KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy is enthusiastic about the new momentum Wayne Brown has injected into lifting Auckland’s tempo.
There’s been a lot of media noise since Brown took out the mayoral chains at last October’s local elections. Much of it is negative.
But Reidy — who has got down into the weeds with the mayor on some complex Auckland transport issues — has a different take on the prevailing media narrative.
“You know, I actually like the man,” says Reidy. “He’s going to get some stuff done. He’s actually a lot of sense.
“We had a really good discussion for an hour and a half on what needs to be done, and, I quite liked the argument and the debate and the discussion.
“But he’s practical. I quite like that.”
Reidy is referring to the talks the pair had after first the Auckland Anniversary Weekend floods and then Cyclone Gabrielle wreaked havoc across the city.
The Auckland rail network held up “remarkably well”, he says. “We had numerous slips in Auckland. Within a week, we had a lot of those cleared.”
Where Reidy and the mayor are in accord — and this is a sentiment shared by a number of other Auckland-based infrastructure and transport CEOs — is on the need to get more capacity out of existing assets as opposed to just “building new stuff”.
‘We’re going through a big programme to get a more fit-for-purpose rail network because effectively the rail network in Auckland was built for freight. Passenger transport is a huge uplift.
“We’re currently upgrading 58 per cent of Auckland’s network. And as I said to the mayor, ‘we’re not maintaining this, we’re actually building a fit-for-purpose rail network for CRL [City Rail Link”.
“So, when we will close down the Southern and the Eastern lines — like we are now — we’re actually ripping out the network. We’re putting drainage in, foundations in, new ballast, absolutely making it fit for purpose for passenger transport for the next 10 to 15 years.
“If you have a think about the growth in Auckland transport, we’re really designing for the future now.”
Another priority is to get a separation between passenger trains and freight trains: “We can’t have freight coming through Britomart, that’s not going to work. So how do we build networks out west?
“There is probably a demand for an inland port out west. Therefore, how do we take freight off Auckland port and move it out to an inland port?”
Reidy says Brown is very aligned with what KiwiRail is talking about.
“It’s really strengthening the network for growth.
“Separating freight and passenger as much as you can for growth. Thirdly, try to get more out of your existing infrastructure.”
Investing in inland ports will enable more freight to come into and out of Auckland, says Reidy, noting it will be a function of GDP.
One of KiwiRail’s goals is to electrify rail from Britomart to Hamilton to give people different options to live and work as part of a regional focus.
But freight is the key issue. “We currently move 160,000 containers from Auckland port, which is only a fraction of their 800,000. So we’re trying to put a plan together to take 400,000 containers.
“We are already partnering with Auckland port on exactly this.
“And the mayor’s championing it.
“So we said ‘right, we do it together’. And there are trade-offs.
“You start to get all those containers off, you don’t have the trucks coming in and rumbling down Parnell. What it means is less congestion on the motorways.”
Before becoming mayor of Auckland, Brown chaired a working group that recommended moving much of the Ports of Auckland’s operations to a deep-water commercial port situated at Marsden Point near Whangarei. Improved rail investment would then bring cargo back down to the city.
Reidy says the Government has already looked at the Marsden option. “We’re doing the work on it. You’d need to invest in the infrastructure.
“It’s all about the port for me.
“All roads lead to Marsden.”