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Foot on gas for rail bid

Greater Wellington Regional Council chairman Daran Ponter said the regional council could not afford to buy new trains outright. PHOTO/FILE

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Greater Wellington Regional Council chairman Daran Ponter said he was not taking his foot off the gas when it came to new trains for Wairarapa.

Last week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a $12 billion New Zealand Upgrade Programme, including packages for road, rail, and health services.

Four rail projects across the country were included, with $211 million allocated for improvements in the Wellington network.

This included work on the Wairarapa line, including upgrades to Featherston station and passing routes at Waingawa.

But a regional council business case for new rolling stock to accommodate growing numbers of commuters going to Wellington from Wairarapa did not make the cut.

Late last year, Ponter sent out tins of sardines with copies of his business case to illustrate the problem facing travellers in coming years.

He splashed out for 60 cans to make the point that travellers may face a squeeze.

The rail package funds most of the track improvements but still leaves the need for the regional bodies to secure “urgent funding” within the next five years for hybrid trains.

These would run on electricity from overhead power wires within Wellington and the Hutt Valley, and switch to alternative energy sources through Wairarapa.

Ponter said the regional council cannot afford to buy the new trains outright so he is still seeking money for them from central government.

He said he was disappointed that the trains were not included in the package.

“But I’m not taking my foot off the gas. I’m here to fight for the Wellington region, that means continuing to put our best foot forward in terms of the proposition for regional trains.

“The reality is if we don’t have investment in regional trains, we will be leaving consumers on platforms within three to five years.”

Ponter said when rolling stock was taken off for maintenance, there was nothing to replace it with.

And fast population growth throughout the region added to the strain.

Road upgrades leading into Wairarapa included the $258m green light for the Melling Interchange development.

First Union delegate Neil Allport, a truck driver with plenty of experience driving through Wairarapa, said the nationwide proposals split money between road and rail.

“It’s pointless splitting them in half and only getting half the job done. If you’re going to get the job done, do it properly. They’re taking too many short cuts.”

Federated Farmers transport spokeswoman Karen Williams said local authority roading costs should be a priority.

“Most rural councils are cash-strapped with thin rating bases. Much of their key roading infrastructure is extensive, it’s ageing and it’s coming under increasing pressure from tourist traffic and forestry trucks.

“They’re struggling to cope with maintenance costs let alone capital expenditure.”


  1. Another problem is the number of logging trucks coming through Masterton from the eastern forests. With continuous new plantings and harvesting this resource will never run out and serious thought needs to be put into a roading corridor that bypasses the town to the south to terminate at the Waingawa railhead.

  2. Has the Regional Council a preferred model or supplier for the proposed hybrid (electric + battery) trains?

    Internationally, this concept is still experimental. The problem seems to be that they can travel only limited distances on battery power. This is reported, in both German and Japanese examples, to be as little as 25 kilometres!

    Is the Council being driven by an unrealistic “green” aspiration? Will Wairarapa train travellers just have to wait for the technology to catch up with our needs?

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