NZ First promises trains almost no one uses

July 14th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A $300 million cash swap from roads to railways is at the heart of New Zealand First’s transport policy for the election, including restoring the Gisborne-Napier line, and looking at extending the Wellington line to Levin and into Wairarapa.

The Gisborne to Napier line had basically no passengers and freight volumes dropped 75% in the few years before it closed. This would be akin to puring money down the drain.

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37 Responses to “NZ First promises trains almost no one uses”

  1. Yogibear (360 comments) says:

    This should not be a surprise as it appeals to Winston’s demographic, some of whom who believe the auto-jalopy is a passing fad.

    Personally I was looking for Winston’s trans-Tasman shipping policy to include some fast tea clippers augmented by a robust paddle steamer or two for the coastal routes.

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  2. gravedodger (1,545 comments) says:

    “NZ First promises additional trains almost no one uses”

    Thats better.

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  3. CJPhoto (219 comments) says:

    “This would be akin to pouring money down the drain.”

    So just like Cullens purchase of Kiwirail in the first place.

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  4. davidp (3,573 comments) says:

    I can’t see any benefit from a Gisborne to Napier rail line. The only use for this would be moving bulk primary produce to a port for export, like dairy or forestry products. Hawkes Bay exporters aren’t going to freight products to Gisborne to be loaded on to ships instead of using the port at Napier. And the alternative, which is Gisborne exporters sending their products to Napier, sounds both expensive and threatens the viability of the port at Gisborne.

    Why would the government want to subsidise a rail business in order to make the port of Gisborne less viable?

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  5. David Garrett (6,951 comments) says:

    DPF: I think the Gisborne – Napier line last carried passengers when I was still at school, nearly 40 years ago. You are right about the freight volumes…which I find somewhat puzzling, since the road between Wairoa and Napier has to be among the worst for large trucks anywhere in the country…Think the Arthurs Pass, only more winding and narrower.

    I have a sentimental fondness for trains, and if we had built wider gauge railways 120 years ago the line would probably be viable – if still horrendously expensive to maintain…but we are stuck with a narrow gauge railway, and a line which will always cost a bomb to maintain…the best use of it is probably to start one of those “rail cart” business that run on a section of line near Rotorua, and on the old Stratford – Taumaranui line…The section of line between Wairoa and Gisborne is certainly a very scenic one…

    davidp: good points…the only exports out of Gisborne of any significance are logs…and as you say, there has been a logging port there since I left school..railing to Napier would inevitably damage the port of Gisborne…

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  6. Elaycee (4,351 comments) says:

    IIRC, there was a Report done some time back regarding the Napier / Gisborne line…. it wasn’t good news. Apparently the geography is at the heart of the problem – it costs millions and millions to maintain the lines and bridges each year. They also needed to replace the bridge at the south end of Gisborne itself – apparently it was stuffed (not sure if it’s still the case) and wagon weight had to be limited.

    No surprises this brain fart has emerged from the bowels of NZF – like many of their other ideas, it fails any economic sanity test.

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  7. David Garrett (6,951 comments) says:

    Elaycee: Yep, that’s pretty well right..it’s more the cuttings and tunnels on the Gisborne-Wairoa section that require so much maintenance…if you had ever travelled the line you would know why…As I said, it would make a helluva scenic route..I am told the Maoris whose land the line runs through are agin any such use…God knows why…

    I drove the “forgotten highway” from Taumaranui to Stratford last year…I was amazed to learn there is a big waiting list to take a “rail cart” along the section of the line that is still usable…and at about $500 a pop…good little business I would have thought…

    And I think you are right about the rail bridge across the Waipaoa (wrong spelling) river just south of the city…

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  8. Yogibear (360 comments) says:

    Is it just me, or does Winston become more and more like Monty Burns each year, except without the wealth and the commitment to the environment?

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  9. Elaycee (4,351 comments) says:

    @David Garrett: The memory cells are being tested here, but I recall the bridge at the south end of town because rail apparently looked at transporting all fuel into Gisborne by rail instead of by sea! The issue with the ship option was that it had to turn around inside the breakwater and it was tight – even on a good day with no wind. But rail was quickly ruled out – IIRC, the cost of replacing the bridge was just too high and wagons full of fuel were too heavy for the existing infrastructure.

    Many moons ago I also drove the ‘road’ south / west to Stratford through Douglas etc – I remember one particular (downhill) tunnel that was so narrow the doors of the car would have touched the sides had they been opened. But when it was originally constructed, I suppose cars would have been the size of a Ford Prefect or an Austin 10 and could have passed each other in the middle!

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  10. anticorruptionnz (212 comments) says:

    now here is a radical thought , if we had buses which ran regularly and on time and connected with the trains , I f we than also had trains which ran regularly and on time ( not leaving early ) then people could plan their journey rather than take a gamble and take all day to get somewhere where they could get to in a very predictable and certain time if they were to go by car.

    also Its cheaper for two people to use a car than to both catch public transport. Its called economics.

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  11. campit (467 comments) says:

    The Gisborne to Napier line had basically no passengers and freight volumes dropped 75% in the few years before it closed.

