NEW ZEALAND: A NZ$196m package of improvements to the Wellington regional rail network was announced by Transport Minister Phil Twyford on October 9.

NZ Transport Agency funding of NZ$193m is being provided through the National Land Transport Fund to support infrastructure renewals and capacity enhancement under two business cases put forward by KiwiRail and the Greater Wellington Regional Council. The council has also committed a further NZ$3m for station improvements.

The largest tranche of the package will see NZ$96m spent on a ‘significant upgrade’ of the 80 km Wairarapa Line, which runs northeast from Wellington to Masterton. Twyford said this would unlock the region’s potential for economic growth in business and tourism.

Describing the condition of the route as ‘simply unacceptable’, Twyford argued that without urgent spending continuing deterioration would lead to further disruption. NZ$50m has been allocated for track and bridge renewals, while NZ$46·2m will be spent on enhancements to the suburban section south of the Rimutaka Hill tunnel. Double-tracking between Trentham and Upper Hutt will improve operational flexibility, allowing more freight to move by rail as well as accommodating growing suburban ridership.

KiwiRail Acting Chief Executive David Gordon said the NZTA package would also support infrastructure renewals on parts of the Kapiti and Johnsonville lines, including work to stabilise higher-risk cutting and embankment slopes to reduce the risk of landslips.

With peak-hour ridership on Wellington suburban services having increased by 13% in the past three years, KiwiRail and GWRC have already embarked on a four-year NZ$98·4m project to replace ageing 1·5 kV DC overhead electrification equipment on the Hutt Line, funded by the national government.

GWRC Chair Chris Laidlaw described the latest spending commitment as ‘a game-changer for public transport’, noting that the infrastructure renewals had ‘been desperately needed for some time’.