Strong support from the BOP Regional Transport Committee for Tauranga to Hamilton + Auckland passenger trains
By Lindsey Horne
The Future is Rail presented to the Bay of Plenty regional transport committee on why they should consider investing in a detailed business case for a train that connects Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty to Hamilton and Auckland.
The outcome from the presentation: Strong support from the committee
“I’m keen to push this forward for a detailed business case. For too long we’ve had vague concerns about whether this is possible, whether it could work…we’ve never had a robust business case to properly nail down whether this can work.
So many of our residents are so keen for us to explore this, we hear that in consultations we do.
We need to have a holistic view of rail and what it can bring to climate change, safety, resilience and I’d also add value uplift and value capture particularly for enabling housing so I’m keen that we do something in this space.”
Western Bay of Plenty Mayor, James Denyer
“Kiwirail firmly support the recommendation that’s been put on the table here to proceed to a DBC. It just makes sense to do the planning work…we’re more than happy to assist.”
Angus Hodgson, Kiwirail
“Under standing order we can only flag strong support in the minutes at this point to request that the staff commence an investigation into inter-regional travel for rail in the Bay of Plenty as part of the RLTP”
Councillor Lyall Thurston, Chairperson of the BOP RTC
“I just want to echo some of the good points that have been made by members, the business case process is exactly the right forum to explore both the challenges and opportunities that rail presents to the Bay of Plenty so it is the will of this committee we have almost certainly the will to put an activity into our RLTP and as you know or will hear from staff today we’re about to move into that prioritization process.”
Oliver Haycock, BOP Regional Council Transport Manager
Herries Park and East Coast Main Trunk Railway station in Tauranga. Credit: W. Bulach
Here’s the key reasons why we think it makes sense and access to the full presentation below.
Here is a link to the presentation Future is Rail_Bay of Plenty RTC presentation_August 2023.pdf - Google Drive
* Select committee report in response to the parliamentary inquiry
**Waka Kotahi Sustainable Urban Benchmarking Study
2018 UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
*** Car costs calculated at Inland Revenue’s km rate (which factors in fuel and running costs) for 450km return trip Tauranga to Auckland
Train costs assumed $36 per ticket (double the cost of Te Huia Hamilton to Auckland via their Bee card) x2 (for return trip)
**** Draft Transport GPS
Credit: Anthony Cross
By Joshua Simons
Credit: Ruapehu College
In an age of rapid urbanization and expanding populations, it is crucial to explore sustainable and efficient transportation solutions. Inter-Regional Passenger Rail networks offer a compelling answer to this growing challenge. These rail networks revolutionize connectivity, acting to bridge the gaps between our rural and suburban areas, creating a seamless flow of people and resources. Picture a world where residents of rural communities have ease of access to employment opportunities, education, healthcare, and cultural centers located in suburban areas. The creation of new, and the expansion of existing Inter-Regional Rail networks act as lifelines that serve to bring these communities closer, eliminating the barriers of distance and the need for other limited, and more dangerous transportation options.
One of the key advantages of rail networks is their ability to alleviate congestion and reduce traffic. As our cities and towns continue to grow, so does the strain on our roads and highways. Rail networks provide an alternative mode of transportation, reducing the number of cars on the road. This, in turn, leads to less congestion, shorter travel times, and improved air quality. By shifting from private vehicles to rail, we can create more sustainable and livable communities for future generations. Furthermore, the construction and operation of these networks create employment opportunities and stimulate economic growth. They attract investments and development along their routes, revitalizing areas that were previously disconnected or underutilized. In turn lending to the better and greater opportunities for a wide variety of people, as rural communities become more accessible, businesses can thrive, leading to job creation and increased economic flow and stimulus.
Credit: Senior leaders, Ruapehu College
In addition, rail networks enhance social cohesion and improve the overall quality of life. By connecting people from different backgrounds and regions, they promote cultural exchange, diversity, and understanding. Where I live, in the Ruapehu region of the Central North Island communities can benefit greatly from the creation of more sustainable infrastructure that delivers for people. If government invests in increasing the prominence of rail, it creates vibrant public spaces where individuals can interact, fostering a sense of community and belonging. It also ensures people from rural regions equal access to essential services and amenities, regardless of one's geographical location, empowering individuals and promoting social equity.
Ohakune tourism. Credit: Glenbrook Vintage Railway
It is an investment, not a cost. Is a phrase I seem to hear constantly. And in this instance it has never seemed more appropriate. The benefits of inter-regional rail networks in New Zealand are profound. They provide enhanced connectivity, reduce congestion, protect the environment, stimulate economic growth, and foster social cohesion. By investing in greater amounts of rail infrastructure, we can bridge the gap between rural and suburban areas, creating a more interconnected and sustainable nation. Allowing for a more level distribution of opportunities regardless of the places in which people live. Let us embrace the opportunities that rail presents and work towards a future where New Zealand is more a unified and interconnected society. I implore that we choose to invest wisely in our future, a future of rail, and a future full of connectivity.
Joshua Simons is Head Boy of Ruapehu College. Joshua presented at the Future of Rail Conference
Hāpuawhenua Rail Viaduct, Central North Island. Credit: Engineering New Zealand
By Weston Kirton
After a long campaign, celebrating the inclusion once again of a stop at Taumarunui by the Northern Explorer. Credit: Paul Wheatcroft
Reliable, affordable, public transport solutions are crucial for the wellbeing of rural communities. Unlike urban areas where multiple modes of transportation are readily available, rural areas often have limited or no access to buses, trains, or other forms of public transit. This lack of options can result in significant difficulties for individuals who rely on public transportation as their primary means of travel. Furthermore, the long travel distances characteristic of rural areas poses additional obstacles for those without access to private vehicles.
