Government focus on rail for freight long overdue – Mainfreight boss
The head of one of the country’s largest logistics companies says the Government’s focus on rail services for freight is long overdue.
Don Braid, chief executive of Mainfreight, is a big believer in getting freight off roads and onto rail for much of its journey.
He’s welcomed a policy shift towards rail from Transport Minister Phil Twyford, even though the proposed fuel tax hike could cost his company a lot of money.
Twyford’s draft Government Policy Statement on transport (GPS) puts millions more into rail while trimming back on costly state highway improvements. Roads still account for the overwhelming majority of the funding pie, with increases to regional and local roads along with state highway maintenance – just not improvements.
That rail funding is earmarked for passenger rail services and urban transit however, while a wider ‘‘rail review’’ is taking place.
KiwiRail – the stateowned enterprise which owns the rail system – is generally funded from the wider government funding pool, not the National Land Transport Fund the GPS controls, which comes from fuel excise taxes.
This seems set to change, with one line noting that ‘‘the scope of the GPS is likely to expand to include aspects of rail freight and coastal shipping’’.
Braid says this general shift towards rail is welcome.
‘‘The Government understands that rail is a necessity and that it can be a second corridor to take the load off the roading infrastructure. That’s not just for freight but for passengers as well.’’
The idea is that rail should take on a lot of the long journeys from trucks, thus stopping them filling up and damaging roads. So even if a car driver is paying for railways to improve, they are paying for roads to be improved at the same time.
Trucks wouldn’t be gone completely – Braid is clear the ‘‘last mile’’ is never going to be filled by rail.
Twyford is adamant that Kiwis already understand and support this argument, although the backlash in some quarters to the idea of petrol excise taxes being used for rail may suggest otherwise.
Braid said the previous Government was ‘‘anti-rail’’ to an almost ideological degree. He was a fan of the flagship Waterview Tunnell but said it was ‘‘not enough’’ – that investment was needed into more than just roads, and it needed to be thought about in terms of decades.
‘‘It’s not just about more roads. We have to think deeper than that. Yesterday I was in Brussels,and their ring road is six lanes. It was jam-packed. Stopped.’’
National is not completely blind to these arguments. Thentransport Minister Simon Bridges promised $267m for commuter rail in Auckland and Wellington during the election, with $100m of that helping to set up a dedicated freight line in Auckland. In 2010 the former government invested $750m over three years in an attempt to make KiwiRail financially self-sufficient over a decade.
National’s new transport spokesman Jami-Lee Ross said he hoped Braid would look further into the Government’s plans.
‘‘Everything they are saying and everything they are putting in is gearing towards light rail and commuter rail and rapid transit. I’ve not seen anything that would improve freight journeys.’’