Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency FAILS To Improve Level Crossing Safety In Pukehina / Pongakawa

SunLive reported on October 14th that Waka Kotahi NZTA announced that it would commit to supporting improvements to four level crossings in the Pukehina area on the East Coast Main Trunk Railway. These crossings include the following:

Benner Road, Pongakawa. ALCAM Level Crossing 1564 at 137.13 km, GPS 176.5067, -37.8186. Stop signs only. Daily rail traffic 12, daily road traffic 225. Road controlling authority: Western Bay of Plenty DIstrict Council.

Benner Road is located off State Highway 2 as shown in the map below (from the ALCAM website).

Identifiable hazards at Benner Road Level Crossing include:

  • There are two 90 degree turns in the road approaching the crossing from the south. These turns make it difficult for vehicles travelling from the south towards State Highway 2 to obtain and maintain a good view of trains approaching the crossing as vehicles arrive at the crossing. This is due to vehicles as they reach the crossing itself, travelling parallel to the railway tracks, making it impossible to see a train approaching from the west until they make the second left hand turn almost at the crossing.
  • Benner Road Level Crossing is 40 metres from the edge of a busy state highway SH2. Vehicles travelling from the east on SH2 and making a left turn into Benner Road will not be able to see trains approaching the level crossing from the east until they have completed the 90 degree turn at the intersection shortly before reaching the crossing.
  • The Benner Road intersection with State Highway 2 poses a high hazard risk for vehicles making a right turn from SH2 into Benner Road 40 metres from the level crossing. The workload for a driver in making and safely completing a turn across a busy traffic flow on SH2 (over 7000 vehicles per day or 300 an hour on average over 24 hours) creates a conflict between the need to safely and quickly complete a right turn and then be able to stop at the level crossing should a train be coming. The 40 metres between the highway edge and the level crossing may be insufficient to safely stop after completing the turning/crossing manouevre across the highway. Vehicles making a right turn across SH2 will not be able to see trains approaching from the west until they are almost on the crossing.

The safety improvements proposed for Benner Road include barrier arms, bells and lights, but do not appear to address the crossing being too close to the intersection. Consequently, we do not have faith in the ability of NZTA to fully recognise and address all safety factors at the intersection as being relevant to the safety of the level crossing.


SH2 Paengaroa Level Crossing. ALCAM Level Crossing 1885 at 127.41 km, GPS 176.4041 / -37.8049. Half arm barriers / flashing lights. Daily rail traffic 12, daily road traffic 7250. Road controlling authority: NZTA – Tauranga.

The above aerial is not correct as the level crossing is now approached on the west side by a long curved exit road off a roundabout that is 100 metres north of the level crossing. This has replaced the T intersection shown above.

Identifiable hazards at SH2 Paengaroa Level Crossing include:

  • High volume of traffic over the level crossing.
  • 90 degree bend close to the level crossing on its western approach.

We are not aware of any accident history at this crossing and at the present do not consider it to pose high risk to road users. NZTA state “We’re making the Paengaroa SH2 level crossing safer by installing lights and bells to warn drivers when a train is coming, better signage to give people early warning of the railway crossing, as well as improving street lighting and clearing vegetation so drivers have better visibility of the crossing.”


Ohinepanea Road, Ohinepanea. ALCAM Level Crossing 1566 at 142.43 km, GPS 176.5652 / -37.8218. Give way signs only. Daily rail traffic 12, daily road traffic 115. Road controlling authority: Western Bay of Plenty District Council.

Identifiable hazards at Ohinepanea Road Level Crossing include:

  • Possible stacking distance risk with only 20 metres available from the edge of the highway to the level crossing.
  • Ohinepanea Road Level Crossing is 20 metres from the edge of a busy state highway SH2. Vehicles travelling from the east on SH2 and making a left turn into Ohinepanea Road will not be able to see trains approaching the level crossing from the east until they have completed the 90 degree turn at the intersection shortly before reaching the crossing.
  • The Ohinepanea Road intersection with State Highway 2 poses a high hazard risk for vehicles making a right turn from SH2 into Ohinepanea Road just 20 metres from the level crossing, or for vehicles making a straight crossing from Rogers Road into Ohinepanea Road. The workload for a driver in making and safely completing a turn/crossing across a busy traffic flow on SH2 (over 7000 vehicles per day or 300 an hour on average over 24 hours) creates a conflict between the need to safely and quickly complete the turning / crossing manouevre and then be able to stop at the level crossing should a train be coming. The 20 metres between the highway edge and the level crossing is very likely insufficient safely stop after completing the turning/crossing manouevre across the highway. Vehicles making a right turn across SH2 will not be able to see trains approaching from the west until they are almost on the crossing.

