Future of Auckland light rail back to drawing board

The New Zealand government has ended the current Auckland Light Rail process, Transport Minister Phil Twyford announced on June 24.

The process had seen two separate proposals delivered to the government, one from state-owned builder Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and one from NZ Infra, a joint venture between the New Zealand Super Fund and Canadian pension fund investment CDPQ Infra.

The project’s future will be decided by the government after New Zealand goes to the polls in September.

“The Ministry of Transport and the Treasury will report back after the general election on the best option for this project to be delivered by the public sector. The Ministry of Transport and the Treasury will also engage with NZ Infra and Waka Kotahi about how work done on this project can support the next phase,” said Twyford.

“Auckland Light Rail will be New Zealand’s most complex infrastructure project in decades and it’s vital we get it right for future generations.”

The proposed light rail, which would have connected Auckland’s CBD with the airport, had been a source of contention between the two minor parties in the New Zealand coalition government. While the Greens had supported Labour’s plan for the project, Deputy Prime Minister and NZ First leader Winston Peters was concerned the cost of the project would blow out and wanted to focus on heavy rail instead.

Twyford thanked the bidders for their work and proposals.

“Either would have created hundreds of jobs and resulted in an Auckland metro that offered Aucklanders a 30 minute trip from the CBD to the Airport.”

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said he was disappointed with the outcome.

“It is frustrating that after three years, disagreement within the coalition has held this process up. It’s now less than 90 days until the general election and we expect the incoming government to act quickly and decisively to outline its proposal to get light rail built.”

Metlink train in Wellington. Photo: Creative Commons / Simons27

Wellington begins procurement process for new regional trains

The Greater Wellington and Horizons Regional Councils have locked in $5 million in funding for a business case for new regional passenger trains.

The funding comes from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and begins the procurement process for regional trains that are expected to cost $300m.

The two councils, which cover cities including Wellington, Whanganui, and Palmerston North, are seeking to increase rail capacity to serve their growing populations, said chair of Greater Wellington Regional Council Daran Ponter.

“Earlier this year the Government announced $211m for track improvements and this is another important piece of the puzzle. While the new trains will stop passengers being packed in like sardines in the next five years, we expect them to provide a resilient and reliable service that not only meets the needs of customers but also aids population and economic growth over the next 10-15 years.”

Lines in the regional network have seen increases in patronage. On the Wairarapa Line, patronage grew from 680,000 boardings in 2009 to 780,000 in 2019, with a 24 per cent increase in peak patronage. On the Manawatū line, average growth over the past four years has been 3.1 per cent.

With the $5m in funding, the councils will conduct a market assessment, investigate risks and costs, and complete the detailed business case. Kapiti Coast councillor and environment chair Penny Gaylor said that new trains would greatly benefit the region.

“We’ve long championed electric or dual mode fleets to replace older diesel trains to lower carbon emissions and this funding brings us a step closer to that reality. Investing in a modern rail fleet also enables us to use the trains across the whole network, bringing extra capacity to Kapiti passengers and encouraging more people to make the shift from cars to public transport.”

The Wellington network currently operates a mixed fleet of 83 Matangi EMUs, manufactured by a consortium of Hyundai Rotem and Mitsui, and three diesel locomotives which haul 24 passenger carriages. Although the EMUs were introduced in the last decade, the diesel locomotives and carriages have been in service since the 1970s.

Wairarapa councillor and deputy chair of Greater Wellington Adrienne Staples said that new units would improve services.

“Getting new trains would be a great win for regional rail passengers and the economy. Passengers will benefit from more capacity and increased frequency and more connections between Manawatu, Horowhenua, Wairarapa and Wellington will provide economic benefits at a time when we need to look to smarter ways of working and connecting people.”