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Government ruining electrification

There has been a flurry of activity since a post I made last week called for information on why the heck it’s taking so long to find out how the electric trains for Auckland’s rail system will be funded. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that the ARC finally got around to making a press release on the matter the day after I made that post, or perhaps after reading my post they went “crikey we’d almost forgotten about that!” In some ways, I do hope it was a coincidence.

In response to this long-overdue questioning of Steven Joyce about when we’re going to finally get the electric train funding announced, we’re starting to hear some rather worrying stories emerging through the various channels that news reporters go to for information on such matters. Firstly, a Herald article on Friday stated the following response from a spokeswoman for Mr Joyce:

But a spokeswoman for Mr Joyce said: “There is a process going on with officials that Mr Lee is well aware of.

“It involves finalising the governance of metro rail, including in Auckland, finalising the scope of the project, and funding.

“Recommendations on all those issues are expected shortly.”

Finalising the scope of the project? Surely that had already been finalised in terms of the whole system between Swanson and Papakura being electrified? Or are we talking about the scope of the electric trains purchase – in terms of the number of trains being purchased and how the purchase will be structured?

Another article today, by Brian Rudman, indicates that the answer to the question above might well be “both”, and that it all looks like pretty bad news. Some exerpts:

Reports now leaking out of Wellington paint a dispiriting picture of the alternatives being considered.

They suggest that far from being driven by a desire to create a first-world rapid-rail system such as any other city city of a similar size enjoys, the major driving force for this minister is a desire to meet the deadline as cheaply and Third Worldly as he can get away with…

…Industry sources suggest the Government now wants to almost halve the size of the new rail fleet to 75 and to make up the difference by collecting up all the second-hand electric locomotives that can be found around the country, giving them a lick of paint and an oil change, and pressing them into service dragging Auckland’s existing fleet of tarted-up old carriages.

Apparently a stockpile of retired electric locomotives in Palmerston North is being eyed up.

As well, some main trunk freight locomotives will become surplus to requirements, once the recently ordered fleet of 20 new freight locomotives arrives from China.

One report suggests more carriages may have to be bought.

Instead of the trains being short and swift and new, they will, because of the heavy freight locomotives pulling them, be long and slow to accelerate.

Another worry is the possibility that to save more money, the resurrected Onehunga branch line will not be electrified – a diesel shuttle will run back and forth instead – and the planned Parnell station will be shelved.

This really is depressing news. The point of electrification is to bring Auckland’s rail system into the 21st century, to provide new trains that will be able to operate on the system for the next 30-40 years without the enormous maintenance bill that currently cripples the system’s viability, to offer users something of a high enough quality to truly attract people out of their cars and onto public transport. The point was not to find the cheapest possible option, because (of course) that wouldn’t actually result in the aforementioned goals being achieved.

So, I guess the question is ‘why are we being screwed over here?’ Apart from the obvious reason that the government doesn’t see any value in rail and only perceives it as a blackhole for funding, I actually think there’s a worry within government that if a good rail system was provided, people would actually use it. And they’re quite aware of the capacity constraints of Britomart, and don’t want to have to stump up $1.5 billion for the CBD Rail Tunnel any time soon. So it makes sense to do a “bare minimum” upgrade, to keep people from shifting to public transport “too fast” (the concept of having a mode-shift to public transport too quickly is specifically mentioned in the government policy statement on transport as being a negative). I guess if people shifted to using the rail system in their droves it would also make it harder to justify spending billions upon billions of dollars on new state highways. David Bennett, National MP for Hamilton, recently opposed the proposed Waikato Rail Service on the ground that it might divert attention away from the Waikato Expressway – basically saying he was worried it might be a success and reduce the need for his pet project.

There are plenty of reasons why the government would want to ruin electrification. However, they’re all unacceptable and it’s time they were called on it.

20 comments to Government ruining electrification

  • Cam

    Sadly it’s my worst fears confirmed. I hope all those people who thought the National govt would give PT in Auckland a fair shake are not still deluding themselves.

  • Joshua

    I was kina hoping when they say the ‘scope of the project’ it was extending it to Hamiltion 🙂 little bit of hopefull thinking there.

  • An extension to Pukekohe was being seriously considered at one stage. Clearly not now though 🙁

  • Nicholas O'Kane

    Very disapointing news.

    The ironic thing is that many rail projects will have a cost/benefit ratio far better than many of Nationals pet road projects. For instance how about a comparison of the Waterview connection with the CBD rail loop. Or Puhoi-Wellsord four lanning with the airport link and maybe the Onehunga-Southdown link as well. Or the massive $2bn four laning of Wellington-Levin including Transmission Gully (the latter section has only a 0.3 CBR ratio and probably lower for the rest of the project) with $1bn extra added to both Wellington and Auckland rail.