The tracks are there but the trains are missing in many regions. Credit James Llewellyn
Limited or non-existent public transportation options make it difficult to access employment opportunities, educational institutions, medical facilities, and social services. These challenges not only affect individuals but also impact the overall development and sustainability of these communities. Understanding the importance of reliable public transport in rural areas is crucial to bridging these gaps and fostering inclusive communities.
The trains do stop but are infrequent and expensive. Credit: Paul Wheatcroft
Successive governments have stated their belief that building successful and more resilient regions is the key to building a prosperous nation. This has seen the funding of regional development programmes to identify and unlock the big economic opportunities. A key enabler critical to the realization of these opportunities is the need for the infrastructure to connect people, goods, services, and markets. Reliable public transport is a critical part of this infrastructure that is often overlooked.
Moreover, reliable public transport plays a critical role in sustainable development efforts. By providing viable alternatives to private vehicles, it helps reduce traffic congestion, lower carbon emissions, and mitigate environmental impacts associated with individual car ownership. It also contributes to economic growth by facilitating commuting for work purposes and enabling businesses to reach wider markets.
Good quality, affordable, trains and coaches are important in providing rural public transport networks
The need for reliable public transport in rural areas goes beyond mere convenience; it is a matter of equity and social justice. Accessible transportation ensures that everyone has equal opportunities to participate fully in society regardless of their geographical location. It promotes social cohesion by connecting individuals with essential resources, fostering community engagement, and reducing isolation.
Addressing rural public transport challenges requires innovative solutions that take into account the unique needs and circumstances of rural communities. It involves investing in infrastructure development that improves connectivity while considering cost-effective approaches that optimize resources. Furthermore, enhancing public transportation infrastructure can unlock economic potential by connecting rural communities with urban centers.
Trains carrying bikes in Europe. An ideal way to reach Ohakune to enjoy the many bike trails. Credit: Anthony Cross
By recognizing and addressing the unique challenges faced by rural communities in accessing public transportation, we can work towards creating inclusive solutions that enhance mobility options and improve quality of life for all residents regardless of their geographic location. Government policies and funding play a crucial role in addressing the public transport issues faced by rural communities.
Policymakers need to be working towards creating inclusive transportation systems that benefit all members of society regardless of their geographic location. By implementing comprehensive policies and allocating adequate funding, governments can address public transport issues effectively in rural communities. This not only enhances connectivity but also contributes to economic development, social inclusion, and overall well-being of these regions.
Weston Kirton is the Mayor of Ruapehu District Council
Grace Burnard, Head Girl and Joshua Simons, Head Boy, Ruapehu College and Corbin O'Shannessey, Head Boy, Taumarunui High School who presented at The Future is Rail Conference. Credit: Richard Young.
By Paul Callister
Cyclists on this route could arrive at Ohakune by train and finish at Whanganui to catch a train home - if we revitalised our rail network. Image: MBIE
Consultation on the Draft Tourism Environment Action Plan 2023 has just closed. Save Our Trains put in a submission.
As cited in the draft Tourism Strategy, the Decarbonising Transport Action Plan 2022-2025, released in December 2022 notes, “transport is one of our largest sources of emissions and we have a goal to reduce [domestic] transport emission by 41% by 2035. Currently international aviation and shipping emissions are outside these targets. However, others have argued that we need more ambitious transport decarbonisation goals. 1Point5 Project research suggests mitigating the risk of a delay in the decarbonisation of farming requires transport to aim for almost full decarbonisation by 2030. I agree with this assessment.
First, some background about the draft report. The report was overseen by the Tourism Environment Leadership Group. This included industry representatives, unions and, potentially speaking up for the environment, Forest & Bird and the Department of Conservation. Aviation interests were overrepresented. Some land transport interests were also represented, in the form of car hire and campervan hire companies. Missing were the voices of the two lowest emission land transport operators, KiwiRail and InterCity. The ability for trains to reduce emissions – and provide a high quality, enjoyable way to travel - has been set out in several of our blogs.
As further background, the Department of Conservation has a partnership with Air New Zealand. Forest & Bird, at its national conference has a session called “Courageous Leadership in the time of the Climate & Biodiversity Crises”, has a speaker from Air New Zealand but no one representing low emission passenger rail.
There were no sustainable travel experts from academia or climate change on the Tourism Environment Leadership Group. Trains, as the potential backbone of sustainable tourism travel, were on a back foot right from the start.
There is another issue that potentially divides train enthusiasts. That is what overall level of international tourism is sustainable? Some see international tourists as a vital income earner and an important market for domestic train travel. But in a climate emergency, should we be marketing New Zealand to the world, flying people long distances to New Zealand knowing aviation has no realistic short- or medium-term decarbonisation plan? Research carried out with my colleague Robert McLauchlan suggests that we should pause growth and, ideally, cut back levels of international arrivals until the industry can demonstrate that it can substantially cut emissions. Bringing international aviation and shipping into our carbon budgets will bring more focus to this issue.
