Busy Auckland intersection reopens after City Rail Link works

Auckland’s City Rail Link works around the Wyndham Street West-Albert Street intersection have now been completed, freeing up access to the area for commuters and pedestrians after three years.

This means that drivers and pedestrians can now freely move east across Albert Street towards Queen Street and west past St Patrick’s Cathedral towards Hobson Street, though some restrictions do remain. Vehicles are still not allowed to turn right into Albert Street from either direction of Wyndham Street and the footpath on the cathedral side of Wyndham Street West is still a construction zone.

“We’re delighted to be able to reopen the intersection for through traffic,” says City Rail Link’s chief executive, Dr Sean Sweeney. “I want to thank people for their support and patience during our necessary work in the area,  I acknowledge it’s been a long wait, but I hope it will now be easier for people to access this section of Albert Street.”

An 18-metre trench at the intersection that was dug at the intersection to accommodate the building of the tunnel in the area has now been backfilled. Tunnel construction under Albert Street is expected to be completed next month, with backfilling to follow in October.

The $4.4 billion (NZD) City Rail Link project involves the construction of a 3.5-kilometre, double track underground tunnel through Auckland’s central business district that runs from Britomart Transport Centre to Mount Eden Railway Station. The project is due to be fully completed by 2024 and is considered by City Rail Link itself to be New Zealand’s largest-ever transport infrastructure project.

“Further disruption will be unavoidable, but we are committed to minimising impacts and working with our partners to keep traffic, particularly bus services, moving through our work sites,” Sweeney added.

KiwiRail completes restoration of freight line from Napier to Wairoa

KiwiRail has announced that the Napier-Wairoa line has been reinstated following several years of disuse.

The 115-kilometre, North Island line fell into disuse in December 2012 after being damaged by a storm and was not repaired. It has been restored with the allocation of NZ$6.2 million in funds through the New Zealand Government’s Provincial Growth Fund.

The line’s primary purpose is to run freight logs for the local timber industry. Reopening the line is set to ease congestion on the roads and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the number of log deliveries by road. In all, KiwiRail anticipates an initial reduction of more than 5,000 ruck journey per year on the road from Wairoa to Napier, to increase to 15,000 as services increase.

‘The Wairoa-Napier road was never intended to cope with the volume of logs that is coming on stream, and rail is the ideal way to get that timber to overseas customers,” said KiwiRail Group chief executive officer Greg Miller.

“The overall funding KiwiRail received has meant we are able to get ahead of the curve and grow our business for the benefit of this region.”

Miller said that now that work on the line had been completed, KiwiRail would work to establish a log hub in Wairoa so that trains could begin to run in time for harvesting at the end of winter.

“We know from our discussions with the forestry industry there is a need for our services,” he said.

“The amount of timber flowing from forests in the region is expected to quadruple in the next four years, and to get all those logs to market will require all transport networks working efficiently together.”

NZ Government set to slash fares for low-income families

The New Zealand Government’s Wellbeing Budget includes provisions designed to make public transport cheaper for low income households.

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter, who announced the news on Saturday, stated that the plans involve the creation of a scheme to reduce bus and train costs for Community Services Card holders.

The NZ Government has set aside a $4.6 million budget for the scheme in the 20192020 year to cover implementation costs.

The scheme is part of a confidence and supply agreement between the ruling Labour Party and the Green Party to deliver a Green transport card, with the central government and local councils working together to “better understand the potential cost of the scheme and how and when it could be rolled out,” according to Genter.

Genter pointed out that between 2013-2017, weekly expenditure on public transport services among people in the lowest income group had increased by 63 per cent.

“For too many people transport costs are a real barrier to everyday activities like going to the doctor, taking the kids to school, or visiting friends and family,” she said.

“Making trains and buses more affordable for those who need it will help to ensure all New Zealanders have the opportunity to be earning, learning, caring or volunteering.”

There are around 900,000 Community Services Card holders in New Zealand. Eligible users include people who receive Work and Income benefits such as disability allowance or accomodation supplements, certain students, refugees and those on jobseeker support.

Freight routes key to Northland Rail expansion

A business case for the Northland Rail project in New Zealand has stated that it will provide value if freight links are built between Auckland and Marsden Point at Northport.

The report said that without “increased and ongoing investment” rail services on the North Auckland Rail line could cease within the next five years.

The current plans for the 40-year, $1.3 billion North Island project include upgrading the main line from Auckland to Whangarei; reopening lines from Whangarei to Moerewa in the north and Whangarei to Dargaville in the west; and constructing an easterly spur to the deep-water port of Northport.

The report also said there was a “strong strategic case” for renewal and upgrade of the North Auckland Rail line, including the construction of a spur link to Marsden Point based on potential changes to freight flow within the upper North Island.

Over 55 per cent of New Zealand’s freight moves through the Northland, Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions, and the business case estimated that freight demand in the North Island will grow significantly over the next 30 years. As such, the creation of a high-quality rail connection to Northport would be “a critical pre-condition” to facilitate the increased movement of containers in future.

“The development of a rail connection to Northport, and the potential development of substantial container handling capability at the port will also provide significant resilience value for this important trade,” the report said.

The business case also showed that investment would return $1.19 for every dollar spent, with over half of the benefits related to the ensuing decongestion of Auckland’s road freight.

Only 1.4 per cent of Northland freight is delivered by rail, compared with 7 per cent nationally.

NZ Associate Minister for Transport Shane Jones welcomed the findings of the report, stating that it helped present “a bold vision for investment in how freight moves around the upper North Island”.

“This business case will play a major role in government decision-making about major investments in Northland rail after the final report from the Upper North Island Supply Chain Study is completed in September,” Jones added.

KiwiRail responds to NZ Government’s Zero Carbon Bill

KiwiRail has expressed its support for the New Zealand Government’s proposed amendments to the Climate Change Response Act.

The governing Labour Party’s Zero Carbon Amendment Bill proposes that the country achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 in keeping with the aims of the Paris Agreement.

KiwiRail Group Chief Executive Greg Miller stated that the company was well-placed to “help New Zealand move to a low-emissions future”.

Miller added that rail produced up to two-thirds fewer carbon emissions than road per tonne of freight carried.

This approval is in keeping with KiwiRail’s own attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which it reduced by three per cent in the 2017-18 financial year.

The company’s chief executive officer Peter Reidy was also one of 14 CEOs to join the Climate Leaders Coalition in July 2018.

The government-backed operator’s initiatives in this regard include the fuel-saving Driver Advisory System (DAS) and introduction of new electric vehicles to its rail fleet.

Last year, the government reversed a decision to replace 15 KiwiRail electric locomotives on the North Island’s Main Trunk line with diesel equivalents, announcing that it would instead refurbish the trains for continued use at a cost of $35 million.

The NZ National Party said that it welcomed the propsed amendments to the act but argued that its methane reduction targets were too severe.

“We are not convinced that the proposed 24-47 per cent reduction for methane meets our test in terms of science, economic impact or global response,” said Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges.

Methane emissions are particularly prominent in the dairy farming industry, which represents a highly important export market for the country.

Research from the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre in 2017 stated that 49 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions came from the agricultural industry.