Govt confirms support for Akl rail link
By Patrick Gower and 3 News online staff
Prime Minister John Key has confirmed the Government will back Auckland's rail link.
However, Mr Key told media the start of construction will be delayed by five years to 2020.
The loop would have to be paid for by a combination of sources, he says.
"It won't just be taxpayer funded. Auckland will also have to find ways of paying for its contribution, but I don't think we can reasonably expect them to pay for all of it.
However it was not realistic the money would come from the National Land Transport Fund because it would mean less money for road and rail projects around the country, he said.
"It'll have to be a one-off appropriation from the Crown."
Labour Auckland Issues spokesperson Phil Twyford labelled the Government's move a "the U-turn of the century".
"John Key is the first man in history to do a U-turn on a train."
"I don't know why it's taken John Key so long to come around to Labour Party policy. Everyone in Auckland has been saying it's a no-brainer to fund the City Rail Link."
But Mr Key denied the change of heart was a U-turn, saying the Government never ruled out the rail loop.
"We have had concerns about patronage and where it fits in. We're becoming more comfortable as we get more advice."
Auckland Mayor Len Brown is unsurprisingly happy with the decision.
"The Government has now given us a huge challenge to respond to," he says. "Along with the electrification of rail, the City Rail Link will be the biggest advance in Auckland transport since the Harbour Bridge."
The loop will double the capacity of the existing rail network and slash travel times, he says.
The Green Party has welcomed the news, but says there is no need to wait until 2020 to start the project when so much of the work has already been done.
"[The Government] concocted bogus reports to undermine the economic case for the rail link and withheld funding for it despite strong support from Aucklanders for the project," says party transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter
Ms Genter hoped the Government would make a direct investment from the transport budget rather than looking for private finance, which she says has caused problems overseas.
Mr Key was set to make the announcement on Friday, but multiple sources – including a very senior source in the Beehive – confirmed the Government's support today.
Auckland ratepayers will pay some and the Government will now put in a huge chunk.
It is understood Mr Key would have made the announcement at a speech to the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, which is a supporter of the rail link. Earlier today Mr Key's office would only confirm the speech will be on "Auckland issues".
Sources say the "billions of dollars" in Government investment will not only be for the rail link, but for a transport plan billed as a "massive" step-change for the city's transport.
It is an about-face for the Government, which has never outright refused to support the project but has been lukewarm about it until now.
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee has repeatedly said he remains unconvinced about the necessity of the link, which would run underground from Britomart to Mt Eden.
Today he maintained the Government was never "unenthusiastic" about the project, despite previously rubbishing figures in a City Centre Future Access Study completed last year, which predicted extra traffic would reduce speeds from 16km/h at peak hour in the morning in 2010 to 8km/h by 2021 and 5km/h in 2041.
"A nearly three-fold increase in CBD workers over the previous decade seems unlikely, and makes the projections in this report somewhat dubious," he said.
The Government has maintained congestion would be reduced by the completion of the Western Ring Route motorway in 2017, and a drop in the number of people commuting because of new technology allowing them to work remotely.