Whatever the level of tourism, in almost all industrialised countries, these travellers arriving at major airports will have the option of journeying into the nearby city by light or heavy rail. Especially in Europe, a key international tourism destination, travellers then have the option of travelling regionally and inter-regionally by fast and not so fast rail. In New Zealand, most tourists turn to hired cars, camper vans or, the budget conscious, buying a second-hand car to travel around. If we are to reduce emissions this has to change.
Equally, New Zealand families have little ability to use good quality affordable and frequent rail to reach main tourism centres. For example, they can no longer travel to tourist town Rotorua by train. It is impossible to organise a weekend visit to Ruapehu from either Auckland or Wellington by train to go mountain biking. Or a beach holiday at Mt Maunganui by train.
As we well know, Aotearoa New Zealand only retains a mere skeleton long distance passenger rail service. The day train service between Auckland and Wellington is infrequent, expensive and only has limited stops. It is aimed at a small group of high-end tourists and is not affordable for most New Zealand families going on holiday, also an important part of tourism.
Unlike most industrialised countries, there are no night trains operating in New Zealand. These are important tourism services in Europe.
Credit: Richard Young
With the bias in the Tourism Environment Leadership Group, it is not surprising, but nevertheless disappointing, that the draft tourism strategy repeats myths about rail.
On page 44 it states “[c]ompared to other countries, tourism transport between destinations in Aotearoa New Zealand depends on aviation to a greater extent, due to the distances and complex geography between our major cities.”
Save Our Trains member Suraya Sidhu Singh tackles these myths. The myths have also been exposed by Making Rail Work.
There are many examples of countries that have very challenging geography but also have well developed rail systems. An example is Switzerland, a very popular European tourist destination. Others are Japan and Norway. While it has a larger population than New Zealand (just under 9 million people), Switzerland has a fully electrified rail network with 92% of electricity from renewable sources, and just under 800 passenger train stations.
New Zealand has few operating railway stations, many very run down. Wellington station has no heated waiting room, no showers, and no dedicated parents’ room. Given Wellington station caters for the few remaining longer distance passenger services, as well as InterCity coaches, its facilities are substandard and would not be accepted in an airport.
Longer distance passenger trains throughout New Zealand could cater for a range of tourists. This includes those using bikes. Many North Island bike trails begin near current and former stations. But current trains are not well set up to carry bikes. We discuss this on another of our blogs.
Cyclists on the Timber Trail could arrive by train at the currently abandoned Ongarue station. Image: MBIE
Cycle tourism could really increase and improve options for local people at the same time. Ideally, we would make both cycling and walking pleasant with appropriate and safe infrastructure. Together, these would go a long way to creating nicer places. Our countryside, towns, and cities, linked by trains, would become lovely places to visit, if we reduced how much the car dominates them, to make them safe to walk and cycle.
Reviving passenger rail has to be a key strategy of the tourism industry to give it any hope of becoming a truly regenerative model.
By Ross Clark
Credit: New Zealand Parliament
As we rethink the provision of transport, both in infrastructure and in services, we also need to think about whether our transport administration, designed in an earlier time, is capable of delivering what we want it to. In this paper, I go through the structure of our transport administration, explain how it got to where it is, and what we now need, and don't need, to change.
Credit: Richard Young
By Suraya Sidhu Singh
The Inquiry into Passenger Rail long-awaited recommendations, released on 4 July 2023, ask for many reforms. But not enough.
After decades of pleading with successive governments to please not smash up our critical national rail infrastructure, last year’s Inquiry into Inter-Regional Passenger Rail came as a surprise to many rail advocates. But with the impacts of climate change now widely felt and rising costs of living, not a moment too soon.
The Inquiry sought to understand if claims of sensible reasons for New Zealand’s lack of passenger rail stack up, and if not, how do we go from today’s shriveled rail travel options to reviving these once-popular routes?
All change, please
Those who tuned in to the select committee heard a startling array of experts, from economists to engineers to public health specialists (and of course, the armchair type,) illuminate inter-regional rail travel’s benefits – from reduced transport emissions to reduced road accidents to greater mobility for disabled people.
A huge 97 percent of the 1,752 submissions backed expanding affordable, inter-regional passenger rail. It’s rare to see such strong public support for anything.
Inter-regional public transport authority to be established
The report recommends establishing a body responsible for system leadership around all inter-regional public transport, including rail, ferries and coaches. It would identify inter-regional public transport gaps, and work with regional councils and presumably the private sector to fill these.
They’ve certainly identified an obvious problem. Compared with state highways – a co-ordinated network by one central government organisation – inter-regional public transport is piecemeal with no national coordination. It’s even exempt from regional councils’ public transport planning responsibilities, but some still operate it because they think it important.
Strangely, the report doesn’t name KiwiRail among those who will need to work with this body. Hopefully that’s an oversight.
Funding system review
The government is also advised to reconsider funding arrangements for inter-regional passenger rail to better reflect the benefits of these services. The prospect of change here is encouraging.
Funding is another area where State Highways are the Ugly Sisters and rail, Cinderella. State Highways are 100 percent centrally funded while inter-regional public transport must be 50 percent regionally funded. This is a problem because regional councils have very low revenue-raising abilities.
Multiple regional councils would also have to agree any proposed service was a priority and there’s no way to make sure councils contribute fairly, leading to eye-roll results like Auckland Transport contributing no funding to the Auckland to Hamilton train, Te Huia.