The safety improvements implemented for the Ohinepanea Road Level Crossing have included:

  • improving road signs and markings to give people early warning of the crossing
  • improving the street lighting so drivers have better visibility of the crossing
  • widening the road shoulder and improving site drainage. (This work apparently addresses directly too short stacking distance concerns for queueing traffic at the intersection)
  • renewing the surface to make the tracks easier to drive across.

These measures do not appear to address issues related to the crossing being too close to the intersection for traffic which must cross over the highway before reaching the level crossing. Consequently, we do not have faith in the ability of NZTA to fully recognise and address all safety factors at the intersection as being relevant to the safety of the level crossing.


Pongakawa School Road, Pongakawa. ALCAM Level Crossing 1562 at 134.27 km, GPS 176.4751 / -37.8242. Flashing lights only. Daily rail traffic 12, daily road traffic 708. Road controlling authority: Western Bay of Plenty District Council.

Pongakawa School Road Level Crossing was the site of a fatal level crossing accident in 2019 resulting in two deaths and three injuries.

Identifiable hazards at Pongakawa School Road Level Crossing include:

  • Possible stacking distance risk with only 20 metres available from the edge of the highway to the level crossing.
  • Pongokawa School Road Level Crossing is 20 metres from the edge of a busy state highway SH2. Vehicles travelling from the east on SH2 and making a left turn into Pongokawa School Road will not be able to see trains approaching the level crossing from the east until they have completed the 90 degree turn at the intersection shortly before reaching the crossing.
  • The Pongokawa School Road intersection with State Highway 2 poses a high hazard risk for vehicles making a right turn from SH2 into Pongokawa School Road just 20 metres from the level crossing. The workload for a driver in making and safely completing a turn/crossing across a busy traffic flow on SH2 (over 7000 vehicles per day or 300 an hour on average over 24 hours) creates a conflict between the need to safely and quickly complete the turning / crossing manouevre and then be able to stop at the level crossing should a train be coming. The 20 metres between the highway edge and the level crossing is very likely insufficient safely stop after completing the turning/crossing manouevre across the highway. Vehicles making a right turn across SH2 will not be able to see trains approaching from the west until they are almost on the crossing.

The safety improvements implemented for the Pongokawa School Road Level Crossing have included:

  • improving road signs and markings to give people early warning of the crossing
  • installing barrier arms and flashing lights to give people advance warning of the railway crossing
  • widening the road shoulder and improving site drainage (to address short stacking issues)
  • renewing the surface to make the tracks easier to drive across.

These measures do not appear to address issues related to the crossing being too close to the intersection for traffic which must cross over the highway before reaching the level crossing. Consequently, we do not have faith in the ability of NZTA to fully recognise and address all safety factors at the intersection as being relevant to the safety of the level crossing.


Summary: Whilst NZTA are to be lauded for attempting to address issues relating to level crossing safety on or around their network, the improvements being implemented fail to recognise and address some major safety hazards for road users and therefore bring into question the competence of road designers to assess all safety hazards pertaining to level crossings in an objective way. One risk which appears to be completely ignored is the lack of stopping or braking distance for vehicles making a right turn from the highway onto the level crossing which we believe is possibly a factor in the Pongakawa School Road level crossing accident and also in the more recent Cleverley Line level crossing accident near Palmerston North.

Kiwirail also appears to be incapable of addressing these issues in their assessment procedure according to a document outlining a procedure we obtained by downloading from the Kiwirail web site. We intend to address these matters further with the relevant authorities.

