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Passenger Rail Services Need To Be Back On Track Now

Further delays with long distance passenger rail services are undermining New Zealand’s climate change response, says the Union for rail workers.

Rail and Maritime Transport Union General Secretary Wayne Butson says passenger rail offers a low emission option for environmentally conscious travellers.

But three key services – the Northern Explorer, TranzAlpine and Coastal Pacific – have been suspended since August when New Zealand went into lockdown.

The TranzAlpine will resume services in January, but the resumption of Northern Explorer (Auckland–Wellington) and Coastal Explorer (Christchurch–Picton) services have now been pushed out until mid 2022.

Mr Butson says if services are not provided, then passenger rail will not re-establish itself as a low emission travel option for New Zealanders, or future international visitors.

He says there have been major challenges to the industry over the course of the pandemic which has caused problems.

“But there is no reason why KiwiRail cannot reinvent and diversify their small network with services for regular travellers.”

Mr Butson says the Government could direct KiwiRail to operate the Auckland to Wellington route daily and add more stops, make the Coastal Pacific a daily service, and introduce a daily Christchurch to Dunedin return service.

“These routes are some of the most amazing rail journeys in the world, and as we move into a new era of climate conscious travel, there will be a growing demand for low impact, innovative travel experiences.”

Mr Butson says KiwiRail had acted as a responsible employer towards its workforce, keeping on affected train crews during the downtime.

“This issue is about the lack of Government urgency to build passenger rail as a core part of a serious response to climate change.”

Other than very modest investment in Te Huia, there had been little effort directed towards long-distance passenger rail in recent years, he says.

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