Scoping new inter-regional passenger rail services
The report asks the government to scope new Auckland–Wellington, Auckland–Tauranga and Napier–Wellington passenger rail routes. It also suggests looking at extending the Capital Connection train (Wellington–Palmerston North) to Feilding as intact infrastructure would make that straightforward. They say further routes should be scoped, including the South Island, to identify best-value options.
Some submitters pointed to a strong case for sleeper trains, particularly Auckland to Wellington, as overnight journeys in a comfy bed make long travel times less important. Proponents say sleepers must be carefully designed around customer experience – something we’ve failed at in the past.
Credit: Richard Young
KiwiRail survives another apocalypse
The report notes many submitters, including the infrastructure commission, Te Waihanga, pointed to conflicts in KiwiRail’s structure harming rail. It says, “KiwiRail’s commercial mandate means investment decisions are often made based on the economic viability of services, rather than… wider societal costs and benefits… even if a rail service would be worthwhile from a public-value perspective, investment is still unlikely.”
Recent Kaitaki Ferry and track evaluation bungles support this.
Submitters were also concerned that KiwiRail controls rail infrastructure while also running freight and passenger services on it. KiwiRail must in theory allow other operators access, but it’s hard to say if their access conditions are fair when any new operator would reduce their profit.
Meanwhile, everywhere in the world, freight is more profitable than passenger rail, meaning one enterprise running both is heavily incentivised to make passenger play second-fiddle.
Despite having heard of avoidable problems created by KiwiRail’s structure, the committee didn’t recommend change. This is part of a pattern where somehow every well-reasoned criticism of KiwiRail runs off them like water off a duck’s back.
Passenger rail a deflating political football
At the recent Future is Rail conference in Wellington, an overarching theme was the struggle caused by passenger rail being a political football in New Zealand. Given it delivers provable economic, social and environmental benefits, it should tick boxes for all major parties. But both National and ACT included statements disagreeing with the report's recommendations.
At the recent Future is Rail conference in Wellington, National infrastructure spokesperson Chris Bishop said the case for inter-regional passenger rail doesn’t stack up economically. Yet, rail developments funded in recent years have demonstrated strong positive returns on investment, like the lower North Island hybrid trains. The same can’t be said for some motorways green-lit under National.
It’s telling that the message from these parties isn’t that we should only fund infrastructure that returns best on investment, but rather, declaring passenger rail doesn’t stack up, despite what business cases find. Rail proponents cross the political spectrum, so National and ACT would benefit from revisiting their stances by actually looking at the benefit-cost ratios.
It’s hard to say whether the Inquiry into Passenger Rail’s proposals will bring more transport choice for New Zealanders. Nationwide inter-regional public transport co-ordination and a review of its funding are long overdue, but a huge opportunity was missed in failing to see that KiwiRail’s structure absolutely must be changed if we’re to bring back affordable, long-distance passenger rail.
Source: Michael van Drogenbroek's presentation at The Future is Rail conference
By Paul Callister and Robert McLachlan
Each day we read news about the increasing local and global effects of human induced climate change. In Aotearoa New Zealand, we know travel by cars and planes is an important source of emissions. We have adopted a ‘shift, avoid and improve’ framework to analyse pathways for reducing overall transport emissions. So how do we apply this when thinking about trains versus planes?
Three other issues are relevant in any debates about trains versus planes.
One is how we power transport. Electrification of domestic travel is critical. There is a steady stream of reports being published on how best to provide the scarce and valuable renewable electricity to underpin the transport transition.
A second issue is resource use. This affects both the provision of renewable electricity and transport choices. For example, there are debates about the availability of key minerals such as copper and lithium.
A third is the carbon needed in investing in either train or aviation infrastructure. Expanding and building new airports requires major civil engineering works as does upgrading rail infrastructure.
There are many important, and far reaching, discussions taking place this year. For some, public input is being sought. For example, in April this year, the Climate Change Commission released its draft advice to inform the strategic direction of the Government’s second emissions reduction plan, covering Aotearoa New Zealand’s 2026–2030 emissions budget. The Tourism Environment Leadership Group, supported by MBIE, are currently seeking feedback on a draft Tourism Environment Action Plan. One goal in the draft is to ‘leverage tourism to advocate for rapidly decarbonising domestic transport used by visitors.’
At a regional level, Queenstown airport is seeking public feedback on its plans to increase passenger numbers by one third in the next decade.
In Auckland, there has been debate about council ownership of airport shares. But in an increasingly tangled and often contradictory world of growth aspirations versus much needed emission reductions, the airport is embarking on major expansion plans while Auckland council’s own emission reduction plan calls for a 50% reduction in domestic aviation emissions by 2030.
Adding to the discussion, at the end of June is the passenger rail conference being held in Wellington, with the theme “The Future is Rail”.
The decline of inter-regional passenger rail in Aotearoa New Zealand is well documented. In fact, many delegates to the rail conference cannot conveniently get to the conference venue and back home by train. Once, it would have been possible to arrive on the morning of the conference by train from Auckland or Hamilton and leave that evening again by overnight train. Or arrive from Whanganui, New Plymouth or Napier. Now people have to drive, bus or fly.
It is therefore no surprise that we rank 4th in the world for per-capita domestic aviation emissions. On a per capita domestic basis, New Zealanders emit 7 times more aviation emissions than people living in the UK and 9 times that of Germany.
Trains are at the heart of a goal to ‘shift’ domestic inter-regional travel
The global data show clearly the energy and emission benefits of train travel.
But these gains will be only achieved if there are trains available and people use them. Who might we attract onto trains?
