Gov­ern­ment fo­cus on rail for freight long over­due – Main­freight boss

Taranaki Daily News - - News - HENRY COOKE

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.’’

Don Braid

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