Cap­i­tal Con­nec­tion gets govt sup­port

The Horowhenua Mail - - CONVERSATIONS - MIRI SCHROETER

Manawatu¯ lead­ers have wel­comed the new Gov­ern­ment’s sup­port for the Cap­i­tal Con­nec­tion train amid fears Ki­wiRail wants out of the ser­vice.

The Gov­ern­ment has vowed to sup­port the daily com­muter ser­vice, which runs be­tween Palmer­ston North and Welling­ton, de­spite con­tin­ued fi­nan­cial and pa­tron­age con­cerns.

The ser­vice was given a re­prieve in 2015 when the Hori­zons and Greater Welling­ton re­gional coun­cils pledged to con­tinue fund­ing un­til June 2018.

Hori­zons chair­man Bruce Gor­don said charges he had not seen be­fore had emerged from Ki­wiRail, which made him doubt the com­pany wanted to pro­mote the pas­sen­ger ser­vice.

‘‘It was al­most like they were try­ing to make it look like they didn’t want to do it.

‘‘I’ve got to throw the blame at Ki­wiRail. I don’t be­lieve they’ve been re­ally straight-up with the cost­ings at all.’’

Ki­wiRail dis­putes that it is a re­luc­tant op­er­a­tor, but says public fund­ing is needed to top up rev­enue.

Gor­don only re­cently saw a break­down of costs, and while re­pair and main­te­nance charges were nor­mal, ad­di­tional fees such as ac­cess charges and hook and tow charges were un­ex­pected, he said.

With gov­ern­ment sup­port, there were hopes the ser­vice would be changed to an elec­tric line and new lo­co­mo­tives would re­place the ex­ist­ing ones, which would be ’’a heck of a lot bet­ter than try­ing to run th­ese di­nosaurs’’, Gor­don said.

A busi­ness case put to­gether by a trans­port plan­ning con­sul­tancy for the two coun­cils asked the Gov­ern­ment to fund the ser­vice for an­other three years for $3.2 mil­lion.

The case pro­posed to re­place the ser­vice with new diese­l­elec­tric units and in­tro­duce a sec­ond ser­vice to and from Levin to Welling­ton in 2021-22.

Trans­port Min­is­ter Phil Twyford said the Gov­ern­ment was com­mit­ted to retaining the Cap­i­tal Con­nec­tion, but he could not con­firm what sup­port would be given to the ser­vice.

Fig­ures from Ki­wiRail show that in the year to June pa­tron­age num­bers were down about 1000 on the pre­vi­ous year. This year’s to­tal was 124,116.

But the av­er­age num­ber of pas­sen­gers per ser­vice was, at 510, the same for both years.

Gor­don said part of the rea­son there were fewer pas­sen­gers was that the train wasn’t run­ning with all of its car­riages in 2016 and early 2017, as some of them were be­ing re­built.

Larger groups, such as school groups, strug­gled to use it be­cause there wasn’t enough space, he said.

All ex­cept one of the car­riages are back in ser­vice.

Palmer­ston North mayor Grant Smith said Ki­wiRail was a re­luc­tant op­er­a­tor.

‘‘They just don’t seem to have any in­ter­est.’’

Fund­ing from cen­tral gov­ern­ment would fill the gap needed to sup­port the ser­vice long term, Smith said.

Pas­sen­ger num­bers were prob­a­bly con­strained be­cause it was the only com­muter ser­vice in New Zealand where peo­ple paid full rates, he said.

The Cap­i­tal Con­nec­tion runs across re­gional bound­aries, dis­qual­i­fy­ing it from a NZ Trans­port Agency com­muter ser­vice sub­sidy.

A sin­gle fare from Palmer­ston North to Welling­ton costs $35.

A 10-trip con­ces­sion costs $276.50.

Ki­wiRail gen­eral sales and com­mer­cial man­ager Alan Piper said while Ki­wiRail viewed the Cap­i­tal Con­nec­tion as a suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship, it was run­ning at a loss of about $1m a year.

‘‘In 2017, Hori­zons paid $150,000 to­wards the ap­prox­i­mately $2.4m cost of op­er­at­ing the ser­vice.’’

Ki­wiRail was not re­luc­tant to op­er­ate the ser­vice, Piper said.

It was re­quired to op­er­ate in a com­mer­cial man­ner as a sta­te­owned en­ter­prise, he said.

‘‘Ki­wiRail recog­nises the im­por­tance of the ser­vice for the re­gion.’’

The ac­cess, and hook and tow charges were not new charges, Piper said.

‘‘Ac­cess charges are cal­cu­lated us­ing the weights and dis­tances trav­elled on the rail net­work and go to­wards main­tain­ing the tracks. The hook and tow charges re­late to the use of the lo­co­mo­tives and the lo­co­mo­tive en­gi­neers who op­er­ate the train.’’

Rev­enue from fares and coun­cil con­tri­bu­tions went some way to en­sure that Ki­wiRail cov­ered those costs, Piper said.

PHOTO: LEILANI HAYES/STUFF

The Cap­i­tal Con­nec­tion train runs be­tween Welling­ton and Palmer­ston North.

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