There will be a group of people who are currently unable to drive or fly who will have their travel options opened up by the provision of trains. Increasingly, this includes people who wish to reduce their carbon footprints. There are young people without cars, not old enough to drive or perhaps without driver licences. Previous blogs have outlined a range of potential passengers, including those who can use the train as their office or who wish to enjoy some of New Zealand’s cycleways.
But it also includes many people who could be classified as transport disadvantaged due to poverty, where they live, or perhaps physical disabilities.
If we are to reduce emissions, we have to get a significant number of people to shift out of cars and planes. And to do that we need a policy environment that fully supports the shift to trains, including the large investment needed to upgrade the rail network. We do not have this in Aotearoa New Zealand. Instead, the playing field, through subsidies and a raft of other policies, supports the building of roads and the aviation industry.
Such change will not come quickly. While low emission trains are now available on the world market, getting an extensive frequent network up and running in Aotearoa New Zealand will take many decades. But some changes could come quickly, such as the reinstatement of a night train between Auckland and Wellington. Or adding an affordable backpackers carriage on the Northern Explorer. It would have been so much easier if we had started this revival two decades ago. This map shows a scenario of rail services we would now be operating in Aotearoa New Zealand if we had invested in the same way as Victoria.
In our series of train blogs, various rail experts and public transport enthusiasts have set out their visions for reviving passenger rail.
But will the promise of ‘zero emission’ flights derail a shift to trains?
Aviation relies on a goal to ‘improve’
In order to decarbonise, the aviation industry relies almost entirely on promises of future technological breakthroughs. These promises are announced almost weekly.
There are three key promises.
Source: Queenstown airport masterplan
Recently we have had two journal articles published considering the future of aviation. These are:
Callister, P. and McLachlan, R. (2023) Decarbonising Aotearoa New Zealand’s aviation sector: Hard to abate, but even harder to govern. Policy Quarterly, 19(2): 9-18. (online)
Callister, P. and McLachlan, R (2023) Managing Aotearoa New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions from aviation, Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, DOI: 10.1080/03036758.2023.2212174 (open access)
Our conclusions are:
We very much favour on-going research into low emission aviation. But to be sure to reduce emissions we need to now invest in the technologies that will give us certain, long-term reductions in both energy use and emissions. Rail is one.
We cannot rely on the aviation industry on its own to develop the pathway to decarbonise the sector. We need an overall plan. This needs to be led by government and needs to involve all the levers of ‘shift, avoid and improve’.
By Fiona Christeller
Source: Te Huia, https://www.tehuiatrain.co.nz/
Firstly, I’d like to commend the research, work and campaign information being provided by the communities who support regional passenger rail transport in New Zealand. It is a no-brainer that if more people use public transport, cycling and walking instead of cars, they will be contributing to reducing the effects of Climate Change, even in a small way.
I strongly support the campaign objectives set out in Save Our Trains submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the future of inter-regional passenger rail in New Zealand Aotearoa. The campaign outlined the need for a national strategy for passenger rail services, followed by a roll-out of a more comprehensive and integrated public transport network.
However, it all sounds like it will take time, …. and be expensive …. and inevitably have adversaries, particularly around cost. I am a baby boomer: I’m partly responsible for the mess the planet is in, and I would like to promote ways to act urgently, …., at an affordable cost!
While I agree with delivering a long-term strategy and developing options to achieve this through a business case process, this blog is to promote a complimentary action plan to get started quicker. Nationally Councils are being encouraged by central Government to trial street changes by reallocating space to more sustainable modes of transport, eg. bike lanes, using low cost, high impact and quicker changes. The consequence is less upfront cost and with the opportunity for adjustment leading to better outcomes, letting user experience and practical issues which present themselves to inform and provide evidence for a plan to implement the long-term strategy.
Here are two such trial ideas which mesh with the objectives of those promoting regional trains, but which could be implemented quickly and would encourage mode-shift using current services:
The Great Journeys trains
These trains are infrequent and expensive, presented as a travel experience and often need to be booked ahead. As a first step to getting more passengers Kiwirail could:
Let’s challenge Kiwirail to double their Great Journeys passenger numbers within 2 years by marketing the service to non-tourists and adding capacity.
If the trial gets locals onto trains, then the case for extending the service to Dunedin, Whangārei, and Tauranga, and adding a night train becomes easier to argue.
The Save Our Trains submission suggested a mixed train option on regional routes, using passenger trains to carry freight. This is a really great solution and is used overseas but requires the introduction of new services (including feasibility, cost analysis etc). I suggest flipping this and building on what is already available.
Instead, in the short term, on some existing freight trains, at particular times, a passenger carriage or two is added. This trial would get people moving, without huge expenditure or a major change to current systems. According to Kiwirail, there are 4,128km of railway lines and 1,350 railway stations around NZ, and there are 900 freight trains per week. Why not use some of them?
Where else in the world can you ride a freight train? except this way:
It would get me, my family and friends and our bikes to destinations around the country without using a car or plane. It could provide a low-cost, high impact, quicker mode shift opportunity.
The real benefit of making change through a trials process means that there is an opportunity to test ideas, tweak and adapt to solve practical issues which arise, get feedback from all parties, and feed into good permanent outcomes. I encourage us all to continue to work towards the vision of a connected, reliable and frequent passenger rail service connecting Aotearoa, but also to initiate change SOONER.
