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Funding cuts won’t derail freight hub plans

Funding cuts won’t derail freight hub plans
Wareing Group director Mark Wareing says the Fairfield Freight Hub is set to open in April. PHOTO JONATHAN LEASK/LDR.

Government funding cuts won’t derail the Fairfield Freight Hub's plans to get more trucks off the road in Canterbury.

Wareing Group director Mark Wareing said the $18m Fairfield Freight Hub is on track to open next month and start reducing the number of heavy trucks on the roads.

The Government has targeted potholes with a $500 million fund towards road repairs, but there are concerns that funding cuts in other areas could counter that work.

The Government’s draft transport plan has spending on railways reduced to as low as $20m per year, an 80% drop on what the former Labour Government’s promised minimum investment.

The signalled funding cut raised concerns there could be fewer freight trains delivering to the regions and therefore more trucks on the roads, putting more pressure on the network.

“Trucks certainly make potholes but they already overpay towards the road maintenance”, Wareing said.

The issue has been where that money has been allocated.

Under the former Government, land transport funding had been diluted from roading to cover rail, cycle lanes, and coastal shipping. However, the new government’s plans to put more money towards the roads, he said.

The reductions in rail maintenance could have an impact on the freight hub in the future, but from April the hub will start to reduce the number of heavy trucks on the road in Mid Canterbury, Wareing said

The hub will consolidate freight at one central location and open up direct access to the ports, taking trucks off the state highway– as well as shifting the rail yards out of Ashburton’s town centre.

Based at Fairton, just north of Ashburton, the project is led by the Wareing Group, which operates seven transport companies providing a combined fleet of over 280 trucks.

It is a tri-party commercial development led by the Wareing Group (which wholly owns Fairfield Freight Hub Ltd) with KiwiRail and the Ashburton District Council.

The council is contributing $2.3m from its Three Waters Reform Better Off Funding package, and the Government chipped in with $2.5m from NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi’s upgrade programme.

The funding cuts have no immediate impacts on the hub, but will force KiwiRail to focus on core business and cost efficiency, Wareing said.

He said the Government should consider whether running the interisland ferries “is a key component of a rail operator”.

“Is it their core business?

“There are many places in the world where there are ferries, and not very many where Governments own the ferries.

“Are we better to have that money building better railway lines?”

The Government announced in December it would not provide the $1.47b of funding to KiwiRail to help with the growing cost of replacing the Interislander ferry fleet.

By Jonathan Leask