Labour to spend $20m on commuter rail between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga
Labour has announced a $20 million commitment to invest in a passenger rail service linking Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.
At a rally in Tauranga at "The Fan", with an audience of about 400 mostly party faithful, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern also pledged to double to up to $280m funding for regional roading projects if she leads the next government.
"The 'Golden Triangle' of Auckland, Hamilton, and Tauranga contains half our population and economy," she said.
"In the next 25 years, it is projected to gain another 800,000 people – three-quarters of national population growth. It's time this growing region had a modern, rapid rail service."
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The trip would match the time it took to get to Auckland in a car, but to get to the airport there would require only one change - at Otahuhu - Ardern said..
Half the $20m would go to ensuring the track changes were made and railcars were ready to go as well as stations along the way..
"We need to bring back passenger transport via rail to New Zealand. It used to be one of the fundamental ways that we got around our country and it should be again," Ardern said.
A media press conference following the announcement was delayed by almost an hour as people queued to have their photo taken with her and to chat.
She said if stage one of the rail plan was a success and demand justifies it, Labour would look to invest in stages two and three - delivering passenger and freight services travelling up to 160kmh throughout the regions, and south to Rotorua.
But she said she would not describe the first stage as a "pilot project".
The Greens announced a similar policy last week.
To boost transport investment in regional projects the funding range in the Government Policy Statement would be lifted from between $70m and $140m a year to between $140m and $280m a year..
"Our regions are growing rapidly, and our roads are struggling to cope with increased heavy traffic and tourist vehicles."
Ardern also pledged hold an urgent roading summit with mayors in her first 100 days in office to plan where investment would go.
The increased funding would be available for all regions and for all transport modes.
"We will particularly focus on fixing accident black spots, given the worrying rise in the road toll outside the main centres in recent years," she said.
National's transport spokesman Simon Bridges said Labour's rail plan was "unrealistic" and would be a waste of public money.
"The Auckland-Hamilton-Tauranga rail line is our busiest freight route and simply doesn't have the capacity to also be a commuter rail line," he said.
"The only way you could use it for both would be to double track large sections of the line, and Labour doesn't have any plan to invest for that."
Bridges said the "bigger problem" was that the journey by train between Auckland and Tauranga takes more than four and a half hours by rail, while car or a bus takes about 2.5 hours and a plane takes about 40 minutes.
Prime Minister Bill English said the Government on Sunday had announced 10 Roads of National Significance roading projects worth $10.5b "because the vast majority of people travel by car".
"We just don't see a case for what would be a very expensive alternative to the big investment we're making now."
Road was more important than rail in that part of the country, English said.
"This looks like another one of these policies - a bit like the climate change one - where Labour are floating the idea but leaving all the questions unanswered."
Rail had its merits, "but extending rail through provincial New Zealand looks expensive but unnecessary and we have to get the roads built, because that's what freight uses, it's what the overwhelming majority of the public use".
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