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Proposed passenger rail link presented

A standard fleet of modern carriages, reaching speeds of up to 160 km/h, could be used for a three-hour passenger rail link between Dunedin and Christchurch, according to an academic from the University of Otago.

Otago Business School Senior Professor Dr Duncan Connors, along with Dr Sarah Carr and Professor Andrew Perchard of the University of Otago, yesterday presented a proposal titled “A New Silver Fern Wagon” to the committee restrictions on Parliament’s transport and infrastructure.

The group’s research focused on the rail corridor between Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill where 57% of the South Island’s population live.

They were considering a three hour trip from Christchurch to Dunedin and a two hour trip from Dunedin to Invercargill.

By combining the needs of Auckland, Wellington and the southern rail network into a single purchase of modern carriages – together with a significant development of existing infrastructure – regular passenger rail transport could be restored to all of New Zealand within five years, they said.

Dr Connors said places such as Western Australia, Queensland, Japan, Taiwan and South Africa offered answers to questions posed by passenger rail skeptics.

“There is no technical, socio-economic or political reason why we don’t have passenger rail in New Zealand.

“We can do it only on the basis of the argument that they are doing it elsewhere.

“People say, ‘Well, the population is too sparse.

“You still have five services to northern Finland a day from Helsinki.”

There were also regular services north of Oslo.

Hokkaido in northern Japan supported rail service over mountainous terrain with a population of around five million, Dr Connors said.

Other rail opponents argued that the rail gauge was too narrow.

Still, New Zealand’s relatively narrow distance between the two rails of a railway line was not an obstacle elsewhere, he said.

“Yes, the technology is there and other people are doing it.

“That makes you wonder, as an aside, was passenger rail dead in New Zealand because there was no demand?

“Or have we as a nation said, ‘Well, we’re not going to invest in new trains; we are not going to invest in new infrastructure “?”

Dr Connors said he and his colleagues “strongly believe” in the opportunity for New Zealand. However, he didn’t believe KiwiRail would be the organization to deliver it.

On the contrary, new public enterprises should be created and the program should be subsidized by the government.

“If you were a classic liberal, a classic free marketer, you would definitely have a heart attack at this point,” he said.

“Yet countries like Sweden, or the Netherlands, or Germany, or France, or Italy, they look at the balance sheets… They create economic activity. If the increase in taxation is greater than the subsidy, it’s business.”

Dunedin City Councilor Jim O’Malley also appeared yesterday to speak about Dunedin City Council’s support for intercity rail.

He said there was “a massive amount of investment needed” on southern lines, particularly between Dunedin and Oamaru, but he wanted to increase commuter rail benefits in Dunedin.

There were 20,000 cars on the Southern Freeway every day now, but the council thought it could get 4,000 of those commuters on rail if the Mosgiel commuter rail was established.

“People say, ‘Oh, you’re such a small town and we can’t make this work in Christchurch.’

“You have to remember that Dunedin was once a big industrial city and a railway line ran through its center.

“Our Britomart is already built: it is already at the bottom of Stuart Street. You enter Dunedin Central Station and you are less than 1 km from most office buildings in the city.

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