Funding for Passenger Rail Services in New Zealand

Published on 22/12/2022 at 10:14 am.

Opinion - Recent announcements, or lack thereof, on New Zealand funding for regional and inter-regional rail passenger bring to mind my recent post relating to a NZ Railways advertisement from the 1930's that said :

"People of New Zealand, the railway is your way, because you are the owners and you control the policy"

Lets be frank - this is more relevant than perhaps ever before. The recently announced New Zealand Climate Change Plan and Initiative's was virtually silent on the role of Rail in mitigating climate change.

Further the 2022 Budget was disappointing in its lack of vision and stated aims for Rail in NZ. Merely subsistence funding to replace like for like assets - really - is that the best we can do for Railways in NZ?

I am not talking about Metro Rail Auckland here - that is funded to reasonable levels but the rest of New Zealand. There were high expectations signaled by the Government in relation to Public Transport.

It didn't materialize in a way that will really shift the dial. We know funding is tight and the there is a Cost Of Living crises for many in New Zealand and priorities can change in the short term. If funding needs for regional passenger rail need to be deferred a year - then say so but this does not mean passenger Rail should be given the "silent treatment".

Most notably the "Lower North Island Rail Integrated Mobility - Inter-regional Proven innovation towards a decarbonized regional passenger rail solution for the lower north island and beyond" Business Case did not get funded in the Budget. The Business Case had been prepared by Greater Wellington Regional Council and Horizons and has now been released - see here :

The regional councils and key stakeholders are clearly disappointed as shown in this press release -

The time is ripe for a bigger discussion on regional passenger rail in New Zealand. Lip service is not enough - urgent progressive decision making is required. A connected New Zealand is more important than ever - our communities demand this more now than ever before. It is not just more roads and sustaining Rail in its place as a small bit player. Rail is almost seen as a quaint curiosity in New Zealand - a political football to be booted around - but hardly ever to be taken really seriously.

The future of Rail is not up to the bureaucrats and politicians - it is up to the people of New Zealand to decide what its wants from its Railways.

New creative methods of decision making and funding will be required. We need to be brave.

Clearly the current situation is simply not good enough and should no longer be tolerated by any forward thinking New Zealander.

For further information concerning the points raised in this opinion -

An opinion by Michael van Drogenbroek a Transport Consultant/Advisor at Heriot-Edievale Ltd with 30 plus years’ experience. Currently, he is working with various clients on rail, public transport, and freight development projects both in New Zealand and overseas jurisdictions including the Middle East.

First published 24 May 2022.

This opinion has been republished on with permission from the original author.

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