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Accelerate Use Of Rail Corridors To Be Considered

Plan To Accelerate Use Of Rail Corridors To Be Considered By Auckland Councils

A plan to make greater use of Auckland’s newly available rail corridors to enable passenger rail to play a much greater role in relieving Auckland’s transport congestion is about to be considered by Auckland local and regional authorities.

The draft plan involves electrification of the rail network, phasing out of diesel units, new rolling stock, double tracking the western line to Swanson, and connecting Manukau City to the network. Electrification will produce faster, quieter trains, able to run at more frequent intervals and provide a better service for commuters.

The draft plan envisages annual passenger rail trips increasing from the current 2.5 million to about 25 million by 2015, and continuing to build patronage thereafter to more than 30 million annual trips by 2021.

Achieving these targets will help meet the objectives of the Regional Growth Strategy and Regional Land Transport Strategy, and contribute to managing road congestion objectives. Regional transport models forecast an overall increase in passenger transport generally from 50 million trips to more than100 million trips per year by 2011, so that one in 10 journeys in the region would then be by public transport, compared to one in 20 at the moment. Forecasts also project that car trips will increase from a current 875 million per year to 1 billion over the same period.

The region has been progressively implementing measures to enhance passenger services on Auckland’s rail networks, which include the opening of the Britomart Transport Centre in July, the progressive restoration of railway stations and the ongoing introduction of upgraded rolling stock.

A joint Steering Group comprising senior representatives from Auckland local authorities, the Auckland Regional Council, the Auckland Regional Transport Network Ltd, and Infrastructure Auckland has worked with The Boston Consulting Group to develop the draft plan to accelerate the use of the rail corridors as a key component of the overall regional transport action plan.

Steering Group chairman Michael Gross says Auckland needs to make the best use of all transport modes to ease Auckland’s ever increasing traffic congestion.

“Rail, which has been neglected for so long, is able to dramatically increase its contribution, as outlined in the draft plan, now that the region has control over passenger services on the corridors.

“As part of the overall package we need to have innovative funding methods, support from central government, and commitment from Auckland’s local and regional bodies, to ensure that the draft plan is implemented in a co-operative and timely fashion.”

MANAGING TRAVEL DEMAND

The report says that to reach the projected passenger transport targets, the region will also need to consider introducing “travel demand management” initiatives to encourage commuters to review travel behaviour and provide incentives for greater use of public transport. These might include, for example, more expensive CBD parking, a regional fuel tax and electronic road pricing at certain times on some routes after 2008. Funds produced from these measures would help subsidise passenger transport, as well as contributing to paying for planned investments in the roading network. Early discussions will be sought with central government on funding issues and any legislative changes necessary to enable the region to introduce travel demand management measures. Introduction of these measures is not suggested until the rail system has been substantially upgraded and is clearly meeting passenger needs and providing a viable alternative for many commuters.

COSTS

Financial estimates contained within the draft plan suggest that the basic infrastructure upgrades and new rolling stock over the first eight years will cost nearly $800 million in capital, with an additional $700 million capital required over the following decade to accommodate and support the higher levels of patronage achieved in response to ongoing system improvements and the introduction of travel demand management policies.

It is envisaged that the initial core upgrade can be funded from a combination of regional resources and funding from central government, and early discussions will be sought with government on capital and ongoing subsidy requirements. “Completion and endorsement of this draft business plan is a major step in a process that will lead us to a long term viable passenger rail system for Auckland”, says Michael Gross.

NEXT STEPS

The plan has been prepared as a draft, following extensive analysis and discussions with the various agencies since the start of 2003. It is now being presented for consideration to the various councils within the Auckland region, and other relevant agencies.

The draft business plan proposals are now being reviewed. Any subsequent changes or amendments to the plan will be made before it goes through the process of public consultation before being considered for inclusion into the Regional Land Transport Strategy and the Regional Passenger Transport Action Plan.

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