Questions Over Recent Actions by Christchurch Eastern Ward Councillors [1]

Two of Christchurch City Council’s elected councillors in eastern wards have recently found themselves in trouble with the Council itself over unauthorised stormwater drainage work they allegedly carried out in the residential red zone. The key issues are that the councillors have overstepped their governance role and become involved in operational matters, and that the councillors did not follow the correct process for raising issues through the community boards they oversee. The view of this blog is that the councillors exhibited poor leadership in their high level roles with the council and may have encouraged other disgruntled parties to interfere with ratepayer funded assets without permission in future.

Although many people have attacked the Council over the actions taken, we are stating here in this blog that we are backing the Council 100% over the issue. Readers of this blog will know it is unusual for us to agree with CCC on anything much. However, we are not wedded to any political cause, and we can see that this is a very strong problem of endless buck passing by all manner of politicians that is never ending in Christchurch and in which council staff are left as the whipping boys whilst politicians hide behind every convenient lamp post when the heat comes on.

Key Contributing Issues Leading To Situation

  • Underfunding of earthquake damage repairs.
  • Divide between CBD, wealthy suburbs and poor suburbs.
  • Dirty political games between local and central government.

Underfunding of earthquake damage repairs

Christchurch was woefully ill prepared for the quakes and one of the biggest scandals was the degree to which local body assets in the city were underinsured. But added into that, CCC’s application of land hazard expectations in the Buildings Act occurred in a way that did not recognise that some land in the East was very liquefaction prone and that housing should not have been allowed without special foundations or area treatments. This led to speculation in the news media of the time (sorry we can’t find the link to the article now) that residential insurance companies considered suing CCC due to the large resulting financial liability they were exposed to. The net result of these issues was that central government stepped in and (a) funded the “Residential Red Zone” property buyout scheme, (b) funded the development of anchor projects in the CBD, and (c) underwrote part of the cost of the SCIRT infrastructure repair programme across the city. However, government funding has necessarily been capped at a certain level and ratepayers have been left to pick up a considerable amount of cost, this is still ongoing at the present time and it will continue to be an issue for many years into the future. Thus, people are becoming disgruntled over the slow progress in repairs to earthquake damaged infrastructure. As the Eastern part of the city was hardest hit, and as large chunks of that area have been red-zoned (cleared of housing), the continued impacts of this damage are much greater there than anywhere else in the City. This has led to growing frustration from residents in the area. We are very familiar with the Red Zone issues, having resided in the East of the city from 2003 until July 2011, and having revisited on numerous occasions since.

Divides between CBD / Suburbs and Wealthy Suburbs / Poor Suburbs

The second issue is the divide between the CBD and suburbs, and between wealthy and poorer suburbs. Christchurch almost from the beginning was developed as a series of local boroughs, each with, in effect, its own CBD or nucleus. The Christchurch City Council originally encompassed the central part of the city. Examples being Sydenham Borough Council headquartered in the suburb of that name, Riccarton Borough Council based in Riccarton Road and Waimairi District Council centred in Fendalton. The final amalgamation occurred as a result of Government reorganisation in 1989 when CCC became the sole territorial authority for all of Christchurch. As a result, the focus shifted to one central CBD within what is generally known as the “Four Avenues”. Most major retail and office developments historically were created in the CBD. However in the 1980s New Brighton Mall was allowed to become a special retail zone able to open on weekends, which was not possible in any other part of the City at that time. From that time, suburban malls were subsequently able to be developed and operated on a 7 day basis elsewhere in the city, offering free parking onsite and paying lower rentals than the old boys’ property cartel was charging in the CBD. Consequently there was a large exodus of commercial businesses and retail premises from the CBD into the suburbs and many less desirable older buildings became vacant or were adapted for residential use. A notable example of the issue is the significant number of central city high rise office blocks that were converted into hotels and apartments by the time of the 2011 earthquakes.

Since the quakes, CBD property owners have fought hard to convince both central and local government that the city should be reorganised on the basis that the central city is again dominant, and because the people championing this the most are wealthy property owners and developers, they have achieved considerable success, aided by the current Mayor of the city who has decided she can always get a few more votes out of supporting the pro CBD cause. This has however set these people against people from the suburbs who see that the CBD has been given endless financial largesse both at central and local level (note that all the government-funded anchor projects have been developed within the CBD and it has been left to ratepayers to pay for the suburban projects).

