Blood on the Tracks
First up, a rare thing; mild praise for the National Government. In ignoring Treasury’s advice to do fully to KiwiRail what the troika is doing to Greece, Bill English has thrown our rail network a two year lifeline. This is a very good thing. Well, a step in the right direction, at least.
Without a rail network, all our goods would be moved via roads. And our roading system is already struggling to cope with the damage done by trucks as it is. Much like the dairy industry, the road transport lobbyists are determined that they should not have to compensate the taxpayer for the damage they cause. Both industries rely heavily on disguised subsidies from you and I to repair and maintain the infrastructure and environment that they so gleefully corrupt. Both claim to be vital to the NZ economy, but both are parasitic in nature.
Without rail, NZ would be entirely dependant on a form of transport that is nearing its nadir. The coming generation is likely to be the last that thinks energy inefficient and polluting trucks are the answer. They’re actually part of the problem.
Labour transport spokesman Phil Twyford is correct when he says KiwiRail is effectively two seperate businesses, freight and lines, and that the pair should be treated differently.
The freight business absolutely should be expected to run profitably, but, as Twyford says,
“the lines are as much part of our national infrastructure as the roads or the water supply. You shouldn’t throw economic rationality out the window but this is infrastructure for the nation”.
We’ve invested nearly a billion dollars into KiwiRail since it was effectively nationalised by a forward thinking Labour government. It’s not profitable overall and, yes, it’s costing us millions each year. But that’s an investment that pays the kind of dividends that Treasury hates to acknowledge.
Twyford sums it up perfectly.
“This proposal by Treasury for the Government to consider actually shutting down the rail network is just nuts and it shows that Treasury doesn’t really understand transport economics and they certainly don’t get rail.”
Treasury is still locked in a 1984 Freedmanite free market mind set. They are only focussed on the bottom line, not the benefits investments like Kiwirail bring. And it’s not just Kiwirail they want to kill off, these weirdos also reckon the actual Kiwi bird is, ahem, “not aligned with overall Government priorities”.
Libertarians? Doncha hate ’em?
Here’s a thought. We could save ten million bucks a year by closing Treasury and hiring a couple of daleks. The effect would be pretty much the same. Crush, Kill, Destroyyyyyyyy!
National have given Kiwirail a two year grace period. Like the troika’s threat to Greece, this period is supposed to be spent finding internal economies (ie slash and burn). Expect job cuts, service reductions and a return to the regime of minimal maintenance and infrastructure upgrades. The same recipe that got our railways into the mire in the first place.
I’m kinda angry about this stuff. I grew up a couple of blocks from a railway workshop and some busy marshalling yards. When I crossed the railway bridge to go to school, hundreds of railway workers would be walking toward me as they went to good, constructive jobs. Now my old suburb and the one on the other side of the river are bywords for unemployment, drugs, gangs and apathy. The apathy mainly being from our ‘local’ Tory MP, who actually lives two hundred kms away from the city he represents, in another province altogether. He’s completely disengaged from the history of rail in that city, just as Treasury are disengaged from the future of rail in New Zealand.
We can’t just wait for the next Labour led government to give our rail network a viable future. This current administration need to be looking a lot further out than two years. They need to see the big picture and instead of letting rail limp along, they need to be looking at new lines, extensions to the old ones, re-opening of the Napier/Gisborne line, and electrification, electrification and electrification.
We have the bones of a truly great transport infrastructure already. We need to invest heavily to build and rebuild rail. We need to own our future or else we are truly trucked.
Last words to Phil Twyford:
“This proposal by Treasury for the Government to consider actually shutting down the rail network is just nuts and it shows that Treasury doesn’t really understand transport economics and they certainly don’t get rail.
To shut down, even to contemplate shutting down this valuable part of our nation’s infrastructure, is barmy.”