Last Tuesday before the budget I got a call from a reporter from the Herald asking my opinion on the Government’s rail announcements. I told him if he told me what they were, I’d tell him what I thought! He asked my opinion on the Government’s decision to close the North Auckland Line (this isn’t what the Government actually proposed) and my comments appeared in this article:
Fears for Northland rail link
Transport campaigners are concerned that mothballing the rail line to Northland would reduce options for diverting freight from Auckland’s congested Auckland waterfront.
KiwiRail yesterday disclosed that as part of its $4.6 billion “turnaround plan” – into which the Government will pump $750 million over three years – it is considering mothballing four under-used railway lines, including the link between Auckland and Moerewa.
Chief executive Jim Quinn said the company was responding to a signal by the Government, which owns it, “to focus the scarce capital we get into the most productive areas where the revenue is”.
He denied that KiwiRail had an aggressive closure agenda, but expected all four lines to be mothballed by 2012 unless the communities they served could show ways of making them viable in the short-term.
Campaign for Better Transport spokesman Jeremy Harris said that would defy commonsense, given the potential for a large amount of extra business from a spur line to the port and oil refinery at Marsden Pt.
Although several tunnels would need widening before trains could carry containers to and from Northland, Mr Harris said that could be done for just a fraction of the cost of the 38km highway the Government wants to build between Puhoi and Wellsford for $1.53 billion to $2.04 billion.
He said sending containers to Northland would take pressure off Auckland’s port, which faced growing demands for greater public access to the waterfront.
Northland Regional Council chairman Mark Farnsworth hoped to make a strong case for the Government and KiwiRail to take a long-term strategic view in keeping the line open.
Yesterday’s announcement was principally about freight services, although the Auckland and Wellington regional councils are on notice from the Government that their ratepayers and commuters will have to pay more for track maintenance.
Transport Minister Steven Joyce said $7 million would be allocated in tomorrow’s Budget to help to cover an undisclosed shortfall on passenger rail services in the two regions while rail access charges were being renegotiated.
The Auckland Regional Council fears not only that its annual bill for access charges may treble to $6 million, but also that it will be called on to contribute to loan repayments for the electric trains the Government has agreed to buy the region for $500 million.
Mr Quinn said KiwiRail intended to hold consultations over the next year with all communities likely to be affected by decisions to mothball the four lines on its list.
My point was quite strong given what I’d been told, it didn’t make sense to me to announce it’s closure without taking into account Marsden Pt. I didn’t really think too much about it till two days later this letter appeared in the herald:
There may be many reasons for the Northland Rail Link remaining open but, unfortunately for the Campaign for Better Transport spokesman Jeremy Harris, a container port at Marsden Pt. is unlikely to be one of them, either in its own right or as a relief port for Auckland.
If he knows anything about transport, “better” or otherwise, he might be aware that the trend by container shipping lines like Maersk is to reduce their number of ports of call. In the not-too-distant future there’s likely to be only two ports in New Zealand where the largest container ships call – one each for the North and South Islands. The North Island port will likely be Auckland or Tauranga’s – not Marsden Pt. And that’s just if we don’t just become a spoke in the wheel of a hub port in Australia.
So we better not go widening those tunnels yet.
Steve Newman, Birkenhead
It’s amazing how quickly you get used to being called an idiot in public. Sadly the Herald didn’t print my response but here it is:
In response to your correspondent Steve Newman, who claims that there is no need for the North Auckland Rail Line to Marsden Pt. due to shipping consolidation.
I hope after writing his letter to the Herald he wrote a letter to Northport informing them to cancel their upcoming board meetings and for the wharfies to down tools and head off to the WINZ office, as the capitalist system of competition is no longer needed, he has decided Northport will fade into the history books – despite their obvious advantages of having the only truly deep water port in the North Island and the country’s largest refinery immeaditely adjacent to the port.
I hope he also wrote a letter to Steven Joyce demanding a rail head at Whangarei and an upgrade to the North Auckland Line – now urgently required to freight logs from Northland’s maturing forests to Auckland and Tauranga.
The name, Steve Newman seemed really familiar to me and I couldn’t figure out where I had seen it.
Update: As noted in the comments it seems that there are (at least) two Steve Newmans and they got mixed up. Many apologies.