24 August, 2012
Rail safety will not be compromised
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says safety on the country’s rail network is and always will be the primary underlying factor in rail operations.
His comments come following the leaking of KiwiRail’s draft Infrastructure and Engineering Business Plan 2013 – 2015 to Radio New Zealand; a document KiwiRail has this afternoon released along with appropriate explanations of its purpose and contents.
Mr Brownlee says KiwiRail knew from the moment it took on the challenge of bringing its business onto a secure commercial footing that big operational changes would be necessary, and the document points to some of those.
“That is why the Government’s $750 million package of support for KiwiRail has been called a turnaround plan – KiwiRail was not a commercially viable business when we announced its 10 year plan in 2009, and it needs to become one.
“But KiwiRail is this year spending $280 million on the track infrastructure, which is more than has ever been spent, making a mockery of opposition MPs’ claims to the contrary.
“Labour claim they want to save rail, but at the same time they are attempting to undermine public confidence in it.
“Next year KiwiRail will spend $255 million on the network, the following year $222 million, and in 2015 $266 million,” Mr Brownlee says.
“To put this in perspective, this level of investment is three to four times the levels spent in the early 2000s.”
Mr Brownlee says Radio New Zealand’s handling of the document does not show them in a good light.
“At 8.12pm on Wednesday Radio New Zealand emailed my office saying it intended reporting the following morning that the draft document ‘shows KiwiRail will willingly let the rail network run down in the next three years,’ and that this will result in ‘more safety risks,’” Mr Brownlee says.
“I believe this to be an extremely simplistic and inaccurate representation of the document’s contents, which are drafted by engineers and highly technical.
“I’m told that in terms of descriptions such as ‘deterioration’ the paper’s authors are often referring to small degrees within acceptable boundaries, not a wholesale running down of assets, which Radio New Zealand clearly intended portraying, and that the paper is a planning tool intended to highlight such matters so appropriate action can be taken.
“While my office was not aware of KiwiRail’s decision to seek an injunction before it took that course of action, I can understand their reasons for doing so, both because of the confidential nature of an internal planning document and the clearly cavalier approach Radio New Zealand intended taking in its report.
“It’s notable that while Radio New Zealand emailed my office requesting my live response the following morning to a highly technical internal report I had not seen, they had clearly seen fit to provide the report to Labour MP Phil Twyford, whose response had already been attained.
“I reiterate that KiwiRail has assured Ministers it will not let its network become unsafe. The Government won’t back any plan that skimps on safety and puts people at risk, and I know that is not KiwiRail’s intention,” Mr Brownlee says.