name.

          PNTH CT site and other CT sites around the country don’t come off the mainline so generally wagons are placed into the CT site before the train arrives, are then loaded and then wagons are attached onto passing train.

    2. I can remember my dad telling me about how freight used to be delivered in Timaru by rail direct to the companies near the wharf. There were a number of companies whose properties backed on to the rail corridor. The track had a turntable that where the last car was disconnected and then turned 90° to the track where it was then pulled into the warehouse. I don’t think it spread outside of Timaru, and I couldn’t tell you when it was got rid of as I don’t know if it was something dad dealt with through his work in the 70s or something he was told existed before he was in charge of that area for the company he worked for (not rail).
      As I travel up and down the country there are a number of large companies that are near existing rail lines that I would like to see make better use of them rather than rely completely on road transport. I know Synlait has their own siding and the Rolleston inland port is also obviously serviced by rail.

      1. A wagon turntable yes.
        A company would need to shift a lot of freight if they had to justify the cost of a siding like Synlait has put into Rolleston. So either spend heaps or use Kiwirails container yards only problem is there is not enough of them. There are some pretty big gaps in there coverage for example why is there nothing in Te Kuiti

    3. “Then Heidi gets on her cargo bike and distributes them around town.”

      Will Heidi be able to deliver my new fridge, using this method? Or 5x pallets of veggies for the local supermarket?

  10. Sadly the road building/using lobbies have got the perfect ally in KiwiRail with its largely under strength and unreliable network from the last century. Even the Labour Government can’t touch them. KiwiRail can shut down great chunks of the Auckland rail network to destroy public confidence in PT during election year and in traditional Labour voting electorates. This either shows the power of the KiwiRail continued managed decline doctrine or the weakness of the Government that can only squawk about rebuilding rail. Suggest benchmarking KiwiRail current rail size and bridge strengths against other countries that have a half decent railway system to determine the gap in capacity. New Zealand rail was long ago eclipsed by rail in most countries.

    There will be no shift of freight from road to rail until our rails get heavier, our bridges stronger and our trains get heavier. Currently KiwiRail are not interested in any of this.

    1. All it shows is the effect of decades of no investment/maintenance and upgrades. Kiwirail is as much a victim as the perpetrator of the current situation in Auckland. It’s only in the last few years that the needed investment money has been available, the results of which will take some years to become apparent. For example, the two new rail ferries which take years to design and build.

  11. I’m really not sure that an article that talks about road wear and tear in NZ and doesn’t talk about RUC and its Cost Allocation Model is seriously contributing to a useful debate. It is argued that truck-related costs should be charged to trucks, yet of course they are and that tool can be amended to do it better. Sure there is a real issue about whether rates funding of local roads should be partially or fully replaced by user charges, which was on the cards in 1999 until the 1999-2008 Labour coalition government decided not to proceed with the Roads Bill. No Government has been willing to address this because it effectively would challenge local road governance arrangements (think 3 Waters for roads).

    Some of the claims in this article don’t withstand close scrutiny:

    – It is claimed that there was a “bias towards road freight” with next to no evidence given for this. This in an environment when general taxpayers had previously bought the rail network for many times its commercial value and were expected to continue to pour money into that network, which almost exclusively serves sectors of forestry, dairy, coal and freight-forwarding (and only geographically limited elements of some of those), but also with RUC fully funding State Highway maintenance attributable to heavy vehicles.

    – The lack of use of the rail network for much freight reflects the underlying economics of a system that suits large volumes over long distances, because of the significant costs of handling at each end. Most freight movement in NZ (see is at distances and volumes insufficient to make the capital costs of the bespoke infrastructure and equipment of rail offset by the labour and fuel cost savings.

    – To ask the question as to what the rail network would now look like with $137m of money redirected seems odd given that the Budget in 2020 alone poured $246m into the network. The truth is its a drop in the bucket of a gaping blackhole.

    – The Domestic Transport Costs and Charges study is informative, as it indicates that, including externalities, rail freight users only pay 40% of the costs of providing their infrastructure and services, whereas road freight users pay 90%, but furthermore the value of the externalities from road freight comes to around $0.085 ntk compared to $0.024 ntk for rail. The idea that charging another 6.1c/ntk for road freight would result in significant mode shift to mitigate those externalities seems unlikely.

