Councillors representing 16 regional, district and city councils along the Northern Explorer route have called on KiwiRail to refocus on connecting regions as well as on tourism.
Appearing at Parliament’s Transport Committee, Greater Wellington’s Transport Chair Roger Blakeley said that it was great to know KiwiRail were bringing back New Zealand’s longest rail service, after it had been halted during COVID-19.
‘A good start’
“KiwiRail have made a clear commitment to reopen the service which is a good start and will help deliver on the Government’s commitment to regional economic development, and keep our small towns going in the short term,” he said.
“(But) reduction of the number of stations on the Overlander Route in 2012 had serious economic and social impacts on towns like Taumaranui, Te Kuiti and Marton.
“Similarly, the Northern Explorer route is important to places like Otorohanga (Waitomo), National Park and Ohakune.
“Councils all along the route will wait with baited breath on the detail of KiwiRail’s overall business model and its provision of inter-city services for New Zealanders which could be a catalyst for economic growth as we recover from COVID-19,” says Councillor Blakeley.
Call for bold action
Greater Wellington’s ClimateChair Thomas Nash called for bold and decisive action in the medium and long term and that KiwiRail should reinvent the ‘Northern Explorer’ as a ‘Northern Connector.’
“Today was a breakthrough in opening up public debate on the future of passenger rail in New Zealand,” said Mr Nash.
Govt. needs to act
“Now we need action from the government to allow new rail services to emerge.
“We need to look at additional offers beyond the current tourist-only Northern Explorer focus and this should include the potential for a sleeper service and other long-distance services.
“Passenger rail linking Auckland and Wellington is a climate imperative. Transport is a major and rising component of our climate pollution and we cannot meet our legally binding emissions target reductions by relying primarily on aviation for inter-city transport.
“Electric rail with faster and more frequent passenger services will have to be in the mix as part of our collective climate solution.
“We subsidise all forms of transport in New Zealand and we should be subsidising the lowest emissions forms of transport the most.
New battery-driven trains
“To help make this happen Greater Wellington is working with Horizons on the procurement of new battery electric trains to run on our regional rail network in the lower North Island.
“We want to work with others along the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT) and with KiwiRail and Waka Kotahi to make sure that collectively our procurement decisions advance the delivery of a low carbon passenger rail link between Wellington and Auckland as a genuine alternative to flying,” says Cr Nash.
Councillors Blakeley and Nash appeared at Select Committee following a letter signed by 16 chairs and mayors of Regional, Unitary, City and District Councils on the route of the NIMT, supporting re-opening of KiwiRail’s Northern Explorer rail service.