IwiRail: Maori Party want mothballed tracks reopened in regional NZ
The Maori Party want to build a new "IwiRail" railway network for both freight and tourism in New Zealand's regions - starting with Gisborne.
The party's co-leaders announced the policy at Parliament on Wednesday morning.
It would initially consist of a revitalised rail network around Gisborne, which currently has no direct rail connections after the line to Napier was mothballed in 2012.
The network would support both tourism and freight.
"IwiRail would take over the leases or key regional lines, and work with local communities and Iwi to build new rail infrastructure which is able to compete effectively and efficiently against other transport modes," co-leader Marama Fox said.
The trains would be high-speed and sustainable but not necessarily electric - although Fox said she wasn't keen for more diesel trains.
The network would be developed as a public-private-partnership, with the Government contributing an initial $350m and iwis and local businesses stumping up more capital.
The Gisborne network would ease the load on ports and roads in the region, the party said.
"Anybody who travels up the East Coast will tell you the number one priority is to get those logging trucks off the road," co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell said.
"Our roads are appalling up the East Coast. There is a slip in the road up the East Coast which happened 35 years ago which reduces State Highway 35 down to one lane. It's ridiculous," Fox said.
"When we enter into coalition talks it is our view that we will be asking our coalition partner for a fund of $350 million towards the strategy," party president Tuku Morgan said.
Fox said connecting Gisborne back to Napier would only cost about $6.5 million.
The rest of the $350 million could go towards exploring other regions and possibly new lines - like one from Gisborne to Kawerau, which would connect the region with the wider upper North Island.
Gisborne would be the "proof in the pudding" that the scheme would work.
"Our regions need a rail transport network that connects more people and more goods to more places," Flavell said.
The policy was aimed at stopping a regional Maori brain-drain and re-connecting Maori to the rail network.
"The rail network in this country was built on the backs of our ancestors. It connected our people. They were the locomotive engineers, they were the track layers, they were the mechanics," Fox said.
"One of the key focuses of IwiRail is to bring back the 15,000 rail jobs and apprenticeships which existed before the Labour Government put a hatchet to rail in the mid-1980s."
"Our people drove the trains, build the trains, and built the rail lines," Morgan said.
The party believed the policy would indirectly produce thousands of jobs and bring a billion dollars into the economy.
Fox said the Government was "interested" in the proposal, and that the $350m would be a drop in the bucket for the Transport budget. Vote Transport received around $5.2b in the last budget, including $861m for Kiwirail.
Like all other Maori Party policy, it would not be a bottom-line in coalition talks.
Transport Minister Simon Bridges has been asked for comment.
Labour transport spokeswoman Sue Moroney said Labour supported rail development in the regions but doubted the Maori Party would be able to convince National to invest.
"They've had nine years in government to get this through and they've failed to do it so far," Moroney said.
"National are ideologically opposed to it. They get a lot of their funding from the Road Transport Forum and those lobby groups."
Nevertheless, increased investment in a nationwide rail network was "absolutely in line with Labour policy."
Labour would not rely on private partnerships to achieve this.
"We think it's a core government function to ensure that we have an integrated rail system that delivers regional development."