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Rail funding call should not forget road needs, says wary AA

Dec 6th, 2017 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Lead Story, News

Rail is providing $1.5 billion of hidden benefits to New Zealand, according to a new report. Photo supplied: Metlink.

Motorists don’t want rail investment “crowding out” roading projects, the Automobile Association says.

Reacting to a report calling for more rail investment, AA spokesperson Barney Irvine warned against rail at the expense of road funding.

“They don’t want increased rail investment to be crowding out projects that support car use.”

A KiwiRail/NZTA study found rail is providing $1.5 billion of hidden benefits annually, which KiwiRail Chairman Trevor Janes says outstrips current rail funding.

Mr Janes says rail is cutting congestion and road spending, and improving the environment and road safety.

“These benefits do not show up on the balance sheet, but they are very real, and they make a huge contribution to New Zealand.”

Rail use would also mean 271 fewer road accidents, and save $60 million, the report says.

Mr Irvine says a 50 percent rise in freight volumes over the next 30 years means more rail investment would not significantly impact congestion.

“That’s a massive increase in freight, so, sure, if we can shift a bit of that over to rail, that’s great, that’s going to mean less demand on the roads, and therefore less congestion, but it’s only less congestion than there would otherwise be.”

Mr Irvine said it would be the same with urban passenger rail, which currently represents about two percent of commutes.

“So even if you increased rail patronage in the city by 50%, which would be enormous, we’re only talking about adding another 1%, we’re only talking about rail turning into 3% of trips to work.”

“There’s still going to be massive demand on our roads, and congestion is going to remain a real challenge.”

The new government had reinvigorated discussion of road safety, public transport, walking and cycling, he says.

“I think it’s clear that we’re going to see more in the way of urban rail projects, in particular, and light rail in Auckland is the main example of that.

“But really, we still don’t have a sense of what that will mean for projects that relate to other modes of transport, like roading.”

Professional services firm EY conducted the report, looking at the wider economic benefits of rail.

It found that without rail there would be the equivalent of an additional 100,000 daily car trips on our roads each year.

“Rail also means heavy vehicles such as trucks are on the roads for 11 million fewer hours each year – the equivalent of 30,000 trucks driving for an hour every day,” Mr Janes said.

Mr Janes says the study reflected similar work from Scotland, Australia and the United Kingdom.

“This study is an important contribution to the transport debate and underlines the value of rail to New Zealand.”

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