Auckland will gain ownership of 57 new electric trains in return for taking responsibility for repaying a $500 million Government loan over 35 years.
But the loan repayments will in turn be subsidised by the Government through the Transport Agency, starting at 60 per cent before reducing over 10 years to a new financial assistance rate of 50 per cent.
Previously it was thought that we would be getting 38 three-car trains, plus 12 electric locomotives which would haul the SA train carriages. Under the new scheme, there will be no electric locos and the fleet will be entirely composed of electric multiple unit trains (EMUs).
The government’s media release has the full details of the deal:
The Auckland funding and ownership package comprises the following:
• Auckland Transport will take ownership of the new depot and 57 new three-car trains, along with existing non-electrified rolling stock, and will become responsible for all rolling stock maintenance.
• A $500 million Crown loan to purchase electric trains will be made to Auckland Council group.
• Funding assistance from the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) to help Auckland Council group repay the loan. This will initially be set at a 60 percent of the costs of the loan repayment (2011/12) and will move to 50 percent on an annual one percent glide path starting at 59 percent from 2012/13.
• Up to $90 million Crown grant to assist in funding the additional trains.
• Auckland Council will meet any additional purchase costs incurred above the Crown funding.
• The Crown (through KiwiRail) will retain ownership of below ground assets including track, signals and power supply. The current infrastructure upgrade and electrification programmes will be completed to bring the network to a more functional and reliable standard.
• Auckland Transport will pay a track access charge to KiwiRail, partly subsidised by NZTA, reflecting the fair and actual cost of maintaining the tracks and other assets.
The ownership decision is no real surprise, as I said earlier today this brings Auckland’s train ownership arrangement into line with Wellington, which is sensible.
I suppose the down-side is that Auckland’s ratepayers will probably end up paying for around half the cost of the trains, which compares to the message the government seemed to give out when they cancelled the regional fuel tax: that central government would pay for the trains. But the upside is that NZTA is paying for at least half the cost, plus the government is chipping in $90 million, presumably to help cover some of the extra cost of going from 38 EMUs and 12 locomotives up to 57 EMUs. Other parts of the deal, like a shift from a 60 per cent subsidy level slowly down to 50 per cent, as well as the increased track access charges are annoying extra charges the government has lumped onto the council – but have been well signalled for a long time so are no real surprise.
A couple of quotes from Mike Lee, in the Council’s media release, provide a bit more insight into how they’ve managed to acquire the additional trains:
“Increased current and forecast use of trains by the Auckland commuters and other factors, such as favourable exchange rates, means we can secure more electric trains than originally budgeted for without any further cost to ratepayers,” says Auckland Council Transport Committee Chair Mike Lee. “We are confident that we have secured the best possible deal for the people of Auckland, both at the point of purchase and also for the decades to come.”
The all-EMU fleet will cost less over their lifespan than the original 38 EMUs plus 12 electric locomotive option. As a result, there will be enough EMUs to run on all three of the region’s train lines. Previously only the Eastern and Western lines had been budgeted for.
Having a homogeneous train fleet in operation will have huge benefits, making it easy for trains to switch from being used on one line to another, allowing efficiencies. It also makes maintenance cheaper and easier, as there will be a single type of train throughout the entire network. It also means that their performance level will match up, meaning that some trains won’t catch others, creating scheduling headaches.
One thing that’s only mentioned in passing, by Len Brown, is the significance of this decision in relation to the City Rail Link project.
“To be the world’s most liveable city, we need a world class transport system. This brings us one big step closer,” says the Mayor. “The new trains are also a necessary prerequisite for the City Rail Loop, upon which preliminary work has already begun.”
As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s my understanding that locomotive hauled trains wouldn’t be able to use the City Rail Link tunnel, because of its steepness and because of fire-rating issues. So under the plan of having all Southern Line trains being locomotive hauled, they wouldn’t have been able to use the City Rail Link at all, a pretty dumb outcome.
There is one giant question that today’s announcement creates though – and that is “what are we going to do with all these SA carriages?” Sure, some of them will be used for Pukekohe-Papakura feeder trains, as well as possible Huapai-Swanson trains. But those carriages have a lot of life left in them, so one hopes they can be put to good use – perhaps having a key role to play in some sort of inter-city rail revival?
But those questions can probably wait for another day I think. For today we can just be happy in the knowledge