The Government insists that electric rail is still on, dare we say, track. But Auckland is borrowing to buy an ageing diesel fleet of British cast-offs.All abooooard the great traans-Auckland rail jooourneeey. Bear in mind, folks, there will be many stops before we reach your preferred destinations.Where do Aucklanders want to go? For more than 80 years Aucklanders have wanted modern, affordable and regular train services to drop them off near work and home.But plans have been derailed more times than Amy Winehouse has been booked into rehab and left many of us nose-to-tail, alone in our cars, listening to her croon about it.Under the previous Government, trains were to be modernised, electrified and run underground from Britomart to Mt Eden. This would be paid for through a 9.5 cent regional fuel tax that the Auckland Regional Council championed.But the new Government abolished regional levies in May, ostensibly to share the burden with the rest of the country through national taxes.Now, the plan is for the Government to lend the regional council $33 million to help buy six diesel locomotives built in the 1970s, with carriages from British Rail.To mind the gap until the money can be raised? It would seem so, but at what cost?
No matter how hard The Aucklander tried to find out, no one could tell us how much of our rates was going to subsidise our taxes for this.
The regional council has already stumped up $30 million-plus for the ageing locomotives that should be shunted into sidings when electrification is switched on in 2013.
Chairman Mike Lee says the Transport Agency loan is expected to be for a four-year term, with interest at the yet-to-be-determined government bond rate.
The council still has $257 million of projects to fund but only $55 million available over 10 years.
Mr Lee says balancing the budget is a challenge after the Government cancelled the fuel tax and redirected most funds to building roads.
“This action led to a funding shortfall of more than $200 million over 10 years, which jeopardised key public transport initiatives.
“As a result, the ARC has been forced to borrow $44 million this financial year to ensure necessary investment can continue.”
While the Government has said it will buy the electric fleet through KiwiRail, possibly with the private sector involved, Mr Lee is concerned about delays.
“How electrification will be funded remains an open question.”
It’s not just the rolling stock that is causing concern.
Despite the underground city rail loop from Britomart to Mt Eden being mooted for decades, the regional transport authority is only now seeking consultants to protect the route.
This is too late for easy passage through the 41-storey skyscraper that Westfield plans for its site over the road from Britomart. Its basement carpark would go exactly where the tunnel is proposed.
Fast track de-railed once again
Colin Priestly says the Government should upgrade Auckland’s rail before pouring any more asphalt around the region.
Mr Priestly, 64, is a fan of trains but fears that buying 30-something-year-old trains from Britain is a stop-gap that will prevent much-needed electrification of rail and the loop track around the city. Only last week, Mr Priestly says, he had to prise open the doors of an old train on which he was travelling.
“The trains are starting to pack up now,” he says. “Are they going to waste more money on doing them up and buying old stock? How many years are you going to get out of these trains before they start going off the tracks?
“They need brand-new stuff. Your guess is as good as mine as to where they are going to get the money. They should go for the jugular and get the lot.”
Mr Priestly believes people would flock to rail if it were a better quality service. “It’s cheap to use. I like the comfort and you don’t have to sit at stop lights and you can set your watch to them now. The more improvements, the more people will use them.”
Lynda Rehm, of Blockhouse Bay, says the ring-route and electrification should be higher on Auckland’s agenda.
“We have to get people into the city. There’s a huge workforce. You go to Britomart and you still have to walk everywhere to get to work,” Ms Rehm says.
Mr Priestly remembers fondly Mayor Robbie’s proposed light-rail route over Waitemata Harbour and around the city.
Unfortunately for generations of Aucklanders, Sir Dove-Myer Robinson – mayor from 1959-65 and from 1968-80 – was ignored. He was overlooked again in 1976 when a National Government overturned Labour’s plans for electrification between Papakura and Auckland and a central underground system.Sir Dove-Myer’s ideas, Mr Priestly reminds us, were scrapped for the lack of money.
He hopes that he is not going to hear that again.
John Landrigan investigates the progress being made on electrification of Auckland’s rail network in this article in the Aucklander.