Gareth Hughes

Will Auckland ever get new trains?

by Gareth Hughes

While Auckland’s public transport systems are getting seriously overcrowded, we are still waiting to find out which company has been awarded the $500 million contract to build the new Auckland electric rail cars (aka Electric Multiple Units or EMUs). The trains, themselves, won’t be operational until 2014 at the earliest.

As motorway, after motorway, finishes 6 months early, the slow progress of this project seems further proof that this government doesn’t really care about public transport. Looking at the timeline below you can see how much this project has been delayed by the National government. The timelime below also tells an interesting story about this government’s lack of transparency in spending public money.

  • In Oct, 2008 the Labour government approved Auckland Regional Council’s plan to levy a regional fuel tax to fund the electrification of Auckland’s rail network. The Auckland Regional Transport Agency (ARTA) working with Kiwirail began preparing to ask companies to tender for the contract to build the EMUs
  • In Mar, 2009 the National government announced it would cancel the regional fuel tax, preventing any agency from further developing a tender for the electric rail cars
  • In Nov, 2009, 8 months later, the government approved funding of up to $500 million to purchase new EMUs and asked Kiwirail to manage the procurement process in consultation with ARTA
  • On the 17th of July, 2010 according to the Auckland Transport Blog, Kiwirail announced a shortlist of 4 companies that could potentially supply the EMUs: these were Hitachi Limited; Hyundai Rotem; Bombardier Transportation Australia Pty Limited; and a consortium of Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles, SA. (CAF) and Mitsubishi Corporation. None of these companies are Chinese. Oddly enough the press release Kiwirail put out at the time is no longer up on their website but you can see a copy on the Auckland Transport Blog.
  • On the 11th of July the Auckland Trains Blog reported that engineers from China were visiting NZ, drumming up work
  • In July, 2010 according to the Auckland Trains Blog both Steven Joyce and John Key visited China
  • On the 3rd of Sep, 2010 with almost no explanation as to why Kiwirail announced that it was inviting 10 companies to bid for the tender to build the EMUs, 6 more than the 4 who were originally shortlisted. Several of these were Chinese companies
  • On the 3rd of December, 2010 it was reported that 4 companies, including Bombardier Transportation Australia which was one of the 4 companies originally shortlisted in July, 2010, had withdrawn from the tender process. The managing director of Bombardier said “Your [decision to extend the shortlist] raises questions on the level of confidence that Bombardier can have in the tender process”
  • Subsequent responses to questions by the Minister of Transport have done little to clarify who is still in the running for the tender and whether all 4 of the original companies short-listed withdrew.
  • Last week, the Herald reports that Sammy Wong is being investigated by the Auditor General for something related to his involvement with a Chinese rail company called Loric. And reccently Labour called on the government to defer announcing who has been awarded the contract until these investigations are finished.

Part of the delays in this project have been due to the government’s luke warm attitude to funding public transport projects. But they have also been caused by Kiwirail’s (mysterious) decision to re-open the tender in July, 2010.

Meanwhile, Auckland’s trains are at capacity and suffer from frequent breakdowns. Given the Minister’s enthusiasm for getting motorways finished quickly, it would be nice if he could also hurry this crucial public transport project along.

I don’t agree with Trevor Mallard that Kiwirail should delay announcing the winner of the contract until the end of this year. This project has been delayed long enough!

But given the size of this contract ($500 million) and the huge significance of the project, I think the Minister of Transport should offer a transparent and comprehensive explanation of why Kiwirail re-opened the tender process. Don’t you?

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Gareth Hughes on Tue, April 19th, 2011   

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