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Passengers packed like sardines without urgent funding

Greater Wellington Regional Council has warned that passengers on Lower North Island trains will be packed in like sardines come 2025 unless an urgent business case to government for new hybrid trains gets the go ahead.

Greater Wellington Chair Daran Ponter says regional population growth has accelerated much faster than forecast over the last five years according to census data which shows an increase of 35,000 people against an initial forecast of 24,000.

“Dramatically, the distribution of growth has also been significantly different to what was expected. There has been less growth for Wellington City as affordability continues to push people out of the centre with a small increase of only 11,000 people against the 14,000 forecast. Instead, we have seen much higher growth in other parts of our region with a staggering 23,000 against a forecast of 10,000,” says Chair Ponter.

Greater Wellington reported significant increases in its rail network this year, reaching a new annual patronage high of 14.3 million passengers in 2019, an increase of 800,000 passengers on the previous year. Peak patronage rates were even higher, with the two busiest lines Hutt Valley and Kapiti rising by 12% per cent year-on-year (to the financial year).

Trains running longer distance services between Wellington and Masterton and Wellington and Palmerston North also require refurbishments or replacements and patronage growth on these services has already exceeded the available capacity for both fleets.

“The increase in train users both within and beyond the metro network shows an urgent need to fund a modern fleet. With long procurement and manufacture lead times and ever-increasing demand, we must secure funding by 2020 if we hope to deliver by 2024 and avoid commuters being “packed in like sardines” on a daily basis, on long journeys across the region,” says Chair Ponter.

The business case to government proposes to replace both fleets with fifteen four-car Dual Mode Multiple Units which will run on electricity from overhead power wires, switching to alternative energy sources north of Waikanae and Upper Hutt.

The delivery of the new trains and associated network improvements requires a capital investment of $415 million and has a conservative benefit cost ratio range of 1.3 to 2.6.

Applications will be made to the National Land Transport Fund, the Provincial Growth Fund, Budget 2020/21 and regional councils’ long term plans.

The business case has been sent to key Ministers and all Member of Parliament and Mayors in the Lower North Island. Greater Wellington and Horizons Regional Council are working with the Government to secure funding.


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