Waikato Regional Council recently discussed changes to the Regional Land Transport Plan, including our local government commitment to the Government's planned rail service to Papakura.
The service has a capacity of 150 people who can get on at Frankton, Rotokauri or Huntly and will get off at Papakura to change trains and join the Auckland Transport network for the remaining 31km to Britomart. The full journey should take two and half hours.
The diesel train service will cost $81.7 million with $10.98 million coming from Waikato ratepayers. Waikato Regional Council, Hamilton City Council and Waikato District Council will all contribute to this cost. The Government will fund its $70.8 million share through the National Land Transport Fund between 2018 and 2024.
These numbers reveal a cost of $73,000 per passenger in local government funding and $472,000 per passenger in central government funding. The total cost of $545,000 per passenger raises serious questions about the value for money this project produces.
Between June 2016 and 2017, NZTA recorded an average of 20,532 vehicles travelling northbound and 22,985 vehicles southbound at Bombay every day. Even running at maximum capacity, the train carrying 150 passengers can hardly be expected to reduce motorway congestion.
Purchasing and refurbishing the diesel engines and carriages will cost $19.8 million. It is bizarre to see a Government claiming to address climate change one day and buying diesel trains the next.
If they are going to invest in rail, then why not complete electrification of the network from Pukekohe to Tuakau for approximately $130 million which is much more environmentally friendly. This could then come with a park and ride for Waikato commuters to Auckland.
With the Waikato Expressway nearing completion, electrification could maximise its usefulness. Building park-and-ride facilities at Tuakau could attract many more rail passengers who can take the train instead of using the Southern Motorway.
We are yet to see any measured benefits from the associated costs this train is creating. For example, NZTA has stated the benefit cost ratio (BCR) for the completed Waikato Expressway project will be 2.4 with economic benefits of $5 billion resulting from an investment of around $2 billion. We need to know what we are getting for $81.7 million and if it will be a white elephant.
In 2009, Environment Waikato estimated a BCR of 1.9 for spending $1.8 million annually subsidising a commuter rail service, which calls into question the value of this $81 million option.
The smart solution is to extend the electrification into the North Waikato at Tuakau and make best use of both the Auckland rail network and the Waikato Expressway.
This complements the Auckland Plan 2050, which already includes electrification to Pukekohe.
Overall, this project costs $545,000 per passenger for 150 people to travel from Hamilton to Papakura on a diesel train when at the same time the Government has cancelled the $450 million extension from Cambridge to Piarere. If local and central government want us to believe that this is money well spent, they should provide us with a long-term plan and numbers that justify the expense.