Joe Hendren

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Auckland rail stations to prop up a debt ridden KiwiRail?

The decision the National Government to abandon the regional fuel tax, but promise to fund Auckland's rail electrification left a number of other significant transport projects unfunded. This included railway station upgrades, ferry terminals and (long fought for) integrated ticketing.

The Auckland Regional Council (ARC) based its budgets on income that was expected from the regional fuel tax, only to find the rug pulled out from under it by unilateral action from central government. Its not the ARC being irresponsible here*.

Now it appears National may have had an ulterior motive. To cover the shortfall, the ARC may be forced to cede the region's control of 41 railway stations to government owned KiwiRail, with Mike Lee calling the move a 'technical confiscation'.

If another Government was attempting to pull the same trick and the train stations happened to be privately owned National would have been crying communism and predicting the end of the capitalist world order. That said, its a pity Labour were not this hard nosed with Toll Holdings, the former owners of the railways.

I don't discount there may be strategic advantages to having KiwiRail own the stations - but the way National is going about it is very underhand, particularly as they are dealing with locally owned public assets. The ARC is likely to be the more responsible public owner at present, particularly when National is attempting to run spending cuts across the public service.

At the same time Transport Minister and former Hollow Man Steven Joyce is announcing new investment in KiwiRail as a 'stimulus package', when it is nothing of the sort. Instead Joyce is merely re announcing investments made by the previous government, and forcing KiwiRail to take on more debt as a means of gaining long overdue new locomotives. He is also cutting public transport funding to build more roads. In other words, cynical public relations spin many people would just call lies.

There may be a link between Joyce's demands to reorganise the train set in Auckland and in KiwiRail nationally. By acquiring Auckland's rail stations KiwiRail gains significant assets and land to add to its balance sheet. This would only encourage National to load yet more debt onto KiwiRail - is this the grand plan?

* One wonders Stephen Joyce, as one of the more 'cynically motivated' Nats has an ulterior motive for attempting to undermine the ARC, with the Royal Commission into Auckland Governance soon to report, and Mike Lee likely to be the main challenger to John Bank's quest to be 'Lord Mayor' of Auckland. Hmmm

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