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How to fix our rail service

By Jake Beleski

[email protected]

With $98m set to be spent on upgrading some of Wellington’s railway services, it can be asked why none of it is going towards the Wairarapa line.

Instead the money will go towards the Hutt Valley, Johnsonville and Melling lines, and some of the region’s election hopefuls are having a hard time working out why Wairarapa was ignored.

The word ‘priority’ is one that comes up several times in their answers, and it’s clear that for Wairarapa’s electorate candidates, they see our region as far down the priority list of the current government.

Wairarapa’s Green Party candidate, John Hart, said the Wairarapa train capacity and reliability issues were frustrating, but better investment could help see that turned around.

“There are some immediate steps I’d like to see, such as better scheduling with the Hutt lines, and improvements like double tracking at Trentham.”

Mr Hart said government needed to come to the party, and said it was important to get their priorities right.

“For example, the New Zealand Transport Agency spent $50m on the ‘smart motorway’ between Johnsonville and the Wellington CBD, which has made no difference to travel times.

“This money could have been better spent improving train services like the Wairarapa line.”

The Green Party was committed to improving rail services in Wairarapa, and a faster and more reliable service would boost the region, take pressure off roads, and be better for the environment, he said.

Wairarapa’s Labour candidate, Kieran McAnulty, said when it came to central government funding it was simply a case of priority.

“They indicated $98m in the last budget but none of that went to Wairarapa, which doesn’t send a very good message to our region about our priority on the Wellington network.

“It’s a shame, but hopefully it’s reversed with a change of government.”

Mr McAnulty pointed to the electrified service provided on the other side of the Tararuas, where the regular service was of a much higher standard.

The resources available were unable to keep up with growth in Wairarapa, he said.

“I know for a fact the usage has already exceeded projections for 2019.

“They’re underestimating the demand for the service, but don’t have the resources to catch up.”

Mr McAnulty said it was a complex situation with various different streams of funding going towards the Wairarapa passenger service, but could be easily fixed by extra funding from central government.

He said the best long-term solution would be full electrification to Masterton, with express services between Wairarapa and Wellington, but that would take “considerable capital investment”.

Mr McAnulty used to be a regular user of the service, and said he often had to stand between Petone and Featherston.

“It was quite regular even back then to have to stand, and usage has increased significantly in that time.

“At the moment it’s simply not fit for purpose.”

New Zealand First deputy leader Ron Mark said “double lining is essential”, and there is a need for “more frequent services during weekends”.

“Wairarapa is missing out because of the lack of commuter services bringing visitors to the region.

“Coupled with the failure to get the airport up and running – it’s a big loss.”

There was a need for serious conversations because things were simply not working, he said.

“There’s a total mismatch in the way government, Greater Wellington Regional Council and KiwiRail are treating it.

“Growth in Wairarapa has exploded in the last three to four years, and they can’t keep up with demand.”

Some “out of the box thinking” would be needed to rectify the situation, he said.

Wairarapa MP Alastair Scott (National) said Wairarapa would see some benefits from the upgrading of other lines.

“We missed out on the $98m being spent on the other lines, but the fact that it is being invested in Hutt Valley will make it run more efficiently.

“There is also a project team looking at ways to make it run more efficiently.”

Mr Scott praised the work of Transdev – the international transport operator contracted to run and maintain the service – for their “innovation”.

But greater communication when things weren’t running smoothly was one area that could be improved, he said.

“I think one of the big things is we can improve the communication when there are delays.

“There are currently texts sent out, but an expected timetable could be sent out when there are delays or disruptions – then people would understand what’s going on.”






  1. Mr Scott. What did you do for your constituents? As a commuter I want to know why my train is late. I already know my train is late and by how much because I’m on it! I want to know why it’s late.
    Unfortunately, many of us will resort to car pooling if thinks don’t improve or get worst, thus making it even less profitable. It’s time this government pulled its finger out and supported the regions. Roll on the election.

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