Tuesday, March 03, 2009

You're buying some trains!

Yes according to the Dominion Post, NZ$115 million, partly made up of new locomotives, from the centre of excellence - China. Partly 17 "new" (secondhand ex. British) carriages to replace the ones for the long distance passenger services.

No you wont get a free ride on the trains, because although you own it, the vagaries of "public" ownership of the means of distribution means you have none of the benefits of private property ownership, and all of the costs of it. Now the carriages were already committed by Dr. Cullen, and to be fair if you split out the long distance passenger business, the TranzAlpine express is a profitable service that returns enough to pay for new trains. The TranzCoastal (Picton-Christchurch is more marginal), and the Overlander (Wellington-Auckland) we all know is probably at best breaking even on operating costs (with the drop in tourism hurting it).

This isn't helped by Green MPs virtually never using the services for travelling around the country.

Of course it also means that Kiwirail's competitors are not only subsidising the infrastructure, but now the motive power behind the trains. Think truck tractor units will be subsidised? Of course not.

What I found disturbing was that a new Treasury run infrastructure unit would "develop a 20year plan ranking projects according to their economic benefit". Given the first thing that has been approved are a bunch of locomotives, I wouldn't be trusting the evaluation of economic benefit for one moment.

If this unit approves electrification of Auckland's commuter rail network then it will be transparently clear that the appraisal methodology is nonsensical.

If this unit IS going to do good, perhaps it should also appraise based on "will the government spend this money better than the taxpayer" and "does this spending crowd out the private sector in the same sector". Then the unit will spend little time saying "no" and "yes" at least 90% of the time.

Bill, it's simple. The railway should borrow money itself to invest in capital that will generate a return on investment. OnTrack should develop an open access regime so that others can operate on the railway. The roads should be commercialised, and the power companies should raise capital privately. Give Telecom back its private property rights and amend your RMA reform to focus on private property rights. There is nothing else the government can do to assist in the development of infrastructure beyond getting the hell out of the way. Cutting company tax to 20% would be a good first step

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