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.”