Back on track: short shrift
Things have been a bit quiet on the J'ville line front recently, although there's a lot of confusion and speculation about the preferred options. On the one hand, Peter Dunne said in the Northern Courier last month that a busway was a "foregone conclusion" and that the councils had already set their minds upon it. On the other hand, the week before that there was an article in the Dominion Post headlined "Busway gets short shrift", quoting Michael Cullen's statements in Parliament, and in particular "ONTRACK strongly supports the retention of the line, and considers that the line should continue to be operated and further developed as a rail line. Neither ONTRACK nor the Government has received any proposal to convert the Johnsonville line into a busway. We would certainly not support that. ... If we did receive a proposal with that sort of cost, I doubt very much that we would want to give it very serious consideration at all. I see no reason why the taxpayer should fund such a conversion."
On top of that, I've heard rumours that in a draft Technical Evaluation Report released to stakeholders in early September, the recommendation was to go with the "bus only" option, which essentially abandons the J'ville corridor as any sort of public transport line! That sounds utterly crazy, and politically impossible given that it was almost universally rejected by the submitters, but the recommendation seems to be based entirely upon cost with no reference to benefits. It's hard to believe that that they're serious about this, so maybe it's a set-up for the rumoured second-favoured option: upgrading the existing rail line. Light rail was apparently favourably reviewed but deemed too expensive (another example of short-term thinking). And the busway? Rejected as both high cost and high risk.
Still, there's no official word, so it's good to know that some people are keeping the debate going. On the pro-busway side, there's still some activity over at John Rusk's Better Bus blog. On the pro-rail side, Gareth Hughes has posted a dozen reasons to say "no way" to the busway, and is promoting a "Save the Johnsonville Line" meeting next Tuesday. The most extraordinary thing about this whole saga is that it's managed to get Peter Dunne and the Greens agreeing on something! Here are the details:
Johnsonville Masonic Hall
25 Phillip St
Tuesday 17 October
Speakers:Green MP Sue KedgleyInquiries: email Gareth Hughes or call him on (04) 381 4640 or 027 422 9290.
United Future MP Peter Dunne
Ontrack Chief Executive David George
Option 3 Spokesperson Roland Sapsford