State-owned enterprise KiwiRail has proposed the replacement of its electric locomotives with more diesel-powered engines as a measure to balance the books, even though such a decision would involve rail operations generating much more carbon emissions.
The North Island Main Trunk railway line is currently electrified between Te Rapa in Hamilton and Palmerston North. That allows electric trains to operate on the long, mountainous section of track. They are able to perform notably more efficiently and sustainably than diesel-hauled trains.
However, KiwiRail's cost-cutting suggestion entails the replacement of the electric locomotives with a dozen additional diesel engines sourced from China. The current electric fleet is in need of refurbishment, and the company is skeptical that tending to this would be financially viable.
The electrification of the Main Trunk was actually initiated by Robert Muldoon's National government, and completed in 1987. It was one of the government's Think Big projects at the time, where big infrastructure operations were used as a means of rejuvenating the economy. Despite this, less than 30 years later, KiwiRail is considering effectively reversing the project, lured by the idea of short-term financial gain.
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The Green Party is critical of this suggestion, and is asking the current National government to prevent KiwiRail's proposal from being enacted, in the name of both eco-efficiency and jobs.
"The Government must ensure the massive investment in rail electrification is protected and not sacrificed for a short-sighted cost-saving operation. Electrified rail is future-proofed infrastructure that needs a long-term investment horizon to manage," says Green Party transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter.
"The Government needs to rule out new diesel on our Main Truck Line and properly fund KiwiRail given the strategic role it will play in our transport network as our economy moves towards a smart, low-carbon future."