    There are localised issues with road freight, and legitimate reasons to use infrastructure and regulatory measures to address or mitigate those, but it is naive to think that rail freight can make a notable difference. If taxpayers are to seek to mitigate the externalities from rail freight it is likely to be better to use it to address infrastructure issues where people have high exposure to freight (e.g. Levin, Bulls) rather than down the black hole of rail infrastructure, which by and large is severely underutilised for reasons of simple economics.

    1. A report that claims pedestrians and cyclists are “imposing” crash and accident costs of $1.1 billion when just about all those costs are caused by cars and trucks.

      1. It’s like (crass example) saying that it’s someone’s fault for getting shot because they got in the way of the bullets.

      2. It doesn’t say that. $830m p.a. is attributed to active mode accidents when no motor vehicle is involved (e.g. pedestrian falls), $5.65b is attributed to motor vehicles. Of that $5.65b, $219m includes accidents involving pedestrians, and $110m for those involving bicycles (no fault attributed). See Table 4.10.1

        1. It’s time the Ministry of Transport stopped using the word “accident”. They should replace it with incident, crash, injury or whatever they mean.

        2. Table 4.6.1 certainly does use the term “costs imposed by” and gives “crash and accident costs” for Freight transport users $1b and for Pedestrians and Cyclists $1.1b. So clearly if no fault is being attributed, the authors need to amend their language.

          Don’t forget that many pedestrian and cyclist crash and accident costs that have no motor vehicle involved are still caused by the car dependent system. Every pedestrian and cyclist injury amongst my acquaintances from the last year has been caused by AT and WK’s poorly designed and maintained infrastructure – often directly damaged by vehicles, certainly designed for vehicles not people.

    2. RE: “RUC fully funding state highway maintenance attributed to heavy vehicles” – what about the expansion of the state highway network, including to allow heavier trucks? Does RUC fully cover that, too? Ever since RONS + NZUP, fuel excise + RUC are only covering a fraction of the direct costs of roads, let alone the indirect costs.

      Thanks for the heads up on the Domestic Transport Costs and Charges study.

      There’s a lot in there, but one thing I noticed is that they attribute $1.2 billion as the total social cost of air pollution (not counting climate change), whereas the HAPINZ study widely reported a few months ago put the cost at $10 billion for NOx (mostly due to trucks, and falling almost entirely on people living close to a busy truck route) and $6 billion for other air pollution.

      Also learned from that report that suicides are counted in the fatality figures for rail but not for roads.

      1. Also, although the report talks about the health benefits of active travel, it doesn’t seem to consider the disincentives to active travel that heavy trucks create. This means it misses many consequential costs, just some of those are:
        – physical inactivity-related health costs,
        – social isolation costs,
        – the costs involved with the stunting of children’s development which occurs when they don’t have independent mobility,
        – the difficulty of establishing the types of businesses that rely on active travel for staff/ suppliers/ customers, etc.

        The CO2e cost it uses is $88/tonne. Which is clearly insufficient, but further – and this is relevant especially to domestic regional travel ie flying vs rail and bus – the authors were unable to include domestic aviation due to the pandemic. As you know, Robert, official documents that properly include the true costs of aviation carbon use, including all industry operations, and radiative forcing, are… shall we say, rare?

