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Government Attacks Rail While Motorists Are Ripped Off!

The government has scrapped the IREX rail ferry project and has indicated a preference for non-rail capable ferries for the Cook Strait.

Niall Robertson, the National Coordinator of TRAC says, “...by scrapping the rail capable ferries, Nicola Willis has either unwittingly or knowingly condemned the rail system between Christchurch and Hamilton to being unviable going forward”

TRAC members wonder why the current government has announced only new road based transport projects, including a motorway from Whangarei to Tauranga and a second harbour crossing in Auckland for road vehicles only.

Robertson says that the last thing that Auckland needs is another road for cars into the central city! It seems that the government have yet to be told about Auckland’s congestion problem.

However, TRAC feels that rail is not popular with the current government because of, as Robertson puts it, “...a coexisting list of myths about road and rail transport that seem to be perpetuated by various vested interests”.

These myths are that rail is inefficient, expensive and a poor use of land space. Other myths are that road transport can handle anything and will always do it cheaper and more efficiently.

Road transport is good for urgent freight, smaller lots and door to door delivery. After that the advantages evaporate, and then there is a need to look at the problems with road transport. A quick shopping list comes up with dangerousness, pollution, congestion, poor use of land area and expense. Yes, expense!

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Rail does have marshalling yards that take some room, but these have been made smaller by modern practice and must be compared with the large trucking distribution warehouses which take much more room. However, in every other part of the journey rail uses much less room. In a city, rail with just two lines can move the equivalent number of people that it would take twenty four motorway lanes to move.

Rail is extremely efficient in moving large volumes of freight and is able to offer the lowest possible rates for non-urgent freight. On some routes rail can even compete for urgent freight with the most competitive rates, provided volumes are large enough. Rail is safe, doesn’t pollute or cause road congestion. Roads transport cannot handle bulk freight items like export containers, logs, coal and milk. While successive governments have built more motorways and straightened roads, new solutions for rail infrastructure were never considered.

Robertson says, There is a myth that trucks are cheaper and more efficient. Trucks are road hazards, polluters and cause congestion. They also do 99% of all the road damage. However, when the fuel excise tax (FET) and road user charges (RUC's) of vehicles under 3.5 tonnes are added up (2022-23 figures), the revenue collected is $1.892 billion, but the revenue collected by vehicles over 3.5 tonnes is a mere $785.4 million. Truck RUC's do not reflect the effect they have on congestion, road damage, safety and pollution. They are being subsidised by other road users by a 3 to 1 ratio. These figures will be a surprise to most motorists and brings a lie to idea that rail is so much more expensive. In fact, motorists would be far better off subsidising rail!

TRAC believes that rail has a vital role in the New Zealand economy by moving freight and should have an even greater role in providing better social connectivity through long distance and urban public transport and even for profit passenger trains.

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