In addition to the CBD vs suburbs debate, there is also a divide between wealthy and poor suburbs within the City. Both of these divides have serious implications for the democratic character of the political process in the City. In summary, elected members tend to favour the viewpoints of wealthy suburbs and their residents with much greater predominance than for poorer areas of the City. This is largely due to the ability of wealthier residents to fund more effective politically focused campaigns specifically targeted at councillors and boards, as well as legal threats and challenges to specific council decisions. In brief, the residents of wealthier areas of the city are able to exert greater influence over the decisions and processes of elected members, primarily with the object of favouring development in their neighbourhoods that helps to make these areas more desirable to live in and in turn, driving property values continually higher. The economic system for the City Council perpetuates this by charging rates and levies to property owners rather than individual residents, thus insulating residents who are not property owners from direct economic connection with, and therefore influence over, the financial aspects of the City’s operations and processes that directly impact on rates charged and funds expended.

Dirty political games between local and central government

In New Zealand, public governance is divided between a single central government for the whole country, and two levels of local governance: territorial councils covering urban and rural areas such as cities and towns, and regional councils covering a number of territorial areas. Central government has much greater powers than local governance, but routinely delegates authority to local governance. There is much debate about the extent of this delegation and concerns about a perceived lack of will from central government to properly fund the impacts of these delegations. The biggest and most reasonable concern about the delegations of authority are that governments employ them as a political shield in order to divert the blame for unpopular decisions to the local level. There is considerable evidence of a concerted strategy in the case of certain political movements to pass central government laws that are intended to be able to be nullified by local government under the guise of “democracy”. Since as we have highlighted in the previous paragraph that local government democracy perpetuates considerable inequality in producing more favourable outcomes for wealthier suburbs, the aim of such policies is largely focused on supporting the capture of political power and influence from any and every quarter rather by the central party’s local representatives, rather than on ensuring the successful implementation of the central government party’s manifesto promises at local level. In order to illustrate this, here are some examples:

  1. In the year 2000, the Clark Labour Government passed legislation putting the administration of the public hospital system under the control of “democratically elected and governed” District Health Boards. In practice, some members of the boards are elected in local government elections, but a significant number are appointed by the central government, which also appoints the chairperson and deputy chairperson. Central government retains firm control over the board through choosing the senior leadership and through muzzling all members except for the chairperson from publicly commenting on Board processes and decisions. This has led (accurately we believe) to the perception that the primary achievement of District Health Boards has been to help Government shut down debate about the effectiveness of the public health system by deflecting blame from Government to the DHBs.
  2. During its term of office, the Clark Labour government passed new clean-air legislation, giving regional councils the power to implement clean air plans within their regions. Subsequent to this, the Canterbury Regional Council proposed a new plan for the City of Christchurch, which brought in a requirement for much lower emission solid fuel appliances within territorial limits to eliminate longstanding concerns over the level of smog produced in the city by solid fuel fireplaces. We were astounded to discover that the local Labour Party response in Canterbury from all of its city-based MPs was to lobby the Regional Council to defer the implementation of the plan on the basis that existing use rights could be used to establish precedence. There was also implicit Parliamentary party support for local Labour members calling for the responsibilities for the implementation of clean air plans to be transferred from the regional council to territorial councils; either proposition would have allowed any such plan to be sidelined or scrapped outright regardless of environmental considerations.
  3. In the lead up to the 2017 election campaign, Labour promised that $100 million would be made available for the development of commuter rail in the Greater Christchurch region. This appeared to be a clear cut response to numerous proposals and investigations into suburban rail services in Canterbury, the most recent of these being conducted three years previously and having concluded that sufficient passenger traffic would be carried to make a service viable. To enable the proposal to be implemented, it would be clear from the Auckland rail development carried out by the previous Labour government that control of public transport would need to be placed solely within the jurisdiction of a special purpose regional transport authority. Upon election, the Labour led government failed to make these changes and instead favoured alternative proposals by its own members occupying elected roles in the Christchurch City Council to favour the predominance of the City’s interests over all of Greater Christchurch. Legislation was passed several years ago to facilitate CCC’s longstanding desire to control the City’s bus system, and the $100 million offered for rail has been sidelined as the Ministry of Transport conducts additional unnecessary business case investigations into proposals that directly and deliberately sideline heavy rail from consideration because of CCC opposition to it.
  4. A growing concern around New Zealand, which has a major coastline and many significant areas of population located in close proximity to it, is the impacts of climate change upon the coastal environment, specifically in the area of sea level rise. So far a few territorial councils, Christchurch City among them, have attempted to implement programmes such as managed retreat to deal with the impacts of encroachment on coastal suburbs and infrastructure. This has led directly to a high degree of confrontation between elected representatives in Eastern wards and Council, with the former clearly demanding that CCC programmes be sidelined or downplayed due to the impact upon property values in the area. It appears to be a strong point of contention by New Brighton / Southshore residents and their supporters that difficulty in getting flood protection works constructed within Eastern coastal zones is due to the intention of CCC to press ahead with implementation of managed retreat or other coastal hazard processes and this controversy led to a confrontation with a previous Eastern Ward councillor and community board members and has contributed to the long standing tensions between the Eastern communities and the rest of the City. There is also, we believe, an accurate perception that Central government has effectively passed the buck for many years on coastal erosion, refusing to address or acknowledge it in substantive form.

