Home > Dollars & Sense, Social Issues, The Body Politic > Haven’t we been down this track before?

Haven’t we been down this track before?



The Situation

In a further sign that National is dusting off more of it’s failed policies from the 1990s, Kiwirail recently made this startling announcement,


Full story


In fact, the planned multi-million dollar cutbacks were so startling that Kiwirail tried to gag Radio NZ and other news media from reporting on this issue.

See: KiwiRail accused of gagging media

Kiwirail’s business plan had suddrenly become so “contentious” that National even prevented the Labour Opposition from tabelling it in Parliament.

See: NZ Parliament:  KiwiRail—Tournaround Plan and Confidence in Board

Evidently, National was unhappy that this document was now in the public arena.

In short, Kiwirail’s business plan calls for $200 million to be cut from their spending,  over the next three years. This involves cutting track maintenance crew.

Kiwirail CEO, Jim Quinn, says,

In terms of our network, we have reduced our network spend over the next two or three years by $200 million. That is not to say we are going back to the bad old days where the business was not invested in.”

See: KiwiRail plan revealed: $200m must be cut

Where have we heard all this before?


New Zealand Rail Ltd (NZRL)  was privatised in 1993 by the Bolger-led National government. It was sold for  $400 million to a consortium of Wisconsin Central Railway (40%), Berkshire Partners (20%) and Fay, Richwhite & Company (40%).

The company was renamed Tranz Rail in 1995, with urban passenger trains rebranded Tranz Metro, long-distance passenger Tranz Scenic, and freight Tranz Link.

In 2004, Tranz Rail was purchased by Toll Holdings  and renamed Toll NZ.

In 2008, the Clark-led  Labour Government announced  that the rail and sea operations of Toll NZ Limited, less its trucking and distribution operations, was to be purchased for $665 million. After re-nationalisation, the  company was renamed KiwiRail. 

The Labour government and KiwiRail  planned to spend an estimated $1 billion, over five years,  upgrade the  rail system. Most of this expense was geared toward purchasing new rolling stock.

During rail’s fifteen years in private ownship, this blogger can find no evidence that any investment was made in any new rolling stock. The only capital purchase was the new interisland ferry, ‘Kaitaki‘, in 2005.

By 2008, the rail network was badly run-down, as very little had been invested in anyt form of maintenance with regard to rolling stock, tracks, stations, etc.

Breakdowns became common.

Eventually the LTSA (Land Transport Safety Authority) had to step in,



During the summer of 2002, when a mini-heatwave hit the country, rail tracks were buckling to such a degree that trains were running at a much reduced speed.

Track de-stressing staff were working hard-out to prevent a situation where de-railment became inevitable,



The rail network was close to collapse in many areas,




By 2008, the Labour-led government had decided that the Great Experiment in privatisation had failed, and was delivering the country a spectacular mess.

Enough was enough, and re-nationalisation went ahead.

In the ensuing years, millions were poured into upgrading the rail network; new rolling stock was purchased; stations were renovated (many having been badly vandalised with  no identifying signage for several years); and signalling equipment upgraded.

As Micharel Cullen said in June 2008,

We will now be able to make the investments necessary to develop a world-class 21st century rail system for New Zealanders.”

See: Trains now called KiwiRail

Which now seeminbly brings us, full circle, back to National – the same Party that privatised railways in 1993.

Full Circle

In another act of futile penny-pinching, National has demanded that KiwiRail cut it’s budget by a whopping $200 million.

This will involve cutting rail workers -many of whom are responsible for rail track  maintenance (remember 2002 and 2003, above?),

Kiwirail workers are warning the Government that they or the public may die because of poor maintenance on the main trunk line.

It comes as 181 workers face losing their jobs, but Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says their claims are “a beat-up”.

Kiwirail workers in Hamilton arrived late today for a stopwork meeting, angry 181 workers are being laid off nationwide. Many do maintenance work on the main trunk line, which they now claim is dangerous as sleepers are loose and rotting.

“We don’t want to see any one get killed, it’s as simple as that,” says Paul Spanswick. “We don’t want to see anyone die.”

The workers say there have been six derailments in six weeks.

“A train could come off and be derailed,” says Mr Spanswick.

At a level crossing at Ruffel Rd, north of Hamilton, that 3 News was taken to today sleepers are loose and the line moves.

“It’s a ticking time bomb,” says Mr Spanswick.

One of the workers who arrived for the stopwork meeting today told 3 News: “These sleepers are bouncing up and down like a trampoline. Something will give, a wheel will jump off the track. I’m concerned for our workers and for the public – someone could die”.

See:  ‘Someone could die’ – rail workers speak out

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee’s response?

I think the issue about the sleepers is being over beaten-up.”


National is so hell-bent on it’s fiscal policies that it is prepared to allow our rail system to run down again, and possibly endanger lives.

National’s low-information supporters often deride Labour governments for spending money.

This is correct: Labour governments do tend to spend money on state services and infra-structure.

That is because irresponsible, short-sighted, foolish  right wing governments inevitably constrict investment and allow services and infra-structure to be run down – often to the point of  endangering lives.

In the 1990s, the running down of railways was left to the ineptitude of private corporations.

Now it is the turn of National.  Their track record, quite simply, has gone off the rails.

Something else for Labour to fix (again!) in 2014.





News & Views: Railways

Wikipedia: New Zealand Railways Corporation

Radio NZ: Listen to more on Morning Report (24 Aug)



= fs =

  1. Steve Withers
    25 August 2012 at 9:56 pm

    The National Party sees public assets as taking money out of the pockets of private enterprise. To address that – across the board – they are shutting down (TVNZ7), running down (RNZ, Kiwirail, TVNZ) or selling off (energy assets just as peak oil hits).

    They are nothing but saboteurs. They wont see it that way, of course, but how else do you describe people who are deliberately trashing the public assets New Zealanders have entrusted them with?

    • SpaceMonkey
      25 August 2012 at 11:02 pm


  2. 25 August 2012 at 10:23 pm


    An apt description of them, Steve.

    • Murray Olsen
      25 August 2012 at 10:20 pm

      They probably all get a free ride in a Kenworth once a year. Brownlee has to go in the trailer because he can’t get up the ladder into the cab.

      On a serious note, it’s straight out corporate welfare to road transport. If they had to pay the full costs for the damage they do to the roads, people would send stuff by horse and cart.

  3. Paul C
    25 August 2012 at 10:58 pm

    Blind people blindly trusting a blind leader with a blind trust.

  4. Possum
    25 August 2012 at 11:19 pm

    then it will cost labor shit loads 2 buy bck and shit loads 2 up-grade. same ol same ol.

  5. ALH84001
    26 August 2012 at 12:13 am

    I wonder how many of those who bleat about trains breaking down are National Party voters. Morons. They vote for a party that screwed the railways and are doing it again, and then have the goddamn nerve to whinge about it? You pricks should get out and walk. Leave the trains to us workers.

  6. Ralph
    26 August 2012 at 7:34 pm

    The rails buckled in the heat a blunder which cost millions to repair. Some Tory wonk decided to follow the low rent imported idea that money could be saved on maintenance by simply welding the gaps between the sections of rail ties. Of cou
    rse there was no room for expansion and contraction from heating and cooling and the damage meant huge sections were out of action for weeks while the handiwork was undone. Thank Wisconson for that royal cock-up. Those Tories never ever learn.

    • 27 August 2012 at 12:27 pm

      @ Ralph – Indeed, that is precisely what I was told as well. Symptomatic of short-term, cost-cutting short-cuts – to be fixed much later at a greater cost!

    • SpaceMonkey
      27 August 2012 at 1:05 pm

      Yes… and Tranzrail management was warned at the time by their own track maintenance engineers that that would be the result of welding tracks together.

      • 27 August 2012 at 5:49 pm

        SM, I suspect that the full story on NZ Rail’s privatisation and re-nationalisation has yet to be told. It’s a shame that our TV investigative journalism and doco-making is so run down – this story may never be told in full…

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