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Cullen: Address To Rail Conference

Cullen: Address To Rail Conference

Thank you for inviting me here to speak tonight.

This evening's dinner culminates a weekend of celebrations of New Zealand's rail heritage and is one of many events marking the centenary of the North Island Main Trunk Line.

I know that this weekend's festivities have taken a lot of organising, bringing together the many people and groups involved in New Zealand's heritage rail movement.

I would like to acknowledge the efforts of Helen Warboys and others in helping to bring this festival together: Russell Wiseman of Feilding District Steam; John Bovis of Steam Incorporated; and Grant Craig of Taieri Gorge Railway.
The Main Trunk is one of New Zealand's transport infrastructure icons and as such it deserves to be celebrated.

In August of this year the Parliamentary Special Train took three days to re-enact the first passenger train to travel the entire way for Wellington to Auckland.

Next month the driving of the Last Spike on the line will be commemorated at Pokaka, near National Park, and I understand plans are in place to celebrate the first commercial passenger service in February 2009.

What is it about this line that makes it so special, that makes us celebrate its 100th anniversary?

The people who planned, designed and built the line had a vision for their geographically isolated, young nation.

They wanted to develop industry, to expand the economy, to encourage farming and settlement.

They wanted a modern transport link that would allow for the efficient movement of people and of goods.

The perseverance that made that vision a reality is what we are acknowledging when we celebrate the centenary of the North Island Main Trunk.

The engineering skill, the physical labour, the sheer hard work and determination needed to complete the line was an impressive achievement and remains inspirational to us a century later.

We're also celebrating the role this line has played in New Zealand's social and economic history.

Following its completion in 1908 it quickly became the principal means of moving people and goods from one end of the North Island to the other. But not only did it become the dominant means of transport it had a huge influence on the communities along the line.

The building of the Trunk is the reason many settlements in the North Island were established. The collections of small tents used by the construction workers developed into towns with libraries, schools, and of course, railway stations.

Trains on the line would bring mail, newspapers, visitors and were the main link to the rest of the world.

The railway stations soon became the social hub of many small towns.

By the middle of last century, things began to change.

Improvements to railway signalling, train running and track maintenance reduced the number of people required to operate the Main Trunk. Combined with a number of other social factors, more efficient railway operations began to contribute to a decrease in the rural population of the central North Island.

The effect of competition from road and air transport grew and both the mixed freight and passenger trains and the express services were steadily withdrawn from the line.

Through the history of the North Island Main Trunk we can chart the social and economic changes that were taking place throughout New Zealand and we can follow the shifting fortunes of our rail industry.

And as we celebrate the centenary of this railway icon, we are of course embarking on a new era to better integrate our transport systems in New Zealand in a manner that necessarily involves a major role for rail.

New Zealand is not alone in this.

Rail is undergoing a resurgence world wide.

Rail’s energy efficiency gives it particular relevance to societies the world over which share the challenges of climate change and the prospect of rising fuel prices as the 21st Century progresses.

The Government certainly recognises this and we have shown our commitment to ensuring that New Zealand has a modern and efficient rail network as part of our strategy to build a more modern, integrated transport network.

You will all be aware that on 1 July 2008 Toll New Zealand's rail and ferry operating businesses transferred into public ownership.

The Government made the purchase because public ownership allows the Crown to more readily invest in rail to help develop a sustainable transport system for the future.

It will however require rail to change its focus from operating a railway system in isolation of the wider transport network to, instead, seeing themselves as very much a part of the wider national transport network.

Following the purchase I announced an initial $80 million of funding to KiwiRail to maintain rolling stock and earlier this month I announced an additional $121 million for rail industry improvements. This goes to the New Zealand Railways Corporation, the State Owned Enterprise that now covers all parts of the industry including KiwiRail, ONTRACK, the passenger rail services and Interislander.

This funding, taken with the $200 million the government committed to network improvements when it purchased the rail infrastructure in 2004, the $1 billion committed to upgrading and electrifying the Auckland suburban network and the $500 million for upgrading and re-equipping the Wellington metro network, means the Government has spent just over $2 billion on rail.

That has to be one of the most significant investments in rail since the days of Sir Julius Vogel in the 1870s.

This has nothing to do with nostalgia: Rail is poised to take on an increasingly important role in the New Zealand economy.

A recent freight demand study, commissioned by the Ministry of Transport, forecasts that freight volumes would increase by 75 per cent over the next 25 years.

While modal share between road and rail is predicted to remain relatively constant, the sheer increase in freight volumes makes rail’s role in the transport mix extremely important.

Currently the overall market share for rail freight, taking into account weight and distance is 18 per cent. Trucks they haul more but carry their goods on average shorter distances.

Each week, more than 900 freight trains run across the country and these trains are particularly important for our export industries.
Rail carries more than two million tonnes of coal a year for export as well as nearly another two million internally or imported. It carries substantial quantities of dairy exports, and as well strong flows of bulk milk. The competitiveness of New Zealand's dairy industry is improved by rail’s ability to carry large flows cheaply.

Rail also carries many thousands of containers a week both for export and for import. It carries half of everything that goes to and from Tauranga port. For long distances especially, the economy of the country is woven around rail.
Now, with significant funding, and growing public support for the environmentally friendly benefits rail brings, there is an opportunity to ensure rail’s full potential role in New Zealand’s transport future.

And given all the risks for the global economy to weaken in the next year or two, and the need to better cushion New Zealand jobs and industries from a weaker short-term international trading environment, my government has indicated that we believe it would be economically and socially appropriate and necessary to bring forward some of the future capital investments planned for rail in the years ahead.

So while we are here today to celebrate rail’s past, we all I think also appreciate the strong role that rail will play in our future.

Thank you.

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