INVESTMENT worth between NZ$450m and NZ$600m to upgrade Auckland’s suburban rail infrastructure was announced on December 20 by Finance Minister Dr Michael Cullen and Transport Minister David Parker.

At present Land Transport New Zealand and Auckland Regional Transport Authority share the cost of the suburban network 60:40. Under the latest agreement, operating costs will continue to be split, but Cullen said the government would fund ’all the costs of developing "below track" infrastructure - the tracks, signals and platforms. ARTA will pay the full costs of "above track" development - rolling stock, stations and train stabling facilities.

’This government sees rail as an important key to reducing traffic congestion, particularly in south and west Auckland’, he continued. Parker said the package would cover double-tracking and resignalling of 26 km of the Western Line from Newcastle to Swanson and reconfiguring of the triangular junction and station at Newmarket. A 2 km branch will be built from Wiri on the Southern Line to serve Manukau.

Due to be completed by the end of 2008, the deal does not cover electrification or the 3·5 km cross-city tunnel, as proposed by Auckland Regional Council. ’We do not see these as priorities for the short term, but have advised ARC and ARTA that we would expect them to submit funding proposals to us later’, the ministers said.

With suburban traffic growing by 30% a year, ARC believes that refurbishing the current fleet of DMUs and loco-hauled trains will only provide capacity for a further year. ARTA expects to start ordering new stock in 2007, and would like to buy EMUs (RG 11.05 p669). The ministers announced that an Auckland Passenger Rail Reference Group will be created to co-ordinate infrastructure and rolling stock investment, including senior representatives from Ontrack and ARTA.