    I agree with nationals descison to spend lots more on transport. However, not all the funding should go to roads.

    At least we will get some electric trains, and the half new, half old fleet will be better than the current all old fleet, and once the second hand electric trains break down we will end up with new ones eventually. The no Parnell station and no Pukekohe electrification are disapointing and this could take longer to reverse.

    I do see how with the recession and axing of the fuel tax one CAN argue cuts have to be made. However it is unfair that all the cuts should be to rail while roads get more funding.

    We will have to lobby to change the government minds on this issue, or get the super city to use rates to provide some funds, or change the government.

    Even though I am a National Party supporter, I worry that as long as the current government stays in office (unless it has a miracolous mind change) we will have to wait until the next Labour government few other options with NZ First gone and United Future back down to one seat) to see real progress. The worry is Darren Hughes doesn’t seem too much of a public transport guy, and reinstating the regional fuel tax might be too much of a hot potato, and Labour didn’t do much for public transport until its last two years in office.

  • Nicholas O'Kane

    “we will have to wait until the next Labour government few other options with NZ First gone and United Future back down to one seat)” should read “we will have to wait until the next Labour government (which will almost definately include the Greens as Labour has few other options with NZ First gone and United Future back down to one seat)”

  • Nicholas, chances are that people like Steven Joyce are much much more likely to take note of what one of their own supporters says on a matter like this, than what someone like me who clearly will never vote National, might say.

    I strongly suggest writing him a letter on the matter!

  • Jezza

    I’m doing that… You should too Nicholas…

  • Thanks Jezza. Keep it up and I might even be able to forgive you for voting National 😉

  • Jezza

    Sometimes they probably wish I’d voted for Labour and then just sent them hate mail… Getting someones vote is one thing, living up to their demands quite another..!

  • James Butler

    Instead of the trains being short and swift and new, they will, because of the heavy freight locomotives pulling them, be long and slow to accelerate.

    One point – if we do in fact end up using retired NIMT electrics, while not ideal, they should be significantly faster to accelerate than the current diesel-locomotive-hauled trains. And quieter.

  • 5689hfjijkghjkdf

    Jarbury, I have thought of a few things to be considered. It’s partially speculation but something to think about.

    Of the 22 locomotives only 21 still exist as one was scrapped. Of those only 17 are in working condition. If there were supposed to be 140 EMU carriages originally and there will only be 75 that leaves 65 carriages to make up the rest. Assuming ~6 carriage sets this means it would require 11 locomotives. Assuming that no spare electric locomotives are required in Auckland that means only 6 locomotives will be left for use on the north island main trunk(NIMT). The question is will this be enough to continue using the electrification on the NIMT, or is there an even worse part of this proposal. Will we see the NIMT electrification shut down permanently and all locomotives moved for use in Auckland as spares for the other 11 and removal of the overhead wiring on the NIMT?

    If we assume that all the locomotives will be fixed and in good condition that leaves 10 locomotives for use on the NIMT. Then that might be enough to continue the NIMT electrification.

    However I think those stored electric locomotives are stored because they’re missing bits and pieces used to keep the remaining locomotives going. I’m thinking if it’s even possible to get spare parts to fix them?

    Another point to consider, these locomotives are about 20 metres long and will take up an entire carriage worth of space at platforms. With Britomarts rather short platforms that would mean a maximum length of 6 carriages + locomotives on most platforms.

    As far as I am aware there is no way for these locomotive to provide auxillary power. Will this mean that even if the SA/SD carriages are electrically hauled would it still require the diesel generator in the SD carriage?

  • Jezza

    I think some of those issues are one’s Joyce will have to work through before announcing this half-arsed option and retain some semblence of credibility, if this report is accurate…

  • Thanks for that information 5689…..

    Hmmm…. hopefully this isn’t a cover for ending electrification on the NIMT.

  • Jezza

    This is what I sent to Joyce this evening:

    To the Hon. Steven Joyce

    Minister of Transportation
    Minister for Communications
    Associate Minister of Finance
    Associate Minister of Infrastructure

    Dear Minister,

    I am writing to you in regard of the article in the New Zealand Herald by Brian Rudman entitled: Cheap won’t be a bargain for Auckland’s new rail system, which can be viewed here: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=10592717. If the information in this article is true I must say it is quite troubling. I have previously written to you once before about Auckland transportation issues.

    I am a 26 year old member of the National party and proudly took my family down to the polling booth on November 8th last year to put an end to 3 years of wasted parliamentary time by Labour before scrutineering for the National Party at Gladstone Primary School.