By James Llewellyn
After many years as a Cinderella of the New Zealand network, there is evidence that inter-regional passenger rail may finally be coming to the ball. Whilst Auckland and Wellington metro networks have significantly improved over recent years, the same cannot be said for the rest of the country. Aside from the lonely flag bearers of Capital Connection and Te Huia, inter-regional passenger rail is limited to iconic – but infrequent – Great Journeys operated primarily for tourists and nostalgia hunters.
Otorohanga is one of the few provincial towns in New Zealand with an inter-regional passenger rail service (of sorts). Photo: James Llewellyn
The recent budget announcement of funding for replacement rolling stock in the lower North Island comes hot on the heels of business cases being commissioned for further development of Te Huia. The Parliamentary enquiry into inter-regional passenger services has generated sufficient momentum to make June’s Future of Rail conference a potentially seminal moment in history. There is a huge opportunity to reach something that has hitherto been missing – an in-principle agreement that inter-regional passenger rail can and should make a significant contribution to enabling safe and environmentally sustainable longer distance travel across the whole country.
The acid test, however, is what comes next. A challenge which has bedevilled the country’s rail network is any kind of long-term development strategy; and this remains a major gap. The current NZ Rail Plan looks ahead only ten years, which is relatively short term in an industry which requires multiple decades of relative certainty around investment levels, project pipelines and development of key technical capabilities. Other than Capital Connection and Te Huia, investment proposals for inter-regional passenger rail are conspicuous by their absence in the NZ Rail Plan.
In defence of the authors of that document, where would they even start? There is no national strategy for transport as a whole, never mind rail. Successive governments – beholden to a three-year election cycle – have failed to take a long-term whole-of-system view and instead focussed either on the blindingly obvious – asset renewals, infill electrification and a few targeted capacity improvements – or transformational investments such as City Rail Link which then spawn the need for further upgrades elsewhere on the network to realise the full benefits.
Work on the Third Main project in Auckland. With a robust planning and delivery framework, it may have been possible to add in a fourth line at the same time. As it is, any additional capacity improvements – essential for a more frequent inter-regional passenger rail service – will have to wait. Photo: James Llewellyn.
Public Transport Authorities (PTAs) outside of Auckland and Wellington have been given precious little encouragement to consider either local or inter-regional passenger rail seriously and have their work cut out to make it a priority. Similarly, as a commercial state-owned enterprise KiwiRail focus on their core business of running freight services. They have enough on their hands to keep the current network operational, especially in the face of historic under-investment in maintenance and successive severe weather events. Rebuilds of damaged rail infrastructure are mounting up.
The current combination of piecemeal improvements and crisis management results from New Zealand having no effective framework for rail planning / investment in long term improvements or understanding the capability of a resilient network to accommodate additional demand. Aside from a multi-modal national transport strategy (which is way beyond the scope of this blog), there are several other key ingredients which are needed if inter-regional passenger rail is to progress much further.
Firstly, forthcoming Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs) will need to identify and develop significant travel corridors, which provides an opportunity to understand the role that passenger rail could play in meeting future travel demand. An absence of robust origin / destination and forecasting data means that it is all too easy for sceptics to claim that there won’t be enough passengers before they lobby for new roads in the next breath. Being very clear on which markets passenger rail best serves, and full integration with local bus and ferry services, should be linked to locating regenerative development adjacent to stations. Regional planning assessments (RPAs) should take at least a 30-year view and set out the passenger rail services which could credibly deliver mode shift from car and air travel. If every region undertakes an RPA in partnership with its neighbours, a whole-of-system view for an integrated medium and long-distance passenger rail network can be established.
For their part, local councils need to ensure that their future Natural and Built Environment (NBE) plans provide the tools and rules necessary to deliver on the ground. The role of local communities – including iwi – is critical. Rail planning cannot simply be a “take it or else” approach - it must be grounded in the kinds of sustainable and socially cohesive places where people want to live, work, and play in the future. Economic opportunities presented by rail – especially for sustainable residential, employment and commercial development – should be identified and developed locally within an enabling and supportive planning framework.
On the supply side, route capability assessments (RCAs) should consider options for meeting demand identified by planners. These assessments would include both required service frequencies / capacities through new rolling stock, and infrastructure improvements needed to deliver them – including electrification, signalling, linespeed, double-tracking, level crossing removal and accessible stations. It is, of course, essential that passenger rail and freight co-exist in a modern high-performing network.
The RCAs would need to establish whole-of-life costs and benefits, based on critical success factors such as maximum journey times between different towns and cities, as well as seat capacity, resilience, safety, and environmental performance. As current owner of “below track” national rail network assets, KiwiRail should be in a pivotal position to lead this work. Establishment of a joint strategic planning and delivery unit for long term investments - across all layers of government and industry - would enable the brightest minds to focus on what the future system should look like, and how it can be implemented.
Many provincial train stations still exist, waiting for a day when passengers may return. Land around stations could represent a valuable asset for local communities. Photo: James Llewellyn.
Taken together, RPAs and RCAs should aim to establish an integrated and prioritised long-term 30-to-50-year investment programme which could be considered for funding, most likely from a mix of government, passenger, and third-party sources. At present the national rail system as a whole has little to offer the domestic or overseas investor - but this could be very different if the Government, KiwiRail, PTAs, local councils, businesses and key stakeholders work together on delivering system-level change. Furthermore, the current situation – where expensive overseas capability is required to plan and deliver many rail projects – could be addressed through an industry strategy to develop the future workforce in the myriad of required technical skills for building an inter-regional passenger network. A long-term investment programme would give confidence to start this process in the schools and colleges. Businesses and investors would then have opportunities to support local design, production, testing and installation of everything from signalling control software to Overhead Line Equipment (OLE). Developing a New Zealand-based manufacturing capability for rolling stock would also be transformational.
