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Crucial decisions looming on rail

Crucial decisions looming on rail

The Government is due to make a major decision on Auckland's rail system this week and Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons is urging Ministers to look at the big picture.

Auckland local bodies are wanting Government to pay a share of the $112m they have negotiated to pay Tranz Rail to regain control of the tracks in Auckland. But the Green Party says this is not the only need.

Tranz Rail also wants out of passenger services in Wellington and intends to close the Napier - Gisborne line altogether. There is even a question hanging over the Rotorua line if no-one picks up the passenger service there.

"The Auckland decision must be part of a national strategy on rail in New Zealand," said Ms Fitzsimons. "It is dangerous to fragment control of the track in a series of piecemeal arrangements. It would also be dangerous if $112 million for a few dozen kilometres of track in Auckland set the price for the rest of the entire rail system.

Transport Minister Mark Gosche promised the Auckland Regional Council a decision on the Government's involvement by the end of the month and a question in the House gave the same date for a solution to Gisborne's rail problem. This suggests the decisions are due at Cabinet on Monday, but it seems unlikely these decisions will deal with the future of the rail system as a whole.

"Even the Minister assisting the Prime Minister on Auckland Issues, Judith Tizard, said in Parliament in December that the Auckland proposal has to be evaluated in the light of a national rail policy," said Ms Fitzsimons.

"A well maintained, efficient rail infrastructure is critical to an integrated transport system," she said. "We need it to haul heavy freight like the logs which will come on stream when forestry plantings mature on the East Coast, central north island and Northland.

"If the rail system is not up to the job, the cost of upgrading roads to take these loads will be enormous."

Ms Fitzsimons said rail was also essential for commuter transport in Auckand and Wellington because rail, with its own right of way, beats the traffic jams every time.

"We also need a national rail strategy to meet our Kyoto Greenhouse gas targets because rail uses only a quarter the energy per tonne mile that trucks do. Yet little by little we are losing services and track maintenance is falling behind."

Ms Fitzsimons said the Greens were as keen as anyone to see Auckland have rail passenger transport but wanted to see nationwide solutions while that was still possible.

"The Government needs an integrated strategy to 'get New Zealand back on track'," said Ms Fitzsimons.

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