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GUEST BLOG: Patrick Rooney – Trains connect our communities and are part of climate action. So why do we exhaust them?

Around the world, a revival of passenger rail is providing people with convenient, affordable and low-carbon ways to connect.

In New Zealand, however, our rail operator KiwiRail has abandoned long-distance passenger rail, announcing the permanent end of same-day long distance services between Auckland/Wellington and Picton/Christchurch.

These services will be replaced by a luxury multi-day “rail cruise” option aimed entirely at the tourist population.

This effectively means the end of most of New Zealand’s national Aotearoa passenger rail network after over 100 years of service.

The Save Our Trains campaign was launched to ask the government and KiwiRail to commit to maintaining existing intercity rail services.

We want a comprehensive national strategy for future passenger rail service that focuses on climate action, accessibility and economic development concerns.

Our petition received over 6500 signatures.

Trains connect communities and are an important part of action against climate change. They connect friends and families for graduations, weddings, vacations and business. Trains connect cities to cities and bring our diverse country closer together.

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Our rail network was built by the state for over a hundred years, but a period of privatization and decades of underfunding have limited the development and use of our national rail network. It has also changed the nature of the dialogue around public transport. While long-distance passenger trains are required to make a profit, none of these demands are made of the routes.

Trains have an important place in our future, but require investment and planning by this government.

At a time when the government has recognized a climate emergency and the need to move quickly to low emissions, KiwiRail is in reverse. KiwiRail is a public company and must be operated strategically to achieve our shared transportation goals.

Rail offers a more sustainable and climate-friendly means of transport across the country. If we are to meet our emissions targets and provide a future for the next generation, we need more than clean, green branding. We need real action. We need government and business to start connecting the dots and making our transportation system work towards these goals.

The social and economic benefits of passenger rail are numerous. Rail can energize the social and economic life of small communities by making them accessible to remote workers and tourists.

Trains provide an accessible method of point-to-point transportation for seniors, people with disabilities, and people without cars. With the right government support, trains can provide affordable transportation for people on low and fixed incomes.

Fewer cars on the roads can help make our roads safer and less congested.

We are not opposed to rail tours. They are much better for the economy and the environment than flying to Hawai’i, however, they are not an appropriate replacement for a nationwide passenger rail network. It shouldn’t be one or the other.

Our campaign is starting to have an impact. We have strong support from regional communities who know how valuable rail links are to them. KiwiRail says they are listening – but we will get louder, until they start to act. We will not accept a deliberate reduction in passenger services.

The rail network has been built and maintained by generations of New Zealanders for the benefit of all of us. Now is the time to get things done with a world-class rail system that provides affordable and accessible passenger services between New Zealand cities. The first step is to save what we have.

The petition can be found here:

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