Government announces new rail funding plans

By Hamish Cardwell for RNZ

Freight rail will now be funded from the same pot as roads.

It is one of the announcements from the NZ Rail Plan - the Government's 10-year plan for rail investment.

The plan says there has been significant under-investment in the national rail network for decades and large parts of the network are in managed decline.

KiwiRail will now also get funding from the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) - meaning investment in rail infrastructure will be considered alongside spending on state highways, public transport and walking and cycling infrastructure.

The report says previously investment in rail has been made on a year-by-year basis. It says this is not sufficient when making investments in long-life infrastructure assets such as rail.

The plan does not lay out definitive list of projects to get funding in the next decade, or include any announcements about new money.

But state investments will be made to restore the network to a resilient and reliable state and lay the groundwork for growth.

It says by 2052, freight tonnage in New Zealand is expected to increase by almost 40 percent.

Investments will include upgrades in rail infrastructure, safety improvement, new locomotives wagons and ferries, and mechanic deports.

Some specific plans could include: re-opening Stratford to Okahukura line, completing the upgrade of rail in Northland, double-tracking Auckland to Hamilton and upgrading tracks to allow more weight across much of the country.

Additional electrification could be installed on heavily used routes.

Transport Minister Michael Wood said the Value of Rail report, also out today, shows rail is worth more than $2 billion to the economy annually.

This is calculated from lower congestion, air pollution, road maintenance, and greenhouse gases.

As a more fuel efficient transport option, Wood said rail prevents millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere every year.

Wood said in less than three years, the Government has committed over $5b to rail. This includes a record level of funding in Budget 2020, with over $1.2b being invested in the rail system.