The government intends to establish a new planning and funding framework under the Land Transport Management Act (LTMA), which will enable a long-term strategy for the network to be developed. Rail investment has previously been made on a year-by-year basis, but the government says this is not suitable for long-life infrastructure assets such as rail.

The plan has been produced as part of the ongoing Future of Rail Review, which found that parts of the network were facing a “state of managed decline.”

Under the proposed changes, national operator KiwiRail will be required to develop a three-year investment programme for the network, with the Rail Network Investment Programme (RNIP) to also include a 10-year forecast.

Rail funding will be channelled through the future National Land Transport Fund (NLTF), track users and the government, meaning rail will be funded on the same basis as other land transport modes. This funding will be spent on continuous programmes of maintenance, renewal and management of the network with additional improvement projects considered where an investment case is demonstrated.

Auckland and Wellington commuter services will continue to be supported by a number of funding sources, including passenger and council contributions and funding through the NLTF.

The key priorities for investment over the next decade include:

  • network renewals and maintenance programme, with investment in tracks, bridges, tunnels and signals across the national network to improve service levels
  • level crossing safety improvements
  • a locomotive and wagon replacement programme, replacing end of life locomotives and wagons with a modern, reliable and efficient fleet
  • the installation of automatic train protection (ATP) for all trains operating in metropolitan areas, along with closer alignment between the Auckland and Wellington systems
  • depot upgrades and renewals, with improved workshop layouts, safety and productivity enhancements and strengthening of a number of maintenance facilities, including Hutt Valley, Auckland and Christchurch
  • the design and procurement of two road-rail ferries to replace the ageing Interislander fleet and associated port facilities, and
  • core asset renewals, such as mechanical overhauls and parts replacement for the existing fleet of locomotives and wagons, freight handling equipment, hoists, generators, and enabling technology.

While the plan does not include a funding commitment for the projects, the government says it does signal its commitment to rail in future funding decisions.

The government will be seeking feedback on the draft plan as part of the consultation on the draft Government Position Statement for transport 2021 (GPS 2021), which will take place in the first half of 2020. The government is also continue to work on the Future of Rail Review, to support the plan.

The final plan will be published alongside the finalised GPS 2021 in the second half of 2020, with the plan updated in future to reflect changes in investment priorities.

New Zealand’s 1067mm-gauge network consists of 3700km of track, with more than 1300 bridges and almost 100 tunnels. The network links most major cities, ports and freight hubs around the country, with the networks in the North and South Islands connected by the Cook Strait ferries.