    3. In response to each point you have made (really good to read your perspectives by the way) –
      (a) Bias claim. There are two national trucking advocacy organisations, the AA, and many different iterations of roading construction / suburban development lobby groups who regularly receive media air-time, and who regularly donate to political parties. A number of effective campaigns have been run. Recent examples over the last decade or so, include 62 tonne trucks, and the background work that went into getting the RoNS program up. Over the last 6 years, rail has received substantial amounts of money to try to overcome decades of chronic under-investment, relative to roads. That investment by the way, only brings the rail network up to a “steady state”. It does not provide any substantial productivity gains to rail freight in key areas such as loading gauge and axle load, that would enable a more diversified traffic base, by enabling lower freight charges to compete with other modes.
      (b) The claim that distances in Aotearoa don’t stack up for rail isn’t credible, given the short distance Metroport link between Tauranga and Auckland is the busiest rail freight corridor. There are a coterie of other short haul container transfer operations between inland ports and ports, all very successful. More short-haul rail freight developments are planned. There are also plenty of international benchmarks that show rail freight to be very successful in taking freight off roads, on short-haul traffic by beating congestion in large cities. The other area of question is the claim that rail always has to involve transfers to other modes, while roads are somehow exempt. Large 62 tonne inter-city trucks discharge freight at city depots for transfer to smaller delivery trucks. Just like rail, this involves double handling.
      (c) The use of $137million would be more than sufficient to enable a rail link into the Whirinaki Mill, enabling far greater use of rail for goods to and from the mill, bringing critical mass and greater operating efficiencies to the Napier – Wairoa logging railway.
      (d) Link or reference to where the $ numbers have been obtained out of the Domestic Transport Costs and Charges study? Regarding 62 tonne trucks, senior sources within KiwiRail have informally noted that it has been calculated that the productivity gains from 62 tonne trucks (i.e lower freight rates charged), resulted in a loss of about 1 to 1.5 million tonnes of rail freight. It would be interesting to calculate the extra costs of potholes and other roading maintenance issues due to 62 tonne trucks. One would expect Waka Kotahi / MoT / Councils to share their data with an independent source that could compile that report together. The deteriorating national highway network indicates that either not enough money is being collected from the RUCs c/o those 62 tonne trucks, or the money is not getting through to maintain the roads. Considerable effort should be put in; to agree upon an independent review of the actual economic outcomes from the 62 tonne trucks versus the claimed outcomes, when the lobbying efforts were underway.

      1. Yes, and to add to your paragraph (c) it appears Scott ignored that I was talking about the national cost of all this work since the bridge strengthening programme began, not just the current Connecting Tairāwhiti programme.

        My words were “The nation’s scale of bridge strengthening work… Just north of Hastings District, for example, the $137 million…”

        Clearly the national amount over the last few years will mount up to a pretty package, and is definitely something that could have contributed considerably to a rail revival.

    4. You ask if the article is “seriously contributing to a useful debate”. Yes, it is: not every article has to get into the nuts and bolts of externalities, user charges and how they are assigned to make “a useful contribution”. What you really meant is you disagreed with the author – that doesn’t warrant questioning whether the article should have been written.

      Many subjects need to be discussed at conceptual levels, such as those policy changes you mentioned that “no Government has been willing to address”. Or perhaps you’re one of those people who thinks things are as they are, and there’s not much one can do to change them? That’s not what GA is about.

      1. It’s ok. I hope Scott will return to comment when we do a post sometime that’s more analytical with the numbers.

        1. The KiwiRail proposed alignment of the NorthPort spur will bury over 3km of protected mangrove estuary and will cause other significant environmental effects. So it will be a money go round, get bogged down in the Environment Court and nothing will eventuate because alternatives KiwiRail opinion are not to be considered. Completely in line with the continued managed decline doctrine.

      1. Instead of moving Aucklands port to whangarei and railing everything back to Auckland… why not just rail it from Aucklands port to Auckland.

        1. Can’t say it’s better. But that’s what the mayor seems to be doing. Talking about the a-s line and giving auck port some tough demands and trying to move them on

        2. “why not just rail it from Auckland’s port to Auckland.”

          Does this mean that every neighbourhood and shopping precinct in Auckland will need it’s own rail freight station, complete with fork-trucks and additional staff?

    1. Only just seen that Ports of Auckland had abandoned it’s automation project. Seems due to software complexities of joining several systems together.

  12. The fact that the SOL line is mothballed, the Wairoa Gisborne line is mothballed, the Rotorua line is mothballed and in pieces, is a national disgrace. The Govt in it’s huge promotion of the comittment to climate change reforms, should hang their heads in shame, the fact that this infrastructure is lying there unused for purpose, is screaming for re introduction. where is the action.. Virtually every country in the world is actively reinvigorating their rail systems in accordance with climate concerns.

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