Track looking north at Waikanae station

(comment by Tim Costley, Waikanae National Party)

The decision to not support or fund hybrid commuter trains is bitterly disappointing for our local community. Sadly, it’s also not surprising.

Labour’s broken-promise of electric rail north of Waikanae was a last-minute, ad hoc election ploy, announced after National promised to double-track and electrify commuter rail to Otaki. Like so many other announcements (a new primary school in Waikanae, progress on O2NL, supporting our local medical services, and nation-wide announcements like light rail in Auckland and Kiwibuild), it’s another broken promise; all talk and no delivery. Every local resident I talk to is sick of being talked-down to from a podium but seeing little progress on the ground.

At a time when the cost of living is high and the government’s climate action agenda is forefront, it’s truly bizarre to see no action on commuter rail, but subsidies for petrol for your car. Its symptomatic of a populist reactionary government trying to maintain their popularity but with no clear plan for our future.

Our community deserve a government and local representatives who will actually stand-up and fight for them.

(media release from the Greater Wellington and Horizons Regional Councils)

Budget Absence of new trains Surprises and Disappoints Regional Councils

The Budget’s failure to contribute funding for a fleet of hybrid electric trains in the lower North Island has surprised and disappointed Greater Wellington and Horizons regional councils.

The trains, which are battery powered on non-electrified track, were proposed by the councils in a business case paid for by Waka Kotahi.

Greater Wellington chair Daran Ponter and Horizons chair Rachel Keedwell said the government’s decision was, “Like the lights being turned off”.

“It’s especially disappointing for commuters and surprising for our councils. But we’re not giving up,” Cr Ponter said.

“When enacted, our business case will significantly reduce transport emissions while providing for population growth and the replacement of aged rolling stock.”

Supported by Manawatū-Whanganui’s seven mayors, as well as the eight mayors of the Wellington region, the business case recommends a $762 million dollar investment in a fleet of 22 four-car, tri-mode trains, and associated infrastructure.

With funding commitments from Waka Kotahi, Horizons and Greater Wellington, $360 million was needed from the Budget to enable the full investment.

The business case estimates every dollar spent will yield $1.83.

It predicts the trains will quadruple peak-time services between Palmerston North and Wellington on the Manawatū line and double them between Masterton and the capital on the Wairarapa line.

Horizons chair Rachel Keedwell said the government had turned its back on commuter wellbeing by not supporting New Zealand’s first low-emission long-distance rail services.

“Given this is a health and climate budget, it’s incomprehensible that these trains are not being funded,” Cr Keedwell said.

Palmerston North mayor Grant Smith and Horowhenua mayor Bernie Wanden agreed, calling the decision, “Incredibly disappointing” and, “A blind spot” of the budget.

Greater Wellington deputy chair and Wairarapa councillor Adrienne Staples said the government, “Is holding back livelihoods” in her community and delaying development.

“Commuters who work and do business in Wellington and Hutt cities desperately need better service from our regional rail network,” Cr Staples said.

“Off-peak services are almost non-existent. Half-price public transport fares are welcome, but they fly in the face of our current fleet of 50-year-old trains at the end of their working life.

”Her sentiments were shared by Kāpiti Coast councillor and Environment Committee chair Penny Gaylor, who said hybrid electric trains were, “An elegant solution to a dirty problem the government knows needs fixing”.

“A reliable, low-emissions rail service is the missing link for the increasing number of commuters living in Kāpiti, Horowhenua and Manawatū. “Their access to employment in Wellington, Porirua and Palmerston North is being stymied by ancient trains that won’t last another five years. Businesses are being stifled by talk not turned into action.

While recent funding to upgrade Kiwirail’s Capital Connection carriages was encouraging, Cr Ponter said the hybrid electric trains should have been part of the budget’s suite of initiatives to reduce emissions.

“These trains will enable the Wellington region to grow around our transport hubs in a way that protects the climate,” Cr Ponter said.

“We will continue to work with the government to unlock existing funding for the purchase of these trains. We need to get the tender process under way in the coming financial year to prevent commuters from being squashed in like sardines in five years’ time.”

(media release from KCDC Cr Gwynn Compton)

Lack of commuter rail funding for Kāpiti and Horowhenua derails Budget 2022

Commuter rail campaigner and Kāpiti Coast District councillor Gwynn Compton has slated Budget 2022 as a failure for its lack of any investment in extending Wellington’s metropolitan commuter rail network north of Waikanae.

“The Government has talked up Budget 2022 as building a high wage, low emissions economy, yet they’ve failed to invest in the very public transport infrastructure — extending commuter rail services throughout Kāpiti and Horowhenua — that is critical for achieving those aims,” says Mr Compton.

“With transport being one of Aotearoa’s fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern having both called climate change our generations’ “nuclear free” moment and declared a climate emergency, the Government’s lack of funding for commuter rail in Budget 2022 is simply inexcusable.”

Mr Compton also highlighted that the flow on effects from failing to fund the extension of commuter rail will go well beyond climate change.

“For communities such as Ōtaki and Levin, access to fast, frequent, and reliable public transport via commuter rail connections to Wellington and Palmerston North would play a pivotal role in helping address many of the social and economic challenges they face through providing easy access to health, education, and employment opportunities.

“Likewise, the very urban intensification in Ōtaki and Levin that’s needed to help fix the housing crisis is dependent on having mass rapid transit services provided by commuter rail to support it. The Government’s failure to invest in this now risks derailing attempts to address the housing crisis too.”

Gwynn Compton has been campaigning for the extension of commuter rail services north of Waikanae since 2019, and in 2020 launched the Kāpiti-Horowhenua Commuter Rail Campaign to further this week. The opinions detailed here are his personal views and are not necessarily those of the Kāpiti Coast District Council.