Wayne Thompson

Wayne Thompson is a NZ Herald reporter.

Auckland councils fear cost of 'runaway rail'

By ALAN PERROTT and WAYNE THOMPSON

Money worries could push the Franklin and Papakura District Councils to pull the plug on their involvement in the planned regional transport network.

Both are concerned that they are being dragged along by the bigger northern councils without any indication of what their continued support will cost.

Franklin Deputy Mayor Brian Hosking is alarmed no investigation has been made into the cost of constructing and maintaining a light-rail network as far as Pukekohe.

While Franklin had agreed to support in principle the memorandum of understanding, which outlined the network, he said they might still opt out in July.

Mr Hosking is worried that when it comes time to build the southern line, the available money from Infrastructure Auckland and the Government will be swallowed up by the inner-city tracks.

Cash would then need to be found within the district, meaning much higher rates.

It would be difficult to persuade Franklin's rural ratepayers to help pay for a rail service that ended at Pukekohe, said Mr Hosking.

They already faced extra costs after the proposed $65 million purchase of access to Tranz Rail's tracks for work as basic as maintaining trackside land.

Papakura councillor Glenn Archibald, who is on the southern sector working party, was also cautious and suggested the region could continue to rely on heavy rail.

He said Tranz Rail's daily Hamilton-Auckland service, which began on Monday, was a better bet.

"My feeling right now is that I can't justify spending $65 million when it's only the starting figure, just like wetting your toe."

The Papakura District Council will meet at 2 pm today to decide whether to support the memorandum. All of the region's authorities have to decide if they support it on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Waitakere City Council has allowed for two amounts of $4.2 million as contributions to the Western rail corridor in 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 in its long-term financial strategy considered on Monday.

It is intended that the money in the budget would be spent on city stations, park-and-ride facilities and civil works, including bridges, says the council's senior policy adviser, Jeff Murray.

Auckland and Waitakere City Councils will jointly take ownership of the Western rail corridor lease from the Crown for the section of line from Newmarket to Swanson.

The councils will simply allow access to the rail corridor to an operator of whatever transport service is contracted by the Auckland Regional Council.

Mr Murray said councillors would be told what obligations and liabilities would arise before final agreement had been signed for the lease in September.

He suggested the councils could charge access and maintenance fees to transport operators and in turn contract out train control and maintenance operations.

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