It seems like common sense that we should encourage freight to be moved by train rather than by ever-bigger super trucks that tear up our rural roads. But it turns out that the Treasury, the government’s key economic advisor, actually thinks we should be closing rail lines or even the entire rail freight network because rail is apparently too expensive.
Just to be clear, the total National Land Transport Programme for the next three years works out at $4.66 billion each year – most of which is for roads, roads, and more roads. Just $200 million annually is needed to keep KiwiRail going. That’s a drop in the bucket.
Rail is a backbone for our regional economies. It connects our primary industries to our export ports with around 900 trains every week.
It’s a public good, like other essential infrastructure. We don’t expect roads or stormwater systems to make a profit – we accept that they’re crucial for businesses to operate efficiently and people to live good lives. Rail is the same.
And if New Zealand is to lower its carbon emissions we need to be investing in clean rail infrastructure, not paving the way for more dirty trucks.
Shutting down the rail freight network could result in around 3000 more trucks on our roads every day, according to one analyst. Does anyone actually think that 3000 more trucks choking up our roads would be a good idea?
Well, the National Government does. It has rolled out the red carpet for its friends in the trucking industry, investing billions in new roads and changing the rules to allow bigger trucks to clog them up.
It’s even changing the ways roads are built to make it easier for big trucks to drive on them. That means bypassing more and more small towns, whose economies depend on being on the main road, so the trucks don’t have to slow down. But that diverts passenger traffic away from the towns too: no one stops to buy a pie or an icecream, or check out the local attractions.
Meanwhile, the Government clearly treats the rail network as an unwanted burden. Rather than promoting rail freight so KiwiRail has a better chance of covering its own costs, the Government constantly complains about the annual cost of keeping the rail network going.
KiwiRail is basically running on the smell of an oily rag – doing the best it can with much lower levels of rail infrastructure investment than in other countries like Australia.
Kiwirail has a 10 year improvement plan to get on a sustainable financial track by 2020. An assessment of how this plan is going found that:
“The Company has achieved a great deal since the inception of the Turnaroud Plan in 2010 including both growing customer numbers and freight volumes, improving the reliability and performance of its services, upgrading infrastructure and rolling stock assets, and improving its safety record.”
But apparently that’s not good enough.
Once again, the Government’s economic advisors seem to be living on another planet. Even when KiwiRail is clearly improving under all these measurements, they still want to close it down.
The Green Party would invest in our rail network to boost our regional economies, get heavy freight off the roads, lower carbon emissions, and create jobs. That’s a smart transport solution.