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The government has published a 10-year Rail Plan, setting out its ambitions for a ‘resilient and reliable’ rail network and outlining its investment priorities.
The plan does not provide a definitive list of investments or funding commitments, but is intended as a sign of the government’s commitment to rail, and the investments it expects to consider over the next decade.
A Rail Network Investment Programme to be released later in the year will set out a more detailed work programme.
The Rail Plan says that while there are ‘significant ambitions’ for rail as part of the national transport system, the initial focus should be creating a resilient and reliable network. Investment in ‘critically needed’ maintenance and renewals would provide a platform for future investment in ‘true growth’, particularly in rail freight, which would be ‘a long-term journey’ requiring investment beyond the government’s immediate priorities.
‘The beauty of the Rail Plan, and the related work programme, is that for the first time KiwiRail has certainty about investment in the network’, said KiwiRail Group Chief Executive Greg Miller on May 6. ‘We can recruit staff and take on apprentices knowing that a 10-year pipeline of work is in front of us. It also gives us certainty about procurement because we know there will be investment in the network.
‘Our customers also get certainty through this process, enabling them to invest confidently in their own businesses knowing which rail renewals and maintenance will be prioritised, and that the rail services they rely on will be reliable.’
Planning and funding frameworkThe strategic priorities for rail are in two sections.
The first involves establishing a long-term planning and funding framework under the Land Transport Management Act 2003. Under the new framework enabled by the Land Transport (Rail) Legislation Act 2020, rail funding will be channelled through the National Land Transport Fund, with funding coming from NLTF revenue, track access charges and the state.
Rail would be funded on a similar basis to other land transport modes, with money primarily allocated to a programme of continuous maintenance and renewal of the freight network. Additional improvement schemes could be considered where they align with the strategic priorities, an investment case is demonstrated and funding is available.
KiwiRail’s commercial freight and tourism services and ferries will continue to be funded from commercial revenue and state investment. Auckland and Wellington passenger operations will also continue to be supported from a number of funding sources, including passenger and council contributions and the NLTF.
The state may also invest in specific outcomes, for example regional economic development, or as the owner of KiwiRail.
Resilient and reliable rail networkThe second priority is to provide reliability and resilience as a platform for future freight growth, along with investment in the passenger rail networks in the largest cities to support growth and productivity.
The key priorities for the next decade include infrastructure renewals and maintenance, level crossing safety improvements, locomotive and wagon replacement, automatic train protection for all trains operating in metropolitan areas and between Auckland and Wellington, depot enhancements; procurement of two Interislander ferries and general renewal of assets.
Future priorities for the rail system could include more regional routes and improved logistics hubs, additional infrastructure and rolling stock to support growth opportunities and regional initiatives, more extensive network improvements including re-opening the Stratford to Okahukura line, completing the rail modernisation programme in Northland, further consideration of the Marsden spur line, Auckland – Hamilton double tracking, increasing axleloads, standardising loop lengths and decarbonisation, including further electrification of the North Island Main Trunk line.
This article first appeared on www.railwaygazette.com
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