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21st August 2018

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Are we ready for the ‘Walls of Wood’?

Logs piled up at Centreport in Wellington. Photo by Lynn Grieveson

Special correspondent Gavin Evans finds log exports have tripled in the last decade and could at least double again over the next decade. He takes a detailed look at the wave of port, rail and road investment needed to cope with this ‘wall of wood’, let alone an even bigger one planned under the Government’s ‘Billion Trees’ programme.

All over the North Island, ports and KiwiRail are scrambling to deal with a ‘wall of wood’ that has tripled since 2008. They say they will need to invest heavily again if they are to cope with another potential doubling of the harvest in the coming years. High log prices because of Chinese demand could easily trigger another surge in the ‘wall’.

The ports of New Plymouth, Gisborne, Napier and Wellington are straining to keep up with the demand to move logs from forests to ports, and will have to work hand-in-hand with a capital constrained KiwiRail to avoid regional roads and highways being pounded into potholes by fleets of logging trucks.

For example, Port Taranaki is hoping a planned rail service from Whanganui will help it capture a bigger share of the wall of wood coming out of the lower North Island.

The company has been working with KiwiRail and foresters and says it is close to settling a new service that could deliver between 80,000 and 120,000 tonnes of logs to the port annually starting early next year.

Chief executive Guy Roper says the details of the cost and the share of the investment are still being worked through. But he says an improved supply chain would be more efficient and improve the return to forest owners.

“This is about growth – additional logs coming to Port Taranaki from the Whanganui area,” he says.

“Logs within a closer radius of the port are still likely to come on trucks. But logs will no longer be exclusively on trucks, which will help congestion, help reduce the amount of maintenance and upgrades required, and reduce carbon emissions.”

Taranaki handled 692,000 tonnes of logs in the year through June, 42 per cent more than a year earlier. But it is not alone trying to cater for the forestry boom. Many of the country’s ports have experienced 20 percent-plus annual volume growth in recent years as trees have reached harvest age and strong demand from China has delivered record prices.

Many ports have, or are, extending log yards and rationalising wharf space to cope. Others are planning dredging to cater for bigger vessels or paving yards and buying bigger loaders and higher book-ends – the massive steel frames logs are stacked within – to improve their use of space.

But some, such as Napier and Eastland at Gisborne, are also facing a step-change in investment to increase capacity and reduce congestion. The major berth expansions planned in coming years will cater not just for the expected logs growth, but also increasing cruise ship visits and growth in other export freight.

And the planning and commitment that entails should be on peoples’ radar if the country is to more double or almost triple its forest estate by 2050 – as recommended by the Productivity Commission – to help meet its climate change targets.

That extra 1.3 million to 2.8 million hectares of trees will most likely be planted in more marginal – and hard to get to – dry stock land in eastern Taranaki, Wanganui, Manawatu, southern Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa and down the east coast of the South Island. And that will have big implications for the road and rail links in those areas – if they exist – to get those logs to port.

As Forestry Minister Shane Jones told MPs in June, careful planning will be needed to ensure any exotics planted as part of the billion trees programme don’t become “stranded assets”.

And then there are the capital requirements. Hawke’s Bay Regional Council,which owns Napier Port, has already signaled it doesn’t have the funds to meet both its environmental plans and fund the $250 million to $300 million of spending the port says it will need in the next decade to meet its growing log, cruise ship and export apple trade.

The council will go to ratepayers later this year on options that could include selling part of the business or leasing the port out long-term to an operator prepared to make that investment.

Northport has also begun consulting on a much longer-term concept plan for extending its wharves east and west to cater for more log and container traffic.

Better times for KiwiRail

In the meantime, KiwiRail has benefited from the rising harvest volumes and has expanded its fleet of log wagons 40 per cent since 2011.

It converted about 130 container wagons to carry logs last year. It will accommodate the new Taranaki service within the 200 wagon conversions it plans in the current financial year, Alan Piper, the firm’s sales and commercial general manager, says.

