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Southerner Viability Study

The Southerner passenger rail service would need a ninety per cent increase in passengers from 50,000 to 95,000 a year to have any chance of becoming viable, a viability study on the future of the service shows.

Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton met South Island mayors and council representatives in Christchurch on Wednesday to assess the study.

The study was funded in partnership by government and local councils.

It showed that to have any chance of being viable within the next ten years passenger numbers would need to increase by ninety percent. This viability was dependent on low track rentals, a significant upgrade in rolling stock, the service being run by the new TranzRail/WCR joint venture and a change in timetabling.

“The general indication from Councils is that it is unlikely they will continue to subsidise the service after February,” Jim Anderton said.

“The facts were startling. About three times as many people hire cars to go to Invercargill as use the Southerner. The loss of the service would have an impact on the regional economies of less than 0.5 per cent, and there is capacity on existing coaches to accommodate demand without putting additional traffic on local roads.

“There was agreement that the services would not be able to continue in their present form without significant public subsidy. At the same time Council representatives felt that any money available from ratepayers for such a subsidy would be better spent on other regional development initiatives.

“The safeguarding of access to the rail corridor is essential and we will keep this in mind.

“We will be keeping a close watch on the patronage of the service until the subsidy period ends on 10 February,” Jim Anderton said.

Transport Minister Mark Gosche said central and local government have worked very closely on this issue.

“This outcome shows that the viability study has been very worthwhile because it has provided the basis for making an informed decision,” Mark Gosche said.

The partnership between central and local government and Tranz Rail has kept the Southerner passenger rail service running until 10 February. The Government and local authorities made a contribution of $240,000 towards running costs.

Ends

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