When I was leading the Public Transport Planning function at the Victorian Department of Transport in Melbourne Australia, the annual state budget announcement was always a big deal. Our teams always waited with great anticipation to see what bids we had been working on over the last 12 months or so, had received funding, those deferred but referred to, or worse those kicked to touch altogether.
So, it was no great surprise to have this feeling again in New Zealand in 2023 despite the fact I am not directly involved in the NZ budget bids now. As a keen observer, advisor and lobbyist however working with partners on funding, I had the same sense of anticipation knowing exactly what to look for.
The news was generally good. The biggest item was funding confirmation for 18 four car tri-mode train sets for the Lower North Island Wairarapa and Manawatu inter-regional passenger rail corridors. Additionally, KiwiRail received $569.2 million new Budget investment which included:
- $359.2 million for the fifth year (FY 2025/26) of the Rail Network Investment Programme (RNIP);
- Up to $200 million to ensure KiwiRail can get on with rebuilding and adding resilience to North Island rail lines damaged in extreme weather events;
- $10 million to take rail electrification in the North Island to a detailed business case stage, with initial design and engineering to scope the work, enabling funding on major decisions to be considered within this decade.
Of particular note for the Making Rail Work team was the $10 million funding to look in detail on how to electrify more North Island rail lines and in particular the Golden Triangle (Tauranga – Hamilton – Auckland), which carries around half of all rail freight in New Zealand. It will also examine how to best complete electrification between Palmerston North and Wellington – completing in essence the FULL electrification of the NIMT from Auckland to Wellington and Tauranga
Electrification is costly and doing the planning and design work now, rather than years away, will allow an understanding of options and costs so that informed investment decisions can be made. Electrification is a key strategic opportunity for decarbonising transport lifting the already strong emissions credentials of rail freight and broadening options for electric passenger rail services as well to Make Rail Work for passenger rail on the Golden Triangle. A detailed business case is only a first step, but a critical step never the less.