Decision on train's future no closer

LIMBO OVER: Capital Connection travellers are no longer in limbo over the service's future.
LIMBO OVER: Capital Connection travellers are no longer in limbo over the service's future.

Capital Connection commuters are still in limbo, with no word yet on whether the train has a future.

Government officials have spent more than three months poring over a business case from the Greater Wellington and Horizons regional councils that asks for sizeable subsidies to keep the train going.

An announcement on where to from here was expected as far back as late August, but still there has been no word.

The final decision rests with Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee and a spokesman from his office said no announcement had been fixed.

Whatever happens the train is safe "at this stage" for next month and February at least, a decision communicated to commuters late last week.

The once-daily Palmerston North to Wellington service runs at an annual loss of about $500,000, which operator KiwiRail says it cannot keep absorbing.

Passenger numbers have also dropped since the Wellington metro trains extended to Waikanae early last year.

"It's a bit disappointing really," Shannon man Bob Pearce said of the waiting game. "I hear rumours on the train that we might hear something in January but that means a period of uncertainty over Christmas."

Mr Pearce travels to Wellington for his job every day and spends his travel time doing work, something he would be unable to do should the service be replaced by a bus or a drive to Waikanae and a ride on the less-comfortable Wellington metro trains.

He supports a rise in fares if necessary.

Mr Pearce has used the Capital Connection for 18 months and said the train was the main reason he accepted work in Wellington.

"I wouldn't have taken a job 110 kilometres away from where I live if I didn't think I could get there."

Palmerston North commuter Zaneta Park, who takes the train twice a week, was also frustrated but said the delay might be a positive sign.

"We still have our fingers crossed . . . we're really happy it's being taken seriously."

Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway - who has been vocal in his support for the Capital Connection - was also pleased the decision was not being rushed.

"[But] it's immensely frustrating and I'm getting more people telling me how frustrated they are," he said.

"They want to be able to plan for next year and they feel as if they can't."

Mr Lees-Galloway also welcomed the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee's decision to hear submissions from him and the two councils on the train's future.

Mr Lees-Galloway's submission talks about the train's economic, environmental and social benefits and says keeping the Capital Connection is an "investment in the future".

The select committee can make recommendations to Mr Brownlee.

The Manawatu Standard