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Warning Bells Ring Over Rail Split Up

10 October 2000

Tranz Rail's plans to divest a large part of their rail services while still retaining monopoly control over the railway lines should ring loud warning bells, Green Party transport spokesperson Sue Kedgley said today.

Under Tranz Rail's proposal it will continue to own the railway tracks, but would sell off refrigerated freight and long distance passenger services, and pass responsibility for urban commuter services to local authorities.

"I'm alarmed that under this proposal, Tranz Rail would effectively be a monopoly. Anyone who wants to supply rail services would have to come to a financial arrangement with them for the use of their tracks," said Ms Kedgley.

"What the Tranz Rail proposal demonstrates is that the railway track should never have been sold. In the UK, the track network is recognised as a key infrastucture monopoly and it was retained by the Government even when they privatised rail services."

Ms Kedgley said a track monopoly could put financial pressure on local authorities who will be expected to pick up responsibility for the commuter services.

"They may be forced to pay higher track costs but will still be obliged to offer commuter rail services at an affordable price as an alernative to roads - both for the environment's sake and for the benefit of people who don't have access to a car," she said.

The recent $65 million agreement for Auckland to lease railway tracks for a new commuter train service could be the forerunner of big commuter lease agreements in the future, she said.

"This was always going to happen once the rail network was sold to a private company. What company is going to put the environmental and social benefits of having a smooth functioning, affordable rail system above their own profits?"

Ms Kedgley said the Government should take up any opportunities provided by Tranz Rail's divestment plans to regain public ownership of rail services.

"If Tranz Rail wants to exit rural services, then the Government should take up the buy-back option to regain control and keep those services open for the benefit of local communities."

Ends

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