D-day looms for Capital Connection rail service

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 06:39 27/08/2012

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Capital Connection commuters will be crossing their fingers this week because the service’s fate will probably  be decided.

The NZ Transport Agency has received a business case from the Greater Wellington and Horizons regional councils and by the end of the week will announce if it will subsidise the service with the local authorities.

The train does not make a profit and rail operator KiwiRail says it cannot afford to keep absorbing annual losses of about $500,000.

If the agency does not cough up half that figure, the service could end within weeks.

The councils have earmarked about $125,000 a year each.

‘‘We expect to have finished assessing the business case by the end of the month. I don’t have any immediate indications at this point,’’ an agency spokesman told the Manawatu Standard.

But the agency has said the train does not meet its funding criteria for reducing congestion.

‘‘Given the agency had clearly outlined the reasons why the service would not merit government subsidies on the evidence presented to date, we will be looking for compelling new information about whether the service meets our priorities for investment in new public transport services,’’ regional director Jenny Chetwynd said earlier this month.

It’s understood the business case argues for the Capital Connection to come under the management of the Wellington metro operation and develop ideas to use the rolling stock rather than have it lay idle all day between services.

It also lays out arguments for keeping the service based on congestion and economic development reasons.

Palmerston North commuter Zaneta Park, who takes the train to Wellington and back twice a week for work, doesn’t know what she will do if the service is cancelled.

She said she might have to move further south as she was not keen on using buses proposed as a replacement to the Capital Connection, particularly if she had to change over to a Wellington train service at Waikanae.

That would add to her daily travel time.

‘‘The reason why the train is so important is it’s such a good form of transport. I can work on the train,’’ she said.

‘‘I’ve caught the bus a few times.

‘‘I can sleep or look out the window listening to music, but that’s about all.

‘‘I can’t read a book, for example, because I get sick.

‘‘I’ve got little tables on the train, I can set up my laptop,’’ she said.

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‘‘We’re hoping [the transport agency] comes to the party.’’

Horizons transport committee chairman Vern Chettleburgh said he was staying positive about the pending decision.

‘‘I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I hope that they see the light and come up with a subsidy.’’

Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway, who has led the push to keep the train, said everybody had done what they could and put forward the best case for the train’s survival.

The Capital Connection’s future has been in doubt since it began losing passengers to the extended Wellington metro services early last year.

MOUNTING COSTS
For the past three months the Capital Connection has continued to run at a loss, latest figures from KiwiRail show.

■ May 2012: 14,873 people caught the train, which made a loss of $52,768 for the month.

■ June 2012: 12,731 people, $74,862 loss.

■ July 2012: 12,977 people, $67,317 loss.

Expenses for each month were fixed at $211,893

- Manawatu Standard

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