Train's fate unclear - even after six months
The future of the Capital Connection is still in the hands of bureaucrats who have been poring over a plan that could save the train for more than six months.
Government officials are considering a business case from the Greater Wellington and Horizons regional councils that asks for sizeable subsidies to keep the Wellington to Palmerston North commuter train on the rails.
An announcement on whether the business case would be accepted was expected as far back as late August last year, but still there has been no word.
The once-daily return service runs at an annual loss of about $500,000, which operator KiwiRail says it cannot keep absorbing.
Commuters had been told the service was safe until the end of February. That’s now been pushed out a month.
‘‘What we can confirm at this stage is that the service will continue to operate throughout March... and passengers will receive at least 30 days’ notice of any closure,’’ KiwiRail passenger general manager Deborah Hume told commuters in a notice handed out last night.
Dr Hume told the Manawatu Standard KiwiRail was unable to say how long its discussions with the Ministry of Transport and other government agencies would take.
This is proving frustrating for regular commuters such Shannon man Bob Pearce, who was not surprised by the delays.
‘‘A lot of people, like myself, are in limbo currently. Do we move? Do we stay? Do we get new jobs?’’
The big announcement will be made by Minister of Transport Gerry Brownlee.
A statement from his office said: ‘‘The Ministry of Transport is still engaged in discussions with KiwiRail and other agencies... We are unable to give any indication of how long this process will take.’’
While the deliberations drag on, Palmerston North MP and newly appointed Labour transport spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway will on Thursday make a plea to the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee about why the train should stay.
He will talk about the Capital Connection’s economic, environmental and social benefits.
The select committee can make recommendations to Mr Brownlee.
National has the majority of members on that committee. I’m hoping that my logic and evidence can persuade them,’’ Mr Lees-Galloway said.