Most freight trips too short for rail - expert

Most freight trips too short for rail - expert

Infrastructure lobbyists are sceptical a Green Party plan to shift half of New Zealand's freight off trucks and onto rail and boats is achievable.

Transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter yesterday unveiled the party's Safer, Cleaner Freight policy, which includes electrifying rail in the 'Golden Triangle' of Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga at a cost of $860 million.

"Moving freight by rail and ship is not only safer and cheaper, but better for the environment," says Ms Genter.

"Shifting half of New Zealand's freight by rail and ship is the equivalent of replacing over 1.6 million petrol and diesel cars with electric vehicles."

Council for Infrastructure Development chief executive Stephen Selwood says it's a "very strong policy" with one small flaw -- it won't work.

"The reality is good things come in trucks," he told Paul Henry on Wednesday this morning.

"Ninety-one percent of freight is moved by trucks, 7 percent by train and 2 percent by sea. Over the last decade with all of that focus to get more freight onto trains, the mode share has gone up 1 percent."

The problem with rail is that it's not efficient at distances under 100km, says Mr Selwood, which most freight trips are.

"Rail is fantastic at shifting bulk commodity long distances -- that's what it's designed for, that's what it does really, really well. But we've got a small population spread over a long country -- we just simply don't have the quantities of goods that justify that sort of transfer."

He's more positive on the electrification of the 'Golden Triangle', however.

"Arguably that might be viable -- certainly there is a lot of freight moving across the golden triangle by train at the moment, and so from that point of view the question is where the funding comes from and what the tradeoff is," says Mr Selwood.

Ms Genter says the money is there -- the Government already spends five times on "low-value motorways" than it does on rail, which only increase congestion by encouraging more people to take to the road.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges on Tuesday accused the Greens of planning "an almighty spend-up" and turn the existing transport balance "upside-down".

Prime Minister John Key said $4 billion has been put into Kiwirail since the previous Government bought it in 2008.

"It was a rundown dog when we bought it. [It's now] a less rundown animal of some sort. It's got issues."