Opening speech at the Federation of Rail Operators of NZ (FRONZ) conference, June 2016

Good morning and greetings to my friends and colleagues from here in Auckland and to all of those from up and down the line – and a special welcome to those from overseas – and we are honoured to have here today the Hon Tim Fisher, former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, and a passionate supporter of rail, especially heritage rail.

Speaking of which, let me take this opportunity to thank and congratulate everyone here today from 70 different heritage rail organisations – passionate supporters of heritage rail all .Thank you for the magnificent volunteer work you do to preserve and promote New Zealand’s proud rail heritage and to promote New Zealand’s visitor industry

During my time in politics I have involved with different modes of rail past, present and hopefully future.  

I was in the room as a new member of the old Auckland Regional Council in 1992 with people like the late Keith Hay & Allan Brewster when we made the momentous decision to buy the ADL/ADK DMUs from Perth and in doing so pulled back Auckland rail from the brink of extinction – believe it or not those 1962 built DMUs are still in service today shuttling from Pukekohe to Papakura – and will be as long as that section remains unelectrified

Then from late 1996 – something completely different I worked with Harvey Stewart at Watercare in opening up for public use the Nihotupu 2 foot gauge bush tramway in the Waitakere ranges.  I would like to acknowledge our first drivers John Gurney, David Richmond and Eric Jackson whose dedication and commitment made the ‘Rainforest Express’ as I named it a popular success for 15 years until official over-reaction to health & safety concerns (that was the excuse) forced its closure to the public about three years ago. 

As Chairman of the Auckland Regional Council from 2004-2010, I had a bit to do with gaining government approval and funding to electrify the Auckland commuter rail network -which i can tell you was not easy.  It was the Auckland Regional Council that also initiated the City Rail Link project and now in various incarnations over almost 100 years in the planning, it was very satisfying to present at the sod turning ceremony on Thursday with the prime minster John Key and the mayor Len Brown signifying the start of construction.

Another aspect of rail I became involved with was heritage trams. Cities from time to time suffer catastrophic events earthquakes, wars, epidemics and so on but Auckland’s greatest setback, its most damaging blow in its 176 year history was self-inflicted.  The decision to demolish  Auckland’s 72 km electric tramway in 1956 is something we have yet to recover from.  102 million trips per year were taken on public transport in 1956 when Auckland’s population was less than 300,000 – 80 million trips were by tram.  This year with Auckland’s population over 1.5 million we have 82 million pax per year but at an enormous cost in public subsidies. 

I want to acknowledge the members of the MOTAT Western Springs Tramway here today founded by Ian and Graeme Stewart and thank them for keeping Auckland’s tramway legacy and light rail technology alive in Auckland. 

At this point I would like to pay tribute and acknowledge the passing of Ian Stewart.  It was because of an idea first proposed by tramway volunteers to the Auckland Regional council that I became the sponsor, promoter and finally guard-dog defender of the Wynyard Waterfront (Dockline) tramway.  Despite efforts by the usual suspects to destroy it – the waterfront tramway managed by the very dedicated James Duncan still lives and currently is restoring a couple of Melbourne trams which are being painted in the traditional crimson Auckland tramway livery 

Yes we are experiencing the renaissance of rail in Auckland.  Patronage has  gone from 2 million passengers trips a year in 2000 to 16 million today.  Electrification and the future City Rail Link will mean we can confidently look forward to 24 million passenger trips per year by the end of the decade.  We need to do more.  Extending rail (heavy rail) from Onehunga and Puhinui to the Auckland International Airport, electrifying the Main Trunk line from Papakura to Te Rapa, a third line for Main Trunk Line and grade separation of many of the 27 level crossings on the Auckland network – and finally advance plans to restore a Light Rail network on the Auckland isthmus.  All of this will cost many billions of dollars (especially given costs of NZ  vertically integrated monopoly construction sector).  And that will mean no doubt years of political arguments for some years to come.

But making rail succeed is not just about big capex projects.  We can make a huge difference in mitigating network constraints and achieving efficiencies  with a package of what I call micro-projects. In terms of commuter rail, projects such as:

  • Complete the Newmarket junction and building those two short track linkages to enable the crossing to function properly as originally designed to provide maximum resilience and directional flexibility 
  • Restore the Newmarket West station at Kingdon Street, foolishly removed 7 years ago.
  • Build a southern linkage between the Onehunga Branch Line and The Main Trunk Line 
  • Build a northern link between the Eastern Line and the Main Trunk at Southdown.
  • Open the Parnell Heritage Station which after years of delays was effectively completed a year ago
  • Extend diesel shuttle passenger services between Swanson and Huapai, using existing track, stations an d rolling stock.

And In terms of light rail – rather than be bogged down with intermnable arguments with the government over funding a comprehensive new isthmus light rail system why not get on  build a direct link from the Wynyard Quarter to Britomart along Quay Street and demonstrate just how effective Light Rail can be?

I wish you a very successful conference and once again I extend my sincere thanks for all your work on behalf of rail in New Zealand.

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