Tuesday, 12 December 2017

"The Great Rail Revival" article in NZ Listener (republished in Noted)

"Noted" have republished this article which first appeared in "The Listener" on 2 December this year. There is a lot of detail in this in depth study.

What I am going to focus on in particular is the run down of the rail network as identified in that article. Specifically:

Reidy doesn’t dispute that the company is burdened by decades of deferred maintenance and asset renewals. For instance, the average age of South Island locomotives is 45 years. There are wooden bridges more than 100 years old, one of which – on the line between Christchurch and Greymouth, which carries the world-famous TranzAlpine tourist train – was badly damaged in a scrub fire earlier this year, closing the line for six weeks. If that bridge had been made of steel, says Reidy, the line would have been out for only three or four days. “The fire was an incident that goes to the heart of the lack of resilience as a result of many, many years of underinvestment,” he says.  The company has estimated it needs $300-450 million of capital a year just to make up for the  investment deficit and maintain a safe and resilient standard of assets.
My posting yesterday about the Napier-Gisborne line long term maintenance deterioration was used to highlight this decades-long underfunding. It has been easy just to study one single line and research its history, in this case. I have no real knowledge of the situation applying to other lines, as the information available in this case about the Napier-Gisborne line is was wrapped into the reports done by Kiwirail when they put the case for mothballing. It is generally naive to think that line could just have been quickly reopened by fixing the washouts without being aware the whole route is highly susceptible to weather-related events and has been since it opened.

The debate over the lack of funding for maintaining the rail lines should be seen in context as well. The National Government introduced regulations allowing significantly larger trucks onto highways without guaranteeing that improvements would be funded to those highways. Hence there is widespread concern that rural highway improvements are not being properly funded. There will be a legacy of catchup funding needed for highways if the volume of freight being carried there continues to increase as it has lately.