Council to give up its rail stations

By Mathew Dearnaley

Auckland regional councillors are preparing to surrender - under protest - the region's control of most of its railway stations to the Government to avoid a 19 per cent rates blowout.

Regional chairman Mike Lee accused the Government at a budget meeting yesterday of engineering a "technical confiscation" of the region's 41-station network, apart from Britomart, which is owned by Auckland City.

Although the Government has said only that it will take over responsibility for Auckland's proposed electric trains, its sudden cancellation of a regional fuel tax has left Mr Lee's council with no extra revenue to pay for $202 million of other transport projects including new railway stations, ferry terminals and integrated ticketing.

Council chief executive Peter Winder warned the meeting that raising loans to cover the shortfall would require a 15 per cent rates rise on top of a proposed 3.9 per cent increase for next year.

That led the council to approve a draft budget for presentation late yesterday to the Auditor-General, based on a radical set of assumptions including the transfer to Government-owned KiwiRail on July 1 of all rail-related assets held by the Auckland Regional Transport Authority.

But the authority would retain responsibility for "multi-modal" public transport infrastructure, including ferry terminals and the $80 million integrated ticketing project, for which the region is seeking a 60 per cent Government subsidy.

In return, the Government would be left to cover $48 million of contractual payments due in July for extra trains being rebuilt in Dunedin to cope with Auckland's booming rail patronage and for Newmarket's half-constructed station.

Less clear is the fate of $28 million of station proposals for New Lynn and Manukau, for which the transport authority has signed memorandums of understanding but no contracts with Government agency Ontrack.

Manukau City has allocated $20 million to the new railway station, and Waitakere City has earmarked $68 million for its proposed transformation of New Lynn as a transport hub.

Mr Lee told the Weekend Herald that the regional council remained "absolutely sympathetic" to both city councils and would work as hard as possible to try to secure extra money to build the two railway stations.

- NZ Herald

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