The Greens love railways more than any other mode of transport. So even in an age when oil prices are at a record high, when rail cannot compete for most freight efficiently, there are major problems with rail freight being competitive for most freight in New Zealand. This puts paid to notions that "we need" railways in an age of expensive oil - it seems that it STILL isn't cheaper to send most freight by rail for all sorts of reasons (e.g. double handling, speed, inefficiency of compiling trainloads of wagon or less than wagon load lots).
Sadly the Greens are woefully ill informed about the railways at all. Jeanette Fitzsimons claims there isn't the revenue to pay for upgrades and “Nowhere is this more apparent to the public than in the state of Wellington’s commuter rail services". What rubbish. For starters, the Wellington commuter rail services get around half their revenue from taxes - whether road taxes through Land Transport NZ, or rates from the Wellington Regional Council. Secondly, with comparatively new trains recently introduced on the Wairarapa line, and all of the older electric units recently refurbished (and a major upgrade of the track, signal and electrics infrastructure underway), the Wellington system is hardly in a poor state. Toll Rail's revenues are about freight, not passenger services. So she is either poorly informed or lying to get the public's sympathy.
She claims Toll "cannot afford to pay the track access fees that were always part of the deal with Government". Really? Does she have access to Toll's accounts? Could it just be gameplaying with a government that is soft on rail?
The government is already spending hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars on upgrading the rail network, but even that isn't enough. Why?
Well that is the question the Greens should answer. It isn't because trucks are underpaying to cover road maintenance costs, generally they aren't. It isn't because trucks have far higher environmental costs per tonne km than rail, because the government's own study points out that it varies considerably by route (in some cases rail is lower in some cases road is lower).
I suspect it quite simply is because - notwithstanding the low cost of RUNNING a train to carry a lot of freight, the handling of freight to load and unload a train, the time/cost of warehousing freight (effectively) in assembling/disassembling a train, the high capital cost of railway equipment, the limitations on the NZ railway network placed by many low tunnels (and almost always a slower alignment than roads), rail can't compete for most freight. It can compete for hauling bulk commodities, such as coal and milk, and to a lesser extent logs. It can compete for long hauled containers, but that's about it. Rail is a very heavy, capital intensive mode with its own corridors that, by and large, get little use compared to roads. For example, the Napier-Gisborne railway on average has one train each way every day. Imagine the road having one truck (or even the dozen or so that would replace the train). That one train would have to carry the full cost of maintaining and operating the line, whereas the road has many vehicles to spread the cost over.
Passengers are a peripheral activity, unlike the UK, in NZ long distance passenger rail is about scenic tourist trips by and large.
So the Greens might have to look beyond the altar of rail and dispassionately ask why it isn't working to do what they want. Given the very high cost of diesel, the notion that rail can "save the day" when it clearly is failing to do so, seems spurious. Similarly, as the environmental costs of road and rail freight are not that dissimilar, the alleged "green" benefits of rail freight seem equally spurious.
so when will the Greens stop worshipping rail, and start supporting evidence?