Recently Steven Joyce, our Minister of Trucking Transport, claimed it would cost less to fly somebody by helicopter from Hamilton to Auckland than it would to subsidize a commuter rail service between the two cities.
Luckily, Hamilton City Councillors quickly responded, pointing out that the actual cost of subsidizing a commuter rail service is hundreds of times lower than the $15,000/trip Joyce claimed.
However, it’s no surprise to find the government spreading this kind of misinformation about a passenger rail service. Earlier this year, David Bennett, the National MP for Hamilton East also claimed a diesel train service would be less fuel efficient than people driving in individual motor cars to Auckland. However (based on Kiwirail’s figures for fuel consumption for a Silver Fern) a rail service would be around 4 to 5 times more fuel efficient than if the passengers made the trip by car.
While it’s great to see the government investing a lot into making Kiwirail a more viable freight business, the government’s actions and Joyce’s responses to my Questions in the House have made it pretty clear that they are really not interested in improving passenger rail services in NZ.
Even though the electrification project in Auckland was about to go out to tender when National came into government Joyce still delayed it by 15 months, according to Mike Lee, while trying to decide whether or not to fund the purchase of the electric trains. Since then, the government has allowed virtually no money for future improvements to passenger rail in their transport budgets.
That’s why Keith and I have launched the Fast-Track the CBD Rail Loop campaign for Auckland – to get this crucial project built quickly. The CBD Rail Loop is needed (among other reasons) to increase the number of trains that can travel through Britomart per hour – which will mean we can run more commuter services from Waikato in future. You can show your support by signing our online petition.
It’s also great to see the residents of the Waikato are fighting back to get commuter rail between Auckland and Hamilton. The Campaign for Better Transport are holding a meeting in Tuakau next Monday night, 7.30 to 9 pm at the Tuakau Town Hall. I’ll be speaking so, if you’re in the area, come along and join me!