The Government has fast-tracked plans to look at electrifying the rail line between Waikanae and Levin, north of Wellington. (File photo)
The Government is fast-tracking a bold plan to extend Wellington’s commuter network to Levin, and the growing population north of the capital.
Electrification and boosting the network beyond Waikanae will be considered as part of a $1 million business case wanted by Transport Minister Michael Wood, and welcomed by regional leaders.
KiwiRail had plans to look at the business case in three years, but Wood now wanted it started “in the coming months” and delivered next year.
The plan is part of the Government’s inaugural rail network investment programme, a wide-ranging suite of upgrades and renewals scheduled to take place across the country over the next three years.
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Wood, who announced the programme on Thursday, said the investments would include the investigation into electrifying the rail line from Waikanae to Levin.
“Wellingtonians consistently tell us that they really value their rail network, but we know that we can get more out of it,” Wood told Stuff on Wednesday, ahead of the announcement.
“We’ve got significantly growing communities in the northern part of the region, and they currently don’t have access to the commuter rail network.”
“That would potentially bring huge benefits to those communities, in terms of being able to access fast, efficient, clean public transport to get around the region,” he said.
It was too early to say when work would begin or what the commuter service would look like, but it would enable more frequent and faster services, he said.
“Once you’ve got services that are more regular and are quicker, we know that’s when we start to get significant mode shift [from cars to trains].”
Wellington’s commuter rail network, which is run by the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC), currently runs as far north as Waikanae, with a KiwiRail-run Capital Connection service operating between Wellington and Palmerston North on weekdays.
Commuters catch the Capital Connection from Levin into Wellington.
It runs from Palmerston North to the capital in the morning and returns in the evening.
The council had its own plan to team up with the Horizons Regional and Manawatū District councils to run a commuter service between Waikanae and Levin by 2025.
As part of that plan it is lobbying the Government for 15 new battery electric trains it wants to operate on the Kāpiti and Wairarapa lines by 2025.
GWRC chairman Daran Ponter said he supported the Government’s plans to electrify the line between Waikanae and Levin, but a decision would need to be made on whether that was necessary if electric trains were obtained.
“There is no point doing both.”
Wood said plans to electrify the line would be aligned with the council’s plans to secure electric trains.
Horowhenua Mayor Bernie Wanden said the announcement was great news for a region expecting its population to increase from 36,000 to more than 60,000 by 2050.
The average house price in Wellington City was $1.18 million, compared with $917,000 on the Kāpiti Coast and $619,000 in the Horowhenua District, according to the latest QV figures.
“We certainly support it, and in fact, we are pleasantly surprised that it’s back on the table,” Wanden said.
“We already know that there are many people who are driving to Waikanae to catch the commuter train from there [to Wellington].”
Wood said the upgrades would include replacing 130 kilometres of railway tracks and 200km of rail “sleepers”, replacing or improving 45 bridges, and improving safety at almost 30 level crossings.
It would also include upgrading Wellington’s outdated signalling system, so more trains could operate at the same time.
What changes would you like to see to Wellington’s commuter rail network? Let us know in the comments below.