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Regional rates to increase again – to pay for better rail service, says Council

Press Release – Greater Wellington Regional Council
Greater Wellington is considering a proposed rate increase, largely to secure the next phase of rail improvements in the region. Council will consider a Proposed Annual Plan next week and will make a final decision in June, following public consultation, Greater Wellington Regional Council Chair Fran Wilde said.

“The proposed rate increase comprises a 1.98% increase for Greater Wellington’s general activities and a 2.60% increase for a proposed regional rail package being negotiated with the Government. This proposed package would be paid for over several years and would give ratepayers full ownership of all the region’s metro trains and all the stations apart from Wellington Station.

“Final decisions on the package are expected to be made mid year,” Fran Wilde said.

Key features of the proposed package are:
– Greater Wellington would own all metro rail rolling stock. It already owns the new Matangi trains and would take over ownership of the Ganz Mavag units
– Greater Wellington would borrow to fund the refurbishment of the Ganz Mavag units
– Greater Wellington would own and be responsible for maintaining stations (other than Wellington Station), station car parks, stabling and the electric train depot
– Government would support the new arrangements financially through the New Zealand Transport Agency
– The Government would continue to own the Wellington metro rail network (rails, signals and power supply) and fund capital upgrades
– Greater Wellington would in the future have the right to test the market for an alternative operator and maintainer of metro rail trains.

Greater Wellington and KiwiRail plan to sign new performance-based maintenance, operating and track access contracts this year.

“In the past, Greater Wellington has funded much of the work undertaken on the rail system but has had minimal control over the assets,” Fran Wilde said.

“Local permanent and public ownership of the trains and most of the stations gives the people of Wellington region, through Greater Wellington, control over the long-term future of these assets, regardless of who may ultimately be the operator. It means that assets won’t be neglected and allowed to run down as happened previously.

“Even when all of the Matangi units are in use there won’t be enough of them for peak hour services. The rail package would enable the 30-year-old Ganz Mavag fleet to be refurbished. We have only had enough funding for the prototype refurbishment of one of the 43-unit fleet.

“Although $550 million has already been spent on rail improvements, significantly more work is still needed. This work will now be able to be planned with secured funding,” Fran Wilde said.

“The new package would also give us an opportunity to increase services on the Wairarapa line.

“The package also enables us in the future to consider introducing contestability into the provision of rail services in Wellington, providing greater incentive to perform and better value for money for rate payers, tax payers and, more importantly, rail passengers.

“This proposed rail package provides a rare opportunity to secure the future of our metropolitan network which is a key enabler of economic activity in the region,” Fran Wilde said.

Greater Wellington Regional Council will be consulting with community members about this rail package and other proposals included in its Proposed Annual Plan which will be released later in March and finalised in June 2011.

Press release from NZ Labour Party
Labour List MP in Ohariu Charles Chauvel is warning of the danger of price hikes, following today’s announcement that the Government is to transfer to the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) control of nearly all train stations and rolling stock in Wellington’s Rail Network.

“After years of decay following the sale of NZ Rail by a previous National Government, Labour bought back KiwiRail, and helped pay for new trains and station upgrades in Wellington. We need to make sure that today’s announcement does not result in those gains being lost in the future.”

“The travelling public will have high expectations on GWRC as the new dominant player in commuter rail in Wellington. I wish the GWRC well for its new role, and I hope that it will work hard with Wellingtonians to give them a better say in how public transport is managed, specifically as to the rail network.

“However, the danger with today’s announcement is that it will put serious pressure on GWRC to raise commuter fares. With rising prices across the board putting pressure on all consumers, commuters would need to see a major improvement in service levels, particularly as to reliability, before any fare increase could be considered justified.”