Backing for passenger rail

The Dunedin City Council looks set to push for reintroduction of a passenger rail service between the city, Christchurch and Invercargill.

The council could call on the Government to produce a bolder rail strategy to make improvements to the Main South Line, potentially increasing the viability of passenger services.

A passing loop between Mosgiel and Caversham might also be pushed, as well as a trial of a commuter service between Dunedin and Mosgiel.

The Southerner train service ended in 2002 after it was deemed to be unviable without a subsidy.

Slow travel times on the line are also considered to be an issue.

The city council is set to make its pitch for reconsideration of southern services to the Government as part of an inquiry into the future of inter-regional passenger rail in New Zealand.

The Southerner train leaves Dunedin Railway Station in 2001. The Dunedin City Council could push...
The Southerner train leaves Dunedin Railway Station in 2001. The Dunedin City Council could push for investment in the Main South Line, which could make passenger services to Christchurch and Invercargill viable. The Southerner service finished in 2002. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN

Councillors are due to discuss a draft submission to the Government tomorrow.

It has been signalled in the draft submission that a New Zealand rail plan and rail network investment programme is of limited ambition and focused on the North Island.

The draft submission queries whether Otago and Southland are expected to put up with the existing low level of service.

"If New Zealand wants to achieve its carbon zero goals, rail needs to play a much bigger role in our transport system, and greater ambition is needed to drive improvements to rail in the South Island," the draft says.

The Government should "provide investment to undertake further investigation into the reintroduction of passenger rail services within Dunedin and the wider region".

Investment in the line would be needed to improve journey times so rail could be more competitive with other transport modes, it is argued.

Improvements to the line to support increased freight movements "should be considered as enabling for inter-regional passenger services".

The draft submission indicated the council would acknowledge the need for a stronger evidence base for re-establishment of passenger rail between Mosgiel and Dunedin and it might request development of a business case about this.

It is envisaged the business case might include "a trial of sufficient length to demonstrate the feasibility of a Mosgiel-Dunedin commuter service".

The council looks set to highlight capacity constraints since removal of the double track between Mosgiel and Caversham.

This presents a barrier to the introduction of commuter rail.

The council is poised to submit that the Government considers investing in a rail passing loop as a priority.