The viability of a rail service to a forester depends on a range of variables, including train size and the distance of a forest from the rail head.

But, as a general rule, he says distances of 85 kilometres or more from port provide the biggest advantage over trucking. And the truck trips avoided reduce road wear and cut emissions by about two-thirds.

Earlier this year KiwiRail was delivering 60 log trains a week to Tauranga from yards at Kawerau, Murupara and Kinleith. It estimates those loads avoided 340 truck movements a day.
Centreport in Wellington has also benefited from its rail links to Wairarapa, the main trunk line north and west to Wanganui to deliver its increasing log volumes. It handled 653,000 tonnes of logs in the six months through December, 5 per cent more than a year earlier.

But nationally, the sheer volume is the challenge, and it’s not all coming from regions well-served by rail.

Exports have tripled, and may rise another two thirds

New Zealand has about 1.7 million hectares of plantation forest and the harvest reached a record 33.1 cubic metres in 2017 – a 50 per cent increase since 2008, according to Westpac. Log exports reached 19.4 million cubic metres, 11 per cent more than a year earlier and almost triple that in 2008.

And depending on markets and the industry finding enough contractors and trucks and wharf space, that could reach 43 million cubic metres by 2021, according to age-based projections of wood availability. One Ministry of Primary Industries scenario sees the available harvest rising as high as 55 million cubic metres by 2022. (Updates from earlier version to make clear available harvest could rise 66 percent, rather than double)

A more measured scenario, in which hundreds of small forest owners adopt the more sustainable harvest policy of the large-scale operators, could see volumes sustained at more than 35 million cubic metres for a decade from about 2024, according to forecasts prepared for the Ministry of Primary Industries in 2014.

Regardless of when the peak supply arrives “there is a whole big wall of wood coming during the next seven years,” Westpac industry economist Peter Clark says.

But knowing when that volume will peak, and how best to move it, is the challenge for ports and transport firms. And while rail may be the more efficient, low-emissions way to move logs, it isn’t available everywhere and may only soak up the growth in volume rather than reduce the number of trucks already on the country’s roads.

Clark says the long-term outlook for New Zealand forestry is very good, given ongoing urbanisation and construction demand in places like China and India. The increasing use of New Zealand pine as structural timber in more markets is also positive.

But he says nearer term risks to the demand outlook are real. There has already been a slowdown in China – New Zealand’s biggest log buyer – and looming trade wars may also have an impact.

The central North Island dominates the country’s radiata pine crop and Port of Tauranga takes the lion’s share. The country’s biggest port moved 3.3 million tonnes of logs across its wharves in the six months ended December – 12 per cent more than a year earlier.

Napier Port, the country’s fourth-largest, handled a record two million tonnes of logs in the year through May. The 1.6 million tonnes shifted in the September year was 35 per cent more than the year before.

Log trucks arrive every few minutes at the port which also receives a daily log train from Whanganui. Rail delivered about 202,000 tonnes of the logs the port loaded onto 118 ships last year.

The company is now seeking consent for a $125 million wharf expansion to help cater for extra log ships and cruise liners.

It is expecting an almost nine per cent lift in log carrier visits by 2019 and a 49 per cent increase in all export volumes by 2026. And a big part of that is down to the reopening of the Napier-Wairoa freight line expected by the end of this year. KiwiRail estimates that could take as many as 5,500 log trucks off the roads a year.

Expansion plans in Gisborne

Eastland, the country’s second-largest log exporter, moved close to three million tonnes in the March year just ended – another record and about 20 percent more than the year before.

The community-owned firm, which has upgraded its log yards and started a satellite yard at Matawhero west of the city in 2011, believes those volumes could reach four to five million tonnes in the next six to eight years.

Eastland has invested more than $90 million in capital projects for the port in the past decade. Last year it indicated its Twin Berth project – to enable it to handle two 200-metre Handymax carriers at a time – would account for most of the $70 million of capital work planned during the following five years.

