It is time to accept that rail is an essential public service, necessary to build communities and facilitate industries. Rail is there to serve the public good. It will never be a cash cow, according to Alliance co-leader Kay Murray. Ms Murray says “What KiwiRail needs to be is a high quality accessible rail network that moves both people and freight safely and efficiently.”To try and make more profit KiwiRail has reduced services and outsourced work to the cheapest overseas companies. They now propose to get rid of assets such as Hillside Workshops and to reduce track maintenance. All to no avail. The new rolling stock is substandard, skilled jobs and training opportunities have been lost and local businesses and communities affected. Yet another $250 million of taxpayers’ money was earmarked for KiwiRail in the last budget and our roads are constantly needing expensive upgrades to cope with the number of very large trucks ferrying goods around the country.
KiwiRail is only trying to do what successive governments have insisted it should do as a State Owned Enterprise: run at a profit. Reputations and financially lucrative career paths are at stake for those at the top if this is not achieved. They are not about to admit that it can’t be done. But the reality is that rail cannot be run as a purely profit driven enterprise.
It is long past time for common sense to prevail. The government needs to step in and sort out the KiwiRail debacle before any more damage is done.
The Alliance believes plans to sell off passenger services should be cancelled. Maintenance schedules should be maintained and New Zealand workshops, such as Hillside, should be upgraded to enable them to build all of the rolling stock KiwiRail will require in the future. Rolling stock will then be fit for purpose and taxpayers money will be spent in New Zealand providing work and training opportunities here with spin-off benefits for other local businesses.
Innovation and long-term vision are required on the part of both the government and KiwiRail to make sure that rail is the way of the future. KiwiRail will need money. But this money, if spent wisely, should provide not only a top class rail system for passengers and businesses, but a plethora of ongoing work and training opportunities for local communities.
Sadly, all we are getting is the repetition of the very expensive failed ideas from the past. New Zealand’s rail system is being dismantled in much the same way as it was after it was sold off in the 1990s.