The Wellbeing Budget contained a few conservation surprises for me; I'm thrilled at the obvious collaboration that has taken place among Labour, NZ First and the Green Party.

A long-time fan of trains, thanks to Dad, I have travelled by rail as much as possible since childhood. However, many of the provincial routes taken in my youth have been decommissioned because they were deemed uneconomic.

For decades I have lamented the shrinking of our historic rail network, wondering at the wisdom of successive governments letting the infrastructure go into the doldrums.

Budget 2019 allocates $1 billion to the New Zealand rail system over two years.

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This is a very big deal.

KiwiRail will be able to redevelop the network and buy new rolling stock, including $375 million for new wagons and locomotives, $331m to invest in track and other supporting infrastructure, and $35m to begin the process of replacing the current inter-island ferries that are nearing the end of their lives.

If the funds include the electrification of the entire Main Trunk Line, this will help meet the Government's long-term emissions goals. More trains running on renewable energy makes sense.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw says NZ can't move to a zero carbon future by moving away from clean energy.

Last December, the Government agreed to fund the refurbishment of 15 electric trains by KiwiRail so they could keep running between Hamilton and Palmerston North.

I breathed a sigh of relief when the government cancelled its previous plan to de-electrify the North Island Main Trunk Line.

'Keeping electric trains on track is the right thing to do for the future of rail, particularly as we investigate options for further electrification of the network and the role of hydrogen-fuelled trains," Shaw said.

The Budget package includes $300m from the Provincial Growth Fund allocated for investment in regional rail initiatives. This includes the Napier to Wairoa line. Will Whanganui benefit, too?

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Rail services have always been a critical and valued part of NZ's transport network but "after 155 years of rail in NZ, the historic misstep of privatisation and the managed decline of the past decade, securing these assets for the future is especially gratifying", Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for State Owned Enterprises Winston Peters said.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said the Budget decision was the first step towards rebranding rail as "the backbone of a sustainable 21st-century transport network".
The Budget also provides $405.5m toward the Auckland City Rail Link.

"Rail makes a vital contribution to urban public transport. Moving more freight by rail is economically efficient, and reduces carbon emissions as well as deaths and serious injuries on our roads," Twyford said.

Rail is an environmentally sustainable form of transport. Freight shifted by rail produces 66 per cent fewer carbon emissions than freight moved by truck.

Continuing to rely on fossil fuels is crazy. We must all invest in clean electric transport to meet the challenge of climate change.

Using my bike around town has saved me a lot of fuel in the past 18 months, but I need to replace my 2009 petrol-powered Nissan Note with a vehicle more in line with my conservation values.

NZ's endangered birds and bush will get a boost thanks to funding from the new International Visitor and Conservation Levy (IVL), to be introduced on 1 July.

Most international visitors staying for under 12 months will be charged $35, which the Government forecasts will raise more than $450m over five years.

The aim of the IVL is significant long-term change to the way the tourism system works. It is an important component of the (draft) Aotearoa New Zealand Government Tourism Strategy.

The Department of Conservation's operating budget has jumped from $399 million last year to $499 million, the highest ever. Tino pai.


Margi Keys is a member of Whanganui Bicycle Users Group, Tongariro Natural History Society, Forest & Bird, U3A Whanganui and the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand.