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Lower North Island Passenger Rail business case progresses

Horizons Regional Council has endorsed in principle Greater Wellington Regional Council’s Lower North Island Passenger Rail business case which, with input from Horizons, has assessed options for the future of passenger rail along the western corridor between the Manawatu and Wellington regions.

The new business case covers six options, with the preferred option being a Dual Mode Multiple Unit (electric / diesel hybrid), and services of up to three return trips from Palmerston North to Wellington per weekday, with two return trips per weekend day, and a return trip from Levin each weekday.

The business case proposes 100 per cent of network infrastructure, 90 per cent of the rolling stock, and 50 per cent of the operations cost will be covered by NZTA and Crown capital expenditure.

Horizons chair Bruce Gordon says there has been significant investment to retain the Capital Connection over the past three years.

"In addition to the $610,000 spent to date, a further $220,000 will be rated for in Years 2 and 3 of our Council’s current Long-term Plan," says Bruce.

"However, the existing service rolling stock is nearing the end of its life.

"Added to this is the unprecedented urban growth in the southern part of our region, increasing road safety issues, increased awareness of vehicle emissions and their impact on climate change, and uncertainty over the Otaki to north of Levin expressway.

"Exploration of and a greater reliance on other transport modes is vital."

Horizons will be asked to cover a local share of the capital and operational expenditure for the 2025-26 implementation and beyond. Revenue estimates have been conservative, however the expectation is that there will be increased patronage which will help to offset costs.

"Working alongside Greater Wellington Regional Council to improve rail initiatives for the Lower North Island is mutually beneficial," says Bruce.

"Not only will the existing Capital Connection service be upgraded from one return weekday trip to multiple, new offerings will provide sustainable, modern, dual-mode trains to service burgeoning Wairarapa and Kapiti-Manawatu corridor commuter and tourist markets with faster, more frequent, and rapid turnaround choices."

The Lower North Island Passenger Rail business case will be submitted to NZTA later this month, with a decision on central government funding approvals required by June 2020.

Horizons will introduce the finalised business case to their community in their 2020-21 Annual Plan, with how it intends to fund the region’s portion included in consultation for their 2022-32 Long-term Plan.

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