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Overlander Needed Under Kyoto Protocol Commitments

Media Release
1 August 2006

Elaine West Says Government Needs the Overlander Under Kyoto Protocol Commitments

"Every New Zealander must take the Government and Toll NZ to task over plans to ditch the Overlander at the end of September" says Elaine West, RAM, Residents Action Movement representative.

Ms West was referring to New Zealand's sole long distant passenger train service running between Auckland and Wellington.

"Not only do we need to join the local ranks opposing the loss of the Overlander, but international signatories to the Kyoto Protocol should let the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, know of their dismay that such a plan goes against common sense leadership of a fellow signatory nation."

"Toll NZ and Government contend that a lack of passenger patronage has forced the end of the Overlander. And, that car convenience and cheap flights have outpaced long distance train travel."

"Well what do you expect when full train fares are an outrageous $170 for a full one-way trip, cutting out New Zealanders who can't afford the fare ­ families, low-middle-fixed income earners - who make up most of the population."

In his visit to New Zealand in March this year, British PM Tony Blair suggested New Zealand take a lead role on climate change. New Zealand's PM must have liked the idea because we've now got a Climate Change Minister, a Climate Change Ambassador, and a new CEO of the Ministry of Transport who has been involved in climate change initiatives."

"However, if the Overlander goes, New Zealand may never take that lead climate change role. Why? Because road transport greenhouse gas emissions including carbon dioxide are rising ­ over 60% since 1990 ­ instead of reducing as required under Kyoto Protocol commitments. Yet Government intends to scrap an alternative form of transport that gives off a fraction of such emissions ­ the Overlander.

How can the new Climate Change Ambassador, Adrian Macey, justify Government's intentions on the international stage? Answer: He can't."

And what of air travel and cheap flights? Overseas research indicates that aerial gridlock contributes a whopping 10% of the world's global warming, poisons the atmosphere and destroys the ozone layer ­ a real problem for New Zealand.

In 2005, a British government report urged air travellers in the EU and UK to refuse short-haul flights and to take the train instead. And the author of the report noted that in the UK, air travel was cheap and train travel expensive, when it should have been the other way round. Ring a bell?"

"Therefore" Ms West says, "we can predict officials and Toll NZ Ltd's plans once the long distant passenger train fleet ­ the Overlander ­ has gone."

- Tolls NZ has implied that it wants to focus on road haulage for bigger profit.

- Both Labour and National Governments want to introduce road tolls on State Highways and local roads. Passenger rail transport would reduce toll revenue as commuters switch to trains.

- The public know that cheap air tickets will not last, as fuel costs rise and airport charges increase ­ it's just a matter of time.

"We are not only wanting to save the Overlander ­ it's more than a national icon. It is a mode of public passenger transport that fits neatly with the Draft National Rail Strategy 2004-2014 whilst addressing Kyoto Protocol criteria.

Government should be asked why it has buried the strategy which emphasises the development of passenger rail systems and freight transport within an integrated national rail network, with the aim of -
- adding economic growth especially in the regions, and adding value to social, environmental and physical well-being."

"Can Government save the Overlander? Yes it can. Government should take this window of opportunity to own, operate and develop the long distant passenger train service. It would seem that Toll NZ has now lost their exclusive contractual right to operate the service under the Œuse it or lose it' deal.

In summary, on behalf of RAM, Residents Action Movement and in endorsement of the public who oppose the loss of the Overlander, a call goes out to:
the CEO of the Ministry of Transport, Alan Thompson to ­
- advise the PM, Helen Clark, the Finance Minister Michael Cullen, the Transport Minister, Annette King,
- the Climate Change Minister, David Parker, and
- the Climate Change Ambassador, Adrian Macey that -

Government provide the Overlander as a rail service for the New Zealand public, while ensuring that -
- fares are affordable,
- expert branding and marketing is available with the intention to increase patronage,
- and taxpayer funds contribute to operating the Overlander, and developing rail passenger transport.


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