By Gia Garrick
A new "IwiRail" network for freight and tourism is the Maori Party's answer to regional stagnation and unemployment.
Co-leader Marama Fox believes the project has the capacity to add a billion dollars back into the country's balance sheet, once it's up and running.
To do that, Fox said they will be asking their potential Government coalition partner for $350 million post-election. The rest will be funded by Iwi investors.
The public-private partnership project would start with the mothballed Napier-to-Gisborne line, and expand from there, with Fox saying there is interest from Iwi in Nelson and Northland.
"Railways are an essential means of linking regional businesses to the national economy. Our philosophy is that if we build rail, investment will flow in," she said.
Maori Party President Tukoroirangi Morgan said IwiRail will indirectly generate thousands of permanent jobs in the regions.
"One job in rail transport leads to job creation in forestry, agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and other key sectors," he said.
"Through a dual investment ... our plan will grow jobs in areas that desperately need them. We will guarantee jobs for local people and address unemployment by reintroducing rail sector wage and job training subsidies - a policy that worked in the past when our people manned the rail, drove the trains and built the railways."
Fox said they've talked extensively with Iwi and have keen investors. She said the current Government was also warm to the plan, and the election may be the kick into action it needs to put the funds behind this.
The Party was looking for 12 per cent of the funding Government currently puts in to KiwiRail, which Fox called a "drop in the ocean for these guys" and also suggested KiwiRail would like to partner with IwiRail down the track.
"This is a win-win, it brings regions back to the main trunk line, then puts more freight across [existing] lines," Fox said.
"If we want to connect our people and bring them out of isolation, we are determined to make it work. It raises the standard of living for all of our people, so this is a social investment as well.
"The Party is also looking at making the line all-electric, but would have to cost it up and make a decision on that down the track.
"We want to make sure we have sustainable models, we don't want to put diesel back on track. We're looking at the future, not the past," Fox said.