Trains still perform a very popular passenger function, particularly heritage services run by dedicated volunteers. Photo: James Llewellyn.
System change requires more than a failure to think differently, and then complaining that transformation is just too hard. New Zealand is a truly innovative country whose people are more than capable of delivering what is required. With a strong sense of purpose and commitment to long-term planning / delivery, inter-regional passenger rail could play a strong role in a low emission transport system. If we really want it, Cinderella will have truly arrived at the ball.
James Llewellyn is Managing Director of Taith, a specialist public transport consultancy. James has previously worked for the UK Department for Transport, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, and Bay of Plenty Regional Council. He currently advises a number of Public Transport Authorities across the country.
By Michael Nicholson
Reinstating national passenger rail is logical, it really should be as simple as purchasing a fleet of new trains and progressively upgrading or building new stations - there are of course a number of other things which must happen beforehand, all of which require political will, pragmatism, investment and commitment.
It is not that long ago that New Zealand had a passenger rail network with good national coverage, most of the network was injudiciously dismantled in the early-to-mid 2000’s. Since then, our population has grown, our roads have become busier and more dangerous, greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector are high and have continued to increase year-on-year, our regions have become less connected with a serious lack of transport options to choose from, and public consciousness has intensified around climate change and what this means for our future.
There is a growing call for modern passenger rail to take a more fundamental role in New Zealand's transport. The recent Select Committee Inquiry into the future of inter-regional passenger rail, and research by 'Save Our Trains', clearly shows strong support for national passenger rail, and that support crosses the political spectrum.
Most countries are improving and expanding their passenger rail networks as a means of climate action and to better connect their people. Passenger rail systems around the world are seen as basic public infrastructure and are enjoying increased investment in new equipment, modern night trains, high speed and fast rail, new and expanded routes.
In recent years the government of New Zealand has invested in rail track and infrastructure rehabilitation, following a prolonged period of neglect. Now it is time to advance transformational improvements which will permit the development of modern passenger rail. Long-distance trains are needed to help reduce New Zealand's reliance of road and air travel, trains are an excellent way to affect mode change, reduce emissions, connect cities and regions, improve transport resilience, save lives and rejuvenate regional economies. Trains which connect our regions are the missing link in New Zealand’s public transport system.
KiwiRail's passivity and indifference towards long-distance passenger rail for public transport, sets the scene for passenger rail In New Zealand. KiwiRail is the rail industry leader - government, organisations and people listen to them, their institutionalised ‘can't do’ attitude is not helpful and undoubtably influences general perception. To be fair, KiwiRail is juggling a few balls, freight and ferry operations, major unplanned events, catch up maintenance on infrastructure, and some big upgrade projects. The constraints of being a State-Owned Enterprise also come into play. At this time, it is likely easiest for KiwiRail to preserve energy by suppressing the development of long-distance passenger rail, for public transport needs.
On a brighter note, KiwiRail has aspirations to develop an important area of passenger travel, high end tourism trains. They are currently progressing some exciting plans in this area.
Presently one of the biggest problems for re-establishing a national network is the lack of centralised planning and co-ordination. Central government needs to provide planning leadership and capital funding, in much the same way as state highways - this is a matter of consistency. Passenger rail development needs a triple bottom line approach, considering social, environmental and economic benefits. It is unrealistic to expect individual regional authorities to advance trains which cross multiple regional boundaries, the process for starting new long-distance trains (if you can call it a process) is incredibly convoluted and delivers few results. There is also a gap in government policy around funding the operation of cross boundary passenger services - systems to fund capital improvements and operations need to be developed, impediments need to be removed.
It seems likely the best solution for advancing a national network is to take passenger rail off KiwiRail, then form a separate centralised not-for-profit passenger rail agency.
The agency needs clear expectations around developing a masterplan for improvement and expansion, with a schedule of work for staged and managed development. The masterplan needs to include a standard fleet of modern low emissions trains for use on services across the national network, also modern night trains for the Auckland to Wellington route. The agency would investigate, analyse, consult and plan network development, then project manage and operate /or contract out operations to standards set by the agency. A national network approach, rather than an ad hoc services approach, has advantages of scale and big picture insights. Standardising equipment, infrastructure, maintenance, training and processes, along with better utilisation of equipment and staff will provide efficiencies.
The last chapter of Andre Brett's book, 'Can't Get There From Here' is well worth a read on its own, it is a real gem! Ideas in this chapter around how New Zealand's future passenger rail network might look are refreshing and exciting - "We could have it all".
What could modern passenger rail with national coverage look like in New Zealand?
Identifying Some Benefits of National Passenger Rail
• Safe travel and reduction of the risk of people dying on New Zealand's roads.
• Connected cities, regions and communities.
• Improved transport options and improved quality of life, for those who cannot / should not / do not want to drive. Important when considering NZ's aging population.
• Reduced emissions pollution, working toward carbon neutral NZ by 2050.
• Reduced and avoiding road traffic congestion, train travel is also an efficient use of time which enables people to work, read, relax or sleep whilst travelling.
• Reduced reliance on air and road transport, improving transport resilience.
