Government promises 'resilient and reliable' rail network after decades of being 'run into the ground'

The Government is promising a better rail network for both commuters by "connecting communities" and freight by reducing road congestion and harmful emissions going into our atmosphere, as well as one that is better for our economy and creating jobs.

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Transport Minister Michael Wood says rail has been under invested in for years. Source: Breakfast

Transport Minister Michael Wood this morning told Breakfast after years of under investment and "neglect", the Government is stepping up with some long-term plans to support New Zealand's rail networks.

Critics have said rail in New Zealand is a case study of how to take something flawed but worthwhile and make it worse.

There used to be trains everywhere before cars took over. 

In 1986, the then-Labour Government made rail a state-owned enterpirse and jobs fell from over 20,000 to about 5000 in a handful of years.

By 1990, it was a limited liability company, then in 1993 it was sold and renamed. In 1996, it was floated on the sharemarket at $6 a share, then by 2003 those shares were worth less than 50c.

But now, with climate change and the pressure to reduce carbon emissions, rail is back.

With a response needed to turn around decades of cost-saving, under investment and general asset deterioration, the New Zealand Rail Plan being announced today lays out how the Government is building a "resilient, reliable and safe network, as well as the indicative investments over the next decade".

The plan will prioritise investing in the national rail network to restore rail freight and provide a platform for future investment for growth, as well as investing in metropolitan rail to support growth and productivity in New Zealand's largest cities.

It will also outline the new planning and funding framework for rail where KiwiRail's tracks and associated network infrastructure will be funded under the Land Transport Management Act 2003, alongside coastal shipping, walking and cycling infrastructure, roads and public transport.

"Rail has had a long period of neglect and under investment, this is about bringing a strategic focus for rail so that we can make kind of long term investments to improve the rail experience for commuters and to get freight moving around our country," Wood told Breakfast.

"We know that rail's got huge benefits, over $2.1 billion of benefits to New Zealand year every. We take 27 million commuter trips of the streets of Auckland and Wellington.

"If we keep building on that we can keep bringing bigger benefits to our economy, to our commuters and we can help to decarbonise our transport network."

After years of being "run into the ground", he said today's announcement looks over 10 years, plotting a strategic path to make further improvements to the network around the country.

"Before we had this process, rail was effectively having to turn up year by year and beg for the scraps. We've now got a strategic view about how we build up a resilient and reliable network and this sets up the plan for that for how we make the investments.

"We've made over $4 billion of investment over the last three years to build up a reliable and resilient network to deal with that under investment.

"There's still work to do and the focus of the rail plan is on the bread and butter, building up a reliable and resilient freight network and making sure the commuter networks are working effectively. But as we move forward, we can look to make strategic improvements and expansions to the network as well."

In a statement, State-Owned Enterprises Minister David Clark said investing in infrastructure like rail creates jobs, which is part of the Government’s Covid-19 economic plan.

"KiwiRail's work renewing the Northland Rail line supported more than 560 jobs, and work to replace the existing maintenance building at Hillside will support around 100 more," he said.

"Our investments like the new Hamilton to Auckland service Te Huia meant 40 new staff and apprentices have been taken on at Hutt Workshops. We're building a sustainable 21st century rail network and supporting jobs."