Capital Connection gets govt support
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.
The Capital Connection train runs between Wellington and Palmerston North.