Back on track: not so new
Most of you will have noticed the front-page headline in yesterday's Dominion Post: $200m to ease Wellington rail misery. The more observant among you may have noticed that the improvements mentioned in the sidebar (not online) don't quite add up to $200m, but a slightly less impressive $135m. The even more observant (and presumably long-suffering) among you might also have noticed that many of the upgrades sounded very familiar. Is this really news?
As luck would have it, I was giving an oral submission on the Regional Land Transport Strategy (RLTS) that day, so I was able to ask. Terry McDavitt confirmed that most of the figure (I think he mentioned something like 90%) is not for anything that hasn't been mentioned before: all that's new is that some of the projects are taking steps towards securing central government funding. Some of these, such as electrification to Waikanae and doubling the track from Pukerua Bay to Paekakariki, are mentioned in the draft RLTS report (page 123) as “to be confirmed”, although the cost estimates have already been included in the various figures that have been bandied about.
Don't get me wrong: these are all welcome announcements, and although many of them are just catching up on past neglect (such as upgrading signalling and power supplies, replacing tracks and upgrading tunnels), some will actually increase capacity and improve service. That is indeed good news, and will indeed ease some of the irritations felt by current commuters while attracting others (back) to rail. But in the context of road spending, it's still a pittance, and nothing we didn't know about before. I don't really think that the Regional Council is deliberately trying to mislead people about this (it's more a function of the complexity of the various upgrades and funders, together with reporters not cross-referencing with earlier stories), but then again, they don't seem to have gone out of the way to make things clear.
It's interesting to note today's story about Kerry Prendergast saying what a lot of people have been saying: Transmission Gully is unaffordable. Of course, she's not saying that because she wants the money spent on public transport, but because she wants to build a Grenada Village to Hutt Valley link road and put money aside for the Ngauranga to airport corridor. There's always a chance that once the study is finally finished, it will recommend a high-quality light rail link for the latter, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Given the road-mad biases of most of the people involved, it's bound to mean more and wider roads from the Basin to the airport. Oh, and no real money for public transport for a generation.