The Capital Connection shuttle train between Palmerston North and Wellington is one of the few inter-regional rail services in New Zealand.
The future of the Capital Connection rail service between Wellington and Manawatū is once again in the spotlight, this time as part of a larger look at rail services in New Zealand.
Parliament’s Transport and Infrastructure Committee announced on Thursday that it will investigate the future of inter-regional passenger rail.
The study, supported by parties on both sides of Parliament, will look at unestablished routes, integrating new rail routes into existing public transport networks and extensions of specific lines.
The Capital Connection service, who has been in a precarious position for some timewas specifically placed as an example of possible track expansion.
A business case considering funding in the 2021 budget showed the government should: raising approximately $360 million to future-proof the Capital Connection and the Wairarapa-Wellington line.
Horizons Regional Council recently published regional public transport plan has a huge focus on rail, with plans to link the Capital Connection to other parts of the region.
There were also proposals to extend the track to other areas.
Sam Ferguson, chairman of Horizons’ public transportation committee, said the investigation was a positive step.
The Te Huia train service between Hamilton and Auckland showed the challenges of establishing inter-regional railways, with access to Auckland’s rail network being just one of many issues to be solved beforehand, he said.
The Te Huia train was relaunched, making its first journey to Auckland since October 2021, after a Covid-19-induced hiatus (video from January 2022)
Thinking of rail running through and between regions, rather than just within one region, opened up many possibilities.
A service starting in Taranaki could go to Hawke’s Bay via Manawatū, connecting with public transport in smaller centers along the way, he said.
“It has the potential to be a transportation corridor or a transportation backbone.”
Local voices were still important in public transport planning, but closer interaction with central government could help drive better outcomes, he said.
Green Party transport spokesperson and co-chair of the Transport and Infrastructure Committee, Julie Anne Genter, said there was strong evidence of rail investment.
It was relatively inexpensive, better for the environment than private cars, and easier to accommodate increased usage than to combat traffic congestion, she said.
However, it was difficult to get money to pay for new and improved rail services.
“I am hopeful that this study will show all parties what a fantastic opportunity there is for rail.”
It was important to let the research look at unestablished routes, as Aotearoa had much better train services in the past when the population was smaller, she said.
“A lot of people don’t know that history.
“There’s a kind of myth that rail is expensive and unaffordable, but that’s not true. We just didn’t invest in it.”
People have until October 6 to submit a submission about the study.