Why We Support The City Council

As we stated at the beginning of this post, we fully support the stance taken by CCC staff in confronting the issue of elected members ignoring the due processes of the Council, which the general public are expected to follow, and taking what has been alleged to be “vigilante action” to resolve a local flooding problem in residential red zoned land. The reasons for our stance are as follows:

  • CCC has clear processes to be followed when dealing with public concerns over Council decisions and services. These processes are intended to ensure that matters of concern are dealt with fairly and openly.
  • CCC staff are expected to follow all of the laws of New Zealand in implementing these processes.
  • Staff who do not follow the legal requirements would leave themselves open to risk of legal or other action against either themselves or the Council and disciplinary action being taken against them by Council management. These are all reasonable norms for the actions of staff within a large public organisation like the Council
  • Council staff working on this case have cited numerous issues relating to property ownership, damage and public safety risks created by the work that was allegedly carried out. Laws passed by central government makes it incumbent upon them to ensure that these issues are properly handled in accordance with the legislative expectations, in the interests of respecting the legislative authority of Parliament and the general expectations of our legal and justice system.
  • Elected members are subject to the same laws and should not be inciting contempt for them.
  • Criticism of CCC processes in reprimanding the elected members concerned were criticised by the National Party MP for the Ilam electorate, who also happens to be the former Minister of Earthquake Recovery. However, the council does not have the option of abrogating these processes just because the land is in the residential red zone. The real problem is that it is simply and wholly inappropriate to incite a lawless approach to the utilisation of ratepayer funded assets, when proper accountability demands that these assets are managed for the benefit of all ratepayers and with clear expectations that property owners or occupiers will not usurp the Council’s ownership or authority to manage these assets in order to ensure that wider community interests, including private property ownership rights, are fairly protected.
  • Similarly a rebuke of CCC processes was issued by the local Labour Member of Parliament for the City East electorate, who also happens to be an Associate Minister for Greater Christchurch Regeneration. She stated that her office had been lobbying the Council for a considerable period of time over concerns about the poor maintenance and repair of infrastructure assets in the Eastern wards. However, as an Associate Minister of the portfolio that is most clearly related to earthquake recovery under the Labour government, she is expected to be well acquainted with the challenges facing CCC in the process of long term earthquake recovery and the implications of Government legislative requirements that are imposed upon the City Council that are material to this particular situation. It is very inappropriate for a Government minister to be advocating this type of alleged vigilante activity and criticising the Council for opposing it, when she should be well aware of the legal expectations and requirements placed upon the Council and its staff. This appears to be cynical buck passing when the Government has been quick on many occasions to shift responsibility to Council to make decisions about particular issues.
  • There is a commonly held desire by elected Council members of all shades across the political spectrum to deflect blame and attention from their own decisions and processes onto Council staff. Many local politicians claim that Council staff are out of control and that decision making and spending power has been usurped by the Council management. However, all decisions over Council programmes, funding and expenditure are confirmed each year in the Annual Plan process which is conducted with very detailed in depth consideration of every area of expenditure and the final decisions are made by elected members and consulted to the public with hearing and submission processes. There is therefore considerable ability for elected members to exert considerable influence over the direction of Council. In the case of this particular situation, it is almost inconceivable that the concerns being raised could not have been addressed either by the Community Board, a Council committee, or the full Council. Even if the decisions made were not favourable to the Eastern suburbs, it could not be denied that the correct process should have been undertaken and followed throughout the various layers of administration within the Council. It simply cannot be denied as a matter of reality that decisions may be made from time to time regarding the scheduling and financing of particular projects that not all members may agree with; but it is simply nonsensical to claim that elected members do not wield the very considerable influence that they do actually have over particular decisions and programmes undertaken by the Council.
  • If there are concerns over the particular directions and processes being followed by local government in general, then it may be necessary to have legislation passed by central government to address this. The only recent legislation we are aware of in reference to the current Labour government has been to expand the powers and responsibilities of local government to implement certain social wellbeings, thus enabling central government to shift some of its responsibility (including funding) to a local level, where ratepayers will be expected to pick up the tab. Hence, criticism of local government process by a Government minister is very hypocritical when it is the clear intent of Central government to shift responsibilities and political controversy from their implementation to a local level.

