Wednesday, July 02, 2008

So if these lines closed...

According to Stuff Dr Cullen has released a list of railway lines that were "threatened with closure" if the government didn't make you pay to buy the trains that ran on them.

Let's remember the government bought the track back a few years ago, so the lines themselves wouldn't close - someone else could have operated on them. Let's also remember that even before Labour was elected, the government owned the LAND under the track, so could always have let someone else re-lay track if the railway was going to be a good idea. So in truth nothing much would have been lost. However, let's look at the list:

- the Overlander. Not a line, but a passenger train service. Now given that Toll reinstated this train without subsidy recently, either it isn't going well, or it's a bluff. Either way it's hardly that important, just nostalgia that should say the government keeps it going.

- the North Island Main Trunk line between Te Kuiti and Palmerston North: Now that sounds like a bluff. If you close that, you essentially have dismembered the key north-south container route. If the electrified main trunk line isn't worth it then there is a serious issue about the viability of long haul rail freight in NZ. I personally doubt that would have been closed, but if the figures show it isn't worth keeping open then claims about its fuel efficiency and everything else seem specious.

- Northland: Assuming that means all lines north of Helensville (where passenger service ends or is about to), I'm hardly surprised. The trains are relatively short, lightly loaded, the infrastructure is very old, and the routes circuitous and long been height/weight limited. The scope to do more in Northland is low, which is why the proposed Marsden Point branch line doesn't have Northland Port lining up to pay for it.

- Taranaki: Assuming that means all lines from Marton (and Okahutuna) through all of the Naki. Well that means milk trains from Hawera aren't viable, nor is the container traffic. Now the line from the north to Taranaki is very expensive and hardly a surprise, but from the south is. I would expect Hawera south to be marginally viable, but the rest may well be questionable.

- Napier-Gisborne: No brainer really, a couple of trains a day is not a viable rail link. It would be missed for sentimental reasons, the logs in Gisborne leave through the Port of Gisborne, and the rest are trucked the short distance to Napier.

- Hawke's Bay line: Assuming this is all south of Napier, this isn't much of a surprise. It is at least marginal, although milk south of Dannevirke would seem to be marginally profitable.

- north of Wairarapa: Again hardly a surprise, main use is as a diversion from incidents on the Wellington-Palmerston North line. Nothing much to serve here.

- Greymouth to Hokitika: Expensive to maintain old line, a bit of dairy traffic but nothing that couldn't be trucked to Greymouth. The money on the coast comes from the coal traffic, which seems secure.

- Invercargill to Bluff and Wairio: Port at Bluff is served really by Southland which means distances too short for rail and for locations where no railway exists. Wairio is about coal and is a very old line. If the coal isn't worth moving then this line has no future.

Remaining then is Auckland commuter, Auckland-Hamilton-Te Kuiti, all of the Bay of Plenty log/timber oriented lines, Wellington-Palmerston North, Wellington commuter, Picton-Christchurch-Dunedin-Invercargill and West Coast-Lyttelton for coal.

If you leave out the main trunk (which I doubt would close), then there is a lot of rail left which appears to be profitable. So why the panic? Especially since the government owned the track anyway and could allow anyone else to use it (if they were so inclined).

UPDATE: So if you read another Stuff report it also says the Picton-Christchurch line is threatened, but then only talks about "lines in Northland, Taranaki, Hawke's Bay, Wairarapa and Invercargill." Not all then. Come on, can't the same news outfit get the same story consistent? Sheesh.

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