Auckland will gain full ownership in three years of 50 per cent more electric trains than originally proposed.
Confirmation yesterday of a $590 million funding deal between the Government and Auckland Council will mean the provision of 57 three-car electric multiple unit trains by the end of 2014, and a depot at which to park and maintain them.
That compares with an earlier proposal for 38 trains to run on the western and eastern lines only, which would have left the spinal southern line with its Onehunga and Manukau branches having to make do with 12 electric locomotives hauling existing carriages.
Although Auckland will have to take responsibility for repaying a $500 million Government loan, as well as supervising maintenance of the new fleet, Transport Agency subsidies will remove half the sting for ratepayers.
They will be left paying about $17 million a year towards the loan itself, as well as up to $30 million in annual access charges to the rail network, which the Government is electrifying for a further $500 million.
The funding and ownership deal was signed at the Henderson railway station yesterday by Transport Minister Steven Joyce and Auckland Mayor Len Brown, after they arrived there together by train.
It is to be sweetened further by a separate Government grant of $90 million to ensure enough trains can be bought under a supply and maintenance contract expected to be signed by the end of this month.
The board of council subsidiary Auckland Transport has yet to make a recommendation between two short-listed suppliers, a consortium led by Spanish company CAF and the South Korean firm of Hyundai Rotem.
KiwiRail, which is buying the trains, has also written a 12-year maintenance period into its requirements.
Mr Brown disclosed that the city may end up having to pay an extra $20 million to $30 million for the trains, on top of the Government's grant, a difference which may point to a fine balance between the competing bids.
But he said Auckland had initially expected to pay for the trains by itself, through a regional fuel tax since blocked by the Government. "Under this deal, Auckland Council and NZTA [the Transport Agency] will split the loan repayments."
Mr Joyce said favourable international trading conditions were enabling the purchase of the extra trains with "probably less of a stretch than we previously thought".
A "single homogenous fleet right through the city" would cost less to operate than a mixed bag of trains.
"That was one of the things we were all troubled with in terms of the operating deficits apparent.
"And it really does set a much better customer experience," he said.
The multiple unit electric trains will be considerably faster than those hauled by locomotives, which take longer braking into stations and accelerating out of them.
* $500 million: Government loan to KiwiRail that Auckland Council is to take responsibility for
* $17 million: average annual cost to Auckland ratepayers
* 57: three-car electric multiple unit (EMU) trains, a depot and 12 years of maintenance is what the deal will buy