Councillor wants rail speeded up

Jim O'Malley
Jim O'Malley
The city councillor pushing for the return of a commuter rail service to Dunedin hopes to fast-track the idea.

Cr Jim O'Malley said yesterday he hoped to hold talks with Transport Minister Phil Twyford and KiwiRail representatives early in the new year to try to progress a trial.

Cr O'Malley raised the idea at this week's Dunedin City Council meeting, saying the influx of 35,000 commuters from the south each day was enough to make a commuter rail service work.

He wanted a six-month trial service between Mosgiel and the Dunedin Railway Station, to gauge public support for the idea.

Mr Twyford responded by suggesting the council develop a business case and submit it for inclusion in the next regional land transport plan.

But, speaking yesterday, Cr O'Malley said that would take too long.

The RLTPs were developed in three-year cycles, and the last one was developed just last year, he said.

Waiting for the next round would mean a delay of more than two years before any trial could even be considered, then a further three years before trial data could be used to justify a permanent service.

''Does the minister realise that he is basically saying that Dunedin will have to wait almost six years before we could even think about commuter rail?

''That seems a bit slow.''

Auckland and Wellington already had access to funding for the development of new rail services, and funding had been suggested for new services in Christchurch and between Hamilton and Auckland.

Cr O'Malley said he had ''no issue'' with funding for Auckland and Wellington, which ''needs to be done''.

''But I feel that Dunedin is not given a same level of respect.

''This lack of government attention and expenditure is contributing to slower growth here than would otherwise be able to be achieved.''

Mr Twyford declined to comment yesterday, but KiwiRail sales and commercial group general manager Alan Piper said regional services were a ''core part of KiwiRail's role in creating stronger connections for communities''.

''It is possible that other services could be added, and KiwiRail is always open to new opportunities providing they are sustainable.

''This will need consultation, demand and funding to be available.''

Christopher Le Breton, a spokesman for the ''Get the Train'' local rail users' group, praised Cr O'Malley's initiative but hoped it would go further.

If the trial service from Mosgiel was deemed feasible, it should be extended to include Port Chalmers and Waitati, he believed.

''Across the world, train travel is experiencing a renaissance, as a more civilised, faster and comfortable alternative to the car.

''The opportunity for Dunedin is all the more critical as we position our city as one of the world's iconic, small cities with a fantastically high, clean quality of life.''


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