Letter to the Editor

Sir - New Zealand has six main railway lines, five of which are still incomplete.

North Island

  • Wellington – Auckland: incomplete electrification;
  • East Coast: Gisborne to Bay of Plenty never completed;
  • West Coast: New Plymouth to Te Kuiti never completed.

South Island

  • Christchurch – Picton never completed to Nelson;
  • Christchurch – Dunedin complete, but needs upgrading for higher speeds south of Palmerston;
  • Christchurch – Greymouth Midland Line – completed.

The network had - and has - no chance of success unless it is completed line by line, starting with Wellington to Auckland, upon which works are advancing after a century of neglect.

Government-owned Ontrack has been entrusted with the care and development of the infrastructure, and is doing the best it can with such funding as the government is able to make available.

Once the infrastructure is complete, the way is open for operators — whether publicly or privately owned — to provide rolling stock and service in return for which they would pay access charges to Ontrack. Maybe a modest percentage of gross revenues?

Though a small and lonely outpost, New Zealand serves also as a pilot railway system and the principles apply equally well to a huge network such as Deutsche Bahn. That is to say, a combination of a state owned infrastructure, combined with public, private or PPP operations.

Paradoxically, the buy-back of operations from Toll is the first step in reorganising the operational side in New Zealand.

There is to be a general election in October, after which the incoming government, regardless of its political persuasion, is expected to make fresh arrangements for the operational side of what could be a very successful railway.

All this presupposes that concentrated attention will first be applied to getting the neglected infrastructure put into first class order. You cannot run a first class railway on second class infrastructure.

Roger Lascelles
Christchurch, New Zealand