    However if the article as reported is true I feel I must point out the electoral damage that would be done if the rail system is not electrified from Swanson to Papakura and including both the Manukau and Onehunga branches and 140 new EMU’s purchased.

    I worked on the Mount Albert by-election campaign and saw the hit the party took by announcing the cheaper Waterview Connection option during the campaign, an announcement that easily could have waited till after. Additionally that announcement was going to have detractors either way whether due to cost or the effects of turning a surface area into a motorway. People have negative connotations with a new motorway, due to noise, emissions, lost homes while in the case of rail electrification Aucklanders have an almost singularly positive attitude as it has none of these attributes.

    As National Party campaign manager for the last two general elections I don’t need to point out to you how important the result in 2008 in Auckland was (and will be in 2011) to the party’s fortunes, Aucklanders want rapid rail and remember that it has been cancelled on two previous occasions, my parents who are swing voters in their 50’s remember “Robbie’s Rapid Rail” very fondly and are watching the developments closely, in their eyes nothing but the promised electrification package will do (especially as no cancellation or down-scaling was included in the run-up to the election), most Aucklanders I have talked to about the issue feel the same. While there was always going to be a political downside to the Waterview Connection announcement there doesn’t have to be with electrification, any savings will be at best 1% – 2% of the almost 11 billion being planned to be spent by the government over the next decade.

    Lastly there are obvious economic benefits over the long term to buying a full scale new EMU fleet which I can only assume are being overlooked for the immeadite savings or the ideological fact that motor vehicles by their nature better suit the National Party’s belief in freedom and personal responsibility. The Greens and the Labour Party will also be able to grasp onto this future announcement and gain something that plays very strongly with Aucklanders, that we are second class citizens to Wellington again with their new Matarangi EMU’s and electrification upgrade. At this point (after Project DART has progressed so far and the full electrfication and new EMU expectation has been raised) I think anything less than the full options will be electorally damaging for the National Party without enough reward in the bottom line of the budget. Please allow us party members in Auckland to deliver an excellent result in 2011.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Jeremy………

  • Good work. Hopefully that will mean something to them, as it comes from a party member. We should find out quite a lot more on this matter in the next couple of days.

    I sent a rather scathing letter to the editor that I hope will be published in the NZ Herald in the next few days 🙂

  • Jezza

    There is only two things that’ll change a politicans mind, campaign donations and votes, and seen as how the roading lobby has the donation angle sewn up, I thought I’d play the only card left…

  • By the way, every letter to a Cabinet Minister has the response written by a civil servant in the responsible department. In this case, the Ministry of Transport. It is almost entirely futile writing to Ministers. I know because I penned hundreds of replies many many years ago when I worked in the state sector.

    However, what you might get is the standard justification for why things are the way they are – that’s about it.

  • Mike

    I have just been reading other Articles on the Internet of “De Electifying the North Island Main Trunk Line Between Palmerston North and Hamilton which I think is a Stupid Idea! Back in the 1950s the plan was to Electrify Wellington – Auckland Main Trunk Line but this of course never came about. Today you have Wellington – Paraparaumu Electrification currently Being Extented (Wellington – Waikanae) Taking the Electric Commuter Trains North on that section of the North Island Main Trunk Line and then you have Palmerston North – Hamilton being Electrified. Now Both of these Sections are on different Voltages (Wellington 1500V DC, Palmerston North – Hamilton 25 kV AC). But with Electric Trains Being Proposed for Auckland and also New Electric Commuter Trains proposed for Wellington it would make Sense to convert the Wellington Electrification to 25 kv AC the same as Central North Island when the new commuter trains for Wellington arrive and to “join the Gap” between Paraparaumu and Palmerston North and when Electric Trains arrive in Auckland also to have them on 25 Kv AC and also to “fill the gap” between Auckland and Hamilton then you would have the whole North Island Main Trunk Line Electrified with trains running “Strait Through” without the need for loco changes and also with reduced pollution etc etc. THis would be a good time to act! You could have electric commuter trains run as far as Palmerston north stopping at places like Levin and Otaki and same goes for Auckland you could have Hamilton – Auckland Electric Commuter trains etc etc. ALso you can send up Electric Units either to Auckland or Wellington if demand for more passengers etc.

    Thanks for reading look foward to hearing some feedback on my idea 🙂

  • I think the new trains for Wellington’s rail network have the ability to run on 25 Kv AC power, as well as the DC system. One day it might be changed around, but really I think we’re dreaming when it comes to any further electrification for the next while (at least while we still have this government).

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