    DPF, this is not true. In 2009, 12,764 tonnes of freight were moved. In 2012, an annualised 44,331 tonnes was moved. So that is a growth in volumes of 247%. Please correct your post, or provide a source for your claim.

    Source: http://transportblog.co.nz/2014/04/29/government-says-no-to-gisborne-rail/

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  12. David Farrar (1,883 comments) says:

    You’re going back to the low point of 2009. I’m comparing 2009 to 2005. It’s very clear freight has been on a long-term decline there.

    But hey if you think it can make money go buy the trains and waste your money on it. I’m 99.99% certain it would lose a great deal of money. If you think it would make money, then I am sure companies will jump at the chance.

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  13. ashishnaicker (21 comments) says:

    Somebody gave me a reply to this on twitter:

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/23jm3688e1oprfl/Capture.PNG

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  14. Ed Snack (1,833 comments) says:

    Does depend on what you think of as passengers. For example I travelled by Train to Gisborne in 2012, the last excursion to do so I believe. Also, the port is a very shallow one, when I was in the logging industry we couldn’t load more than about 50% of capacity at Gisborne because of depth constraints in the port.

    There was a surge of freight on the link for two reasons, one was the increase in log prices which was stretching the capacity of Gisborne Port (especially given the depth concerns), and the other was a deliberate attempt to increase traffic to attempt to influence NZR to retain the link. Doesn’t take that many loads of logs to rack up a good tonnage.

    It would make an interesting “rail-trail” option, but certainly tougher than Otago as there’s some pretty consistent climbs, up out of the Esk valley and again from Mahia up to the top before going over to Gisborne. Great views though, on the coast looking towards Gisborne as you come out of the tunnels. And those bridges, especially over the Mohaka.

    I can’t see that it would ever be likely to make money as a railway though.

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  15. campit (467 comments) says:

    So you’ve deliberately chosen the highest volume and the lowest volume in the last 10 years to falsely portray that rail freight was declining on the line?

    If you are going to argue against reinvesting in the rail line, you could at least have a factual basis for doing so.

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  16. srylands (404 comments) says:

    A cry from rail enthusiasts is that rail would work if trucks were not subsidised (cross subsidised by other road users). I have not been able to find much on this but have only had a quick look. However, even if Road User Charges for trucks were increased by 50% my understanding is that in most cases rail would still be uncompetitive for most products.

    Of course the wider problem is having decisions on transport modes being made by politicians instead of markets.

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  17. mister nui (1,017 comments) says:

    David Garrett, I travelled on the Napier to Gisborne line (both directions) about 25 years ago, not sure when it stopped operating as a passenger service, but it probably wasn’t long after that.

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  18. JC (942 comments) says:

    campit,

    The Murupara log trains would move that 44,000 tonnes in a fortnight and daily trucks into Port of Tauranga would do it in less.. volume is king.

    JC

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  19. David Garrett (6,951 comments) says:

    DPF: I have no skin in this game…but it appears from campit’s post that there was an considerable INCREASE in freight volume between 2009 and 2012…what happened between then and when the line got mothballed? Or was 2012 the last year it was last used…That sounds about right…

    JC: I will carefully venture in here…those figures cant be right…if you have enough locos and you are prepared to go slow enough, you can move an almost infinite volume of freight by rail…or am I missing something?

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  20. goldnkiwi (1,256 comments) says:

    Freight being moved by rail to free roads up seems a no brainer but that is clearly simplistic.

    I went on a short excursion behind a steam train that came down from Glenbrook to Te Kuiti for the Muster earlier this year, it was packed, they did a mini excursion from Te Kuiti to Otorohanga, packed.

    How much is marketing? Tourism seems a no brainer, is the problem as simple as timetabling? lol The Steam Train was an hour late but surely other services should be timely.

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  21. burt (8,189 comments) says:

    So who in Gisborne is donating to Winston ?

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  22. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    I’m pretty sure extending Wellington’s commuter rail to Levin and the Wairarapa has been looked at before and doesn’t stack up very well. It cost a huge amount to extend the line from Paraparaumu to Waikanae alone and I find it hard to believe that there would be sufficient demand from Levin and the Wairarapa towns to justify a massive investment.

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  23. william blake (109 comments) says:

    Petrol prices have risen $1 per litre over the past 10 years in NZ a near doubling of price. The difficulty of extracting crude oil is increasing with every year also demand is increasing. The current administrations delight in building roads is obvious and freeing up roads for commerce makes sense in the short term.

    Thirty years out we will be looking at petrol at $16 per litre and wage growth over this time will certainly not keep up. Hydro electric rail for a long thin country such as ours is a sensible long term option, unfortunately we have short term insensible governments.

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  24. srylands (404 comments) says:

    “Hydro electric rail for a long thin country such as ours is a sensible long term option”

    I think it is quite the opposite. Rail works well in moderately sized geography with dense, rich populations. -i.e Europe.