We await the outcome of the current process with considerable interest but do not expect to see the situation being condoned in any shape or form by the Council and nor should it be.

NZ First tries to claim moral high ground in airport rail debate

Recently in transport news there has been a lot of debate over the shelving of the Auckland light rail to the airport proposals. Much of that has centred around the role played by NZ First which is implacably opposed to the development, to the extent that their representatives have waged an acromonious campaign throughout the news media and the rail community for the abandonment of the light rail development that has been a flagship Labour/Greens policy this term of government.

To understand the nature of this we have to dig deeply into NZ First itself and its political objectives and imperatives. New Zealand First is Winston Peters’ personal political vehicle which evolved out of his split from the National Party in the early 1990s. Although it is called a party and involves other people, it is and has always been unlike most other parties in NZ in the fact that it is best characterised as a populist personality cult revolving around the leader himself. This is best understood when we examine that NZF has only ever had one leader in the past 25 years and they do not have the open democratic process for leadership selection that prevails in other Parliamentary parties. Because NZ First is a split off National, their policy focus essentially follows the same social-conservative theme that is prevalent throughout the National Party, but at the more moderate end of the NP spectrum, causing NZF to be characterised as more into the centre of politics in NZ. The political centre has become much more important in NZ since the advent of MMP and nowadays all parties have to acknowledge it in order to gain and remain in power. However, the major parties in NZ are made up from dominant left and right ideological blocs and generally achieve electoral success by moderating their particular platforms by moderating their core ideology to capture more of the centre. Parties that focus more on the centre must necessarily be seen as combining policies from both the left and right wings of politics and have failed to capture more than a few percent of electoral support in NZ long term.

NZ First at its core, being a split from National, has a bedrock right wing policy approach and tends to cleave more to that side of the political spectrum. When they are inclined to come further left, it is usually by cherry picking key policy areas of from Labour or the Greens. One of those focuses for the past few terms has been in the NZ rail network largely driven by an ambitious Auckland-based member who won’t be named in this post. However NZ First is essentially having a buck both ways on transport development by playing both sides of the fence, campaigning on the same pro-roads platform as National whilst at the same time championing rail development. This leads to many contradictions, which are most visible in public transport in particular. It must be plainly obvious to the majority of public transport campaigners that PT is highly necessary in major urban environments as part of a wider platform of mitigating the adverse environmental impacts caused by unrestricted growth in private vehicle use and therefore, it is necessary at some point to put limits on vehicle usage. The NZ First approach to any form of rail based transport tries to pretend that it is possible to have unrestricted car growth and a viable public transport system, in order to capture votes from both camps. The problem with this is that the two camps are usually implacably opposed to each other (the old left/right political dynamic) and a party like NZF coming into the picture is generally seen to be focused mainly on short term political objectives and not on a long term viable approach to solving the bigger problems that need to be addressed in urban development in cities.

