A $300 million cash swap from roads to railways is at the heart of New Zealand First's transport policy for the election, including restoring the Gisborne-Napier line, and looking at extending the Wellington line to Levin and into Wairarapa.

Auckland would also be a priority, with electrification of the rail network south to Pukekohe, and supporting the construction of the City Rail Link, starting at the earliest appropriate time - but no later than 2016.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters announced the party's election transport policy in Gisborne today, the centrepiece of which was a 10-year Railways of National Importance programme.

"Funding for the Railways of National Importance Programme will be fiscally neutral and will be met by diverting money from National's Roads Of National Significance programme ? an initial allocation of $300 million will be made."


Investment in rail would ease road congestion, he said.

"This will apply especially to heavy and bulk freight services, but also where passenger services can be redeveloped to attract sufficient demand over time.

"The National Government's agenda is to let rail in New Zealand die. They are starving rail to death. Our transport policy will give rail a real and valued role in the total transport mix."

He said the Gisborne-Napier railway line should never have been closed "on the flimsy pretext of a washout".

"National was looking for an excuse to close down another bit of the rail network and jumped on the excuse that the washout provided. The Napier-Gisborne line will be back in business with New Zealand First."

He said the existing railway line north of Christchurch could be used for an express commuter service to the North Canterbury town of Rangiora, which has had significant population growth since the earthquakes.

He called National's roading policy "massively extravagant" and in need of a review.

A 2010 report found that overall every dollar spent on the Roads Of National Significance programme returned a benefit of $1.80.


He said public transport needed more support, and every major new urban roading project would be subject to a test to see if there was a better public transport option.

In aviation, New Zealand First favoured retaining the crown investment in Air New Zealand, and wanted to impose a pricing regime on airports to disable monopolies and ensure it "recovers no more than a fair rate of return".