• Provides additional travel options on corridor routes (Capital Connection & Te Huia), new national trains will feed into existing corridors.
• Helps to reduce the need for households to own additional vehicles, saving families money and reducing carbon emissions.
• Provides a sense and feeling of linked-up nationhood, national pride.
• Good for New Zealand's reputation internationally, presents a modern country with 1st world infrastructure which is taking positive action on climate change.
• Helps to rejuvenate smaller regional centres, making them realistic living alternatives through improved access to education / employment / healthcare / entertainment and family.
• Increased regional New Zealand's economic and tourism potential through improved access.
• New trains can (and should) be assembled in New Zealand, with a high local content for the manufacture of trains. This will flow onto economic and employment opportunities for local New Zealand businesses.
• Provides professional and skilled employment nationwide, assembly facilities and long-term maintenance can be sited in regional centres, as can operations depots -once train assembly is complete staff can be transferred to long term train maintenance, providing long term regional employment opportunities.
Modern Booking and Payment System
Ideally a modern, simple to use, app-based national booking and payment system.
This should include timetables in real-time, up-to-departure ticket purchase for travellers and bikes. Tickets should be prepaid before boarding trains and automatically include frequent-user discounts based on the emissions reduction of travelling by train.
Traveller information could automatically be relayed to train staff and provide information on where trains needed to stop, and how many passengers are boarding.
Long-distance and inter-regional passenger trains should be included in the national public transport ticket system.
Railway stations are an important part of the passenger rail experience, they need to be attractive, safe and where possible placed close to central/CBD areas - they should become community transport hubs, by integrating trains with other modes and other transport systems. An assessment of location should be made before upgrading takes place. Consideration needs to be given to ease of access, parking, bike access, passenger shelters and facilities, new stations could be of a prefabricated design to help to simplify work, hardware, signage and timetable display should provide a uniform network image. Larger stations should provide nice waiting lounges, luggage stowage (lockers) and possibly some form of catering.
There should be an investigation of the potential for bike and scooter hire facilities, where passengers can reserve and guarantee availability of a bike upon arrival. This feature might be attached to the new passenger rail booking app.
• Not all smaller regional stations need to be of city metro station standards. Trains can be adapted to use stations which are built to lesser specifications, making inclusion of smaller regional stations more viable.
• New electric or hybrid trains would allow Te Huia and other inter-regional trains to access Britomart station, using two central terminating platforms (currently) 3 & 4.
• Investigate relocation /or additional new stations at more central locations, such as: Levin, Featherston, Hamilton etc. Where stations cannot be made more central, efforts should be made to incorporate bus routes (local and longer distance) to existing stations.
• Upgrade the Strand station in Auckland, to make it more attractive and pedestrian friendly. Once upgraded it will be a good station for night trains and trains which pass through Auckland to/from Northland. The Strand has good levels of operational flexibility and network access, whilst allowing for trains to stand for extended periods.
• Investing in a new passenger rail platform at the upgraded Cook Strait ferry terminal in Picton would be desirable.
• Establish a new central Christchurch station for use of long-distance, inter-regional and local commuter trains, possibly close to the previous Moorhouse Avenue station location.
Our new national network now needs a fleet of modern trains. New trains will greatly improve passenger rail performance, modern trains are typically low-to-zero emissions, self-propelled, lighter, flexible, designed for bi-directional operation, fast accelerating, possibly of tilt train design (becoming more common) and designed for fast boarding and detraining of passengers to reduce station dwell times. A standard fleet of modern trains will reduce maintenance, training and operational costs, they can be outfitted as required for specific needs and should be assembled in New Zealand, with a high local content requirement built into the manufacturing contract.
First and Standard Class should be considered, this provides a natural split between expectations around comfort and cost.
Recently approved new trains for the Lower North Island could be used as a template for standard Inter-regional trains and potentially on long-distance routes across New Zealand. These new trains are proposed to be of a tri-mode design, with the ability to operate as AC electric / DC electric / battery / small combustion backup engine and can be adapted to the individual needs of each route, such as AC electric traction which would allow Te Huia to access Britomart station /or AC, DC and battery operation for trains over the Auckland to Wellington route. Interiors can be fitted out to include better seating and catering on longer routes.
Orders for additional trains of this standard design could subsequently be placed as the national network develops and grows.
Tilt Train technology is becoming more common and should be considered for New Zealand. For many years Tilt Trains have played an extensive part in longer distance passenger train operations in Japan, which uses the same "cape gauge" track (3.6") as New Zealand. Tilt Trains, in some cases, can travel around curves up to 35% faster than conventional trains. This increases average speed over a route and reduces travel time, without the need to alter the track infrastructure significantly. Tilt Trains could be ideal on routes such as Wellington to Auckland (daytime express), Wellington to New Plymouth, Wellington to Napier, Auckland to Whangarei and Opua.
Opportunities may exist to trial Tilt Train technology; Japan has a fleet of Tilt Trains (HOT7000 series) which may soon become available for purchase, or lease. These trains could be rebuilt and tested over different routes in New Zealand.
Night trains should be fitted out with sleeper compartments, lay flat seats and standard sit-up seating, showers, and a lounge car. They could be either modern multiple unit style trains /or more conventional carriage trains. Brand new sleeper carriages have recently been built for the State Railway of Thailand, a fleet of these attractive and modern sleeper trains would be an excellent option for New Zealand.
In part two of this blog, I will delve more deeply into the types of services that could be offered in New Zealand.