    You might be right on petrol prices. I have always tended to the pessimistic end of post oil transport. Essentially if we have not cracked electric vehicles on a large scale well before petrol hits $16 we are stuffed – in the sense that our world will look very different – and rail won’t save us.

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  25. I Say Look Here (56 comments) says:

    Then there is also the issue of air transport.

    Electric vehicles are coming on stream, even though they still have very limited range, and eye-watering pricetags. But has anyone tried to come up with an electric aircraft? If fuel is going to hit that sort of price it will affect aviation fuel as well.

    Or are they going to go nuclear?

    I’m coming around to thinking that not only is electric-fueled rail going to save us, it’s going to be our only long-term land transport option.

    As as for international travel, hello nuclear-propelled cruise liners…

    Maybe those folks building the new shipping canal across Nicaragua are onto something.

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  26. Yogibear (360 comments) says:

    @Wiliam Blake

    My what a disturbing fantasy world you live in. If we take your historical assertions and extrapolate them to get your $16 per litre, I’m going to be waiting roughly 140 years, not 30 for the death of the internal combustion engine.

    You only get 30 years if you double the price every 10 years, which is ridiculous, given the costs of extraction are actually quite a small component of the overall cost of fuel.

    Its fair to say the MED monitoring is a little more reliable that shows that the real cost (i.e. the inflation adjusted cost for a barrel of crude coming into NZ), you get a little more balanced picture.

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  27. David Garrett (6,951 comments) says:

    william blake: Clearly you have not heard of shale oil recovery…It has revolutionized the oil business, and will soon make the US a net oil exporter for the first time since the 1950’s

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  28. Yogibear (360 comments) says:

    @William Blake

    Your dismal hypothesis also ignores two wonderful things called the Market and Human Endeavour.

    Have a play on the fuelsaver website

    10 years ago the ubiquitous Holden Commodore V6 was a crappy 155kw engine that did 11.3 l/100km

    That same bracket car in 2014 boasts a 210kw engine and does 9l/100km.

    We’ve got a Mitsi Outlander PHEV that does 1.9l/100km in hybrid mode at a $5k premium over the top diesel model, and the BMW i3 looks like a rip snorter of a car.

    Don’t get me started on the increases in truck efficiency in the last decade.

    As prices rise, either nominal or real, the market simply switches to the next most cost-effective method of moving people and freight. Rail lags a loooooong way behind by that measure.

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  29. backster (2,140 comments) says:

    Winston would then extend his Gold Card to cover the routes as a bribe to his voting base.

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  30. JC (942 comments) says:

    D Garrett,

    “am I missing something?”

    They are getting up around + 50 wagons and 2400 tonnes per train(s)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murupara_Branch

    JC

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  31. big bruv (13,675 comments) says:

    Remember who has made this promise guys. Winston has no intention of restoring the Napier to Gisborne line, this is the beauty of MMP.

    Winston knows there are votes in it, all he has to do is make the promise and then shrug his shoulders at the conclusion of coalition negotiations and say he did not get all he wanted.

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  32. B A W (99 comments) says:

    I would love the line to be saved.

    But there is not the business to do so. However if a private operator wants to try why not let them.

    As for Winston – I think he is just trying to harvest cheap votes. The line is unlikely to be rescued in the short to medium term (maybe in 40 years or so), and thus he is offering something which he will be able to say – sorry we did not get enough votes to do that we had other priorities.

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  33. dog_eat_dog (774 comments) says:

    Can we make a law where all policies have to be funded and anything that doesn’t explain how it will be paid for results in a charge for attempted electoral bribery?

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  34. greenjacket (451 comments) says:

    Here is an idea.
    Those people who want a train set between Napier and Gisborne can work up a business case, go to a bank and get funding themselves, and build it themselves.

    Otherwise, I strongly object to my money being used to pay for Winston Peters’/campit’s fascination with train sets. I have lots of personal interests too, yet I don’t expect other people to pay for them.

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  35. william blake (109 comments) says:

    First off, the figures are from inflation adjusted stats, they nearly all are. Wages are just not keeping up with oil inflation and if a figure doubles every ten years that is an exponential growth, not just adding the same figure every ten years.
    The geography of Nz suits rail, long trunk, short branches.
    Shale oil? Even the Aussies won’t touch it, uses lots of water and fucks nature more than big rig drilling.
    Next best technology, current is hydrogen, electric, the French are seriously looking at compressed air (love the French) all power to them, but we have an asset in the lines and hydro electric dams, why not employ these for the national good, it’s some of you guys that are blinkered and dismal, as for Winston, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

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  36. deadrightkev (407 comments) says:

    National has invested hundreds of millions in Kiwirail already on top of the embarrassing price Labour got scammed for it. This is a massive waste of politically gutless and misdirected taxpayers money. Kiwirail has been a state owned loss maker since circa 1935.

    Specialist railroad operators cannot make it work so National and Winston sure wont.

    Before long Winstons election bribe to bewildered and bemused train spotters will be added and flushed down the toilet too.

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  37. william blake (109 comments) says:

    David Garrett is this what you are talking about, it is a good read.

    http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324105204578382690249436084

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