Auckland has been through a long series of processes over many years to attempt to determine future avenues of development of the public transport networks that will be needed over the longer term. There have been some monumental projects undertaken in the last couple of decades, among them are the DART project in West Auckland that doubled and upgraded the urban part of the North Auckland Line from Newmarket to Swanson, the Britomart underground rail terminal in the Auckland CBD, and the City Rail Loop that extends Britomart to allow through train running for greater capacity. Public transport is essential to the future of the city and it will continue to be handled by multiple modes, which at the moment include the Northern Busway and heavy rail. The biggest debate in the last five years has focused around creating several light rail corridors that will extend as far north as Kumeu and terminate at the airport in Mangere. NZ First has been implacably opposed to both Kumeu and the airport being served by light rail, as both areas are also close to existing heavy rail lines which they claim should be the focus of new PT services. This ignores that all the light rail corridors that have been proposed are completely new routes that open up rail access to additional areas of the city that are not currently so served and using the existing heavy rail corridors would not extend the reach of public transport to the same extent. The stage has been set therefore for a fractious and mostly unnecessary debate about the different merits of light vs heavy rail for public transport (the differences are comparitively minor in relation to passenger carriage) and is largely driven by NZ First’s representatives attempting to tap into the small and insular rail heritage community for votes.

The airport light rail development proposals can best be summed up as not actually being focussed particularly on the small number of passengers who would be likely to use it to meet flights. This market is so small that the services would not be able to pay their way if they were focused primarily on serving it. Hence the light rail proposal is for a line that serves urban population catchments around Mangere and for people that work at the airport, rather than flyers. The same impact could be achieved by extending existing heavy rail from Onehunga and is probably a better long term objective because it can serve the actual growth in airport traffic in the longer term when that eventually develops to become more viable, while in the shorter term it enables the servicing of the additional urban population catchments between Onehunga and the airport. However, NZ First is campaigning on a rail line from the airport via Puhinui that would not serve any additional urban population due to it running through the airport noise corridor, on the basis that it is claimed that passenger trains from Hamilton to the south and the greater Waikato could become viable. The problem with assuming Hamilton would be a significant catchment is that it is only about 120 km from there to the airport, which is quite driveable for a lot of people and well served by existing road shuttles that the rail would be hard pressed to compete against, especially on fares. The possibility of getting a lot of passengers from the south is really a very long term outcome that will be driven by massive population increase in that corridor over decades and again, in the short term, is simply a nonsense proposition.

The light rail debate for Auckland has become drawn out due to scope changes by the government that have obscured the important outcomes. The Government has failed to understand the background of the original light rail proposals and allowed itself to be sidetracked into supporting a proposed PPP for a very expensive airport focused metro line. This is as nonsensical as NZ First’s Puhinui heavy rail proposal. Neither of these achieves the development objectives that the original heavy rail (via Onehunga) and light rail plans were intended to achieve. If the Government proceeds with the airport metro line it will be an expensive white elephant around the necks of taxpayers and ratepayers for decades whilst funnelling fistfuls of their money into a Canadian pension fund that will profit handsomely. Incredibly, this has continued to be at the forefront of Labour’s blatant hijack of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project in its present term, and since Labour has now dropped the original ATAP light rail plans in favour of the metro white elephant, it will remain contentious should they win the election later this year. NZ First’s pitch for a heavy rail line from Puhinui to the airport is mostly about capturing votes from both sides of the political divide from being cheaper to construct than light rail and supposedly enabling fast train services to the airport from all around the Auckland and Waikato regions. Neither of these is relevant in the short tot medium term as the economics do not actually stack up. The best outcome really for Auckland is to build the extension of the Onehunga heavy rail to the airport and develop the light rail separately without reference to South Auckland – earlier proposals were to take a light rail line from the city to Mt Roskill without heading further south as ATAP proposes. NZ First taking their high road over stymying Labour’s airport metro project is ignoring the fact that their alternative is not better than various alternatives that have been on the table in recent times. The NZ First Party has employed a range of questionable tactics in its campaigns on the issue due to attempting to straddle both sides of the political fence and their attempts to divide and conquer the public transport landscape are not material to their lack of long term political viability because the key factors concerning this are deeply rooted in the Party’s history and culture and the important differences between it and other Parliamentary parties. Ultimately, whilst we believe there are serious and valid concerns that have been raised by NZ First over the government’s flagship light rail/metro policy platform, they are not in a position to claim any moral high ground in the debate because their alternative is not any more credible.