The work includes dredging, extending an existing wharf and strengthening the existing breakwater. Its final cost will depend on the extent and pace of reclamation – anything from 1.5 hectares to about four.

Like any infrastructure operator, Eastland wants to make sure it has the capacity in place to meet exporters’ needs. But it also needs to do that at least possible cost if the region’s foresters are to benefit.

Ports infrastructure manager Martin Bayley told foresters earlier this month he is keen to hold off “pouring more concrete” if some of that expected increase in volumes can be met with more efficient use of the existing assets.

“It’s easier to build cost than it is to build value,” he said during a presentation at the New Zealand Institute of Forestry conference in Nelson on July 10.

Eastland’s catchment stretches from the Wairoa River, 100 kilometres south of Gisborne, to Hicks Bay, 180 kilometres north at the top of East Cape.

And the region’s fragile soils mean its “trash” roads are hard to maintain, Minister Jones told the same conference. That’s why he’s pushing investigations of a wharf at Hicks Bay that logs could be barged from.

Eastland is working with iwi interests to test the feasibility of the plan.

Its early days. Bayley says building a wharf is one thing, but the economics of shifting logs is a function of both distance and the number of times the logs need to be handled. A port, he notes, also relies on a small industry of supporting operations to function.

Virtually all the country’s ports are investing in new loaders or paving to improve the efficiency of their log operations.

Even in the South Island

Port Marlborough’s Shakespeare Bay facility is handling about 700,000 tonnes of export logs, up from 507,000 five years ago. The company believes it can lift that to about a million tonnes in coming years through judicious investment in new plant and higher stackers.

Southport at Bluff is investing about $2.2 million adding a hectare of log space this year; Lyttelton recently resealed 15,000 square metres and improved storm water treatment for its all-weather log yard.

Port of Nelson embarked on a string of projects three years ago buying land, demolishing buildings and rationalising space. It expects to complete the work mid-2019.
A recent small reclamation will increase its storage space by more than 13 per cent to at least 85,000 Japanese agriculture standard cubic metres.

The firm handled 1.13 million cubic metres of logs in the June year, 26 per cent more than a year earlier. Annual shipments averaged 650,000 in the decade ended 2016.

“There has certainly been significant growth over the last two years,” acting chief executive Matt McDonald says. “Looking at the figures for the past six months or so, the volume going through the port has been more in the 1.2 – 1.3 million JAS range.”

Woodville gets preview of new Manawatū Gorge route

NZ Transport Agency traffic consultant Jo Healy discusses the map with Woodville residents Fiona Nesbit and Glenn McDean.

NZ Transport Agency traffic consultant Jo Healy discusses the map with Woodville residents Fiona Nesbit and Glenn McDean.

Residents of a town hit in the pocket by the closure of the Manawatū Gorge have given the proposed replacement route two thumbs up.

New Zealand Transport Agency is running information sessions in Tararua and Manawatū about progress on the Manawatū Gorge replacement route.

State Highway 3 through the gorge has been closed since April 2017 due to large landslips falling on the road.

The agency announced in March its preferred replacement, which would run between the gorge and the current de facto highway, the Saddle Rd, and should be built by 2024.

Agency highway manager Ross I’Anson​ said the initial corridor given in March was about 500 metres wide.

Samples of earth were taken along the corridor in May, giving the agency a better idea of where the road could go.

That helped the agency come up with the design shown off at the information sessions, although it may move slightly, I’Anson said.

“We are pretty confident it’s able to be built there.”

The agency had a map of the proposed route on display in Woodville on Wednesday night, as well as a digitally produced flyover video of the route.

Betty and Athol Sowry, from Valley Rd, Woodville, with the timeline information brochure from the meeting.

Betty and Athol Sowry, from Valley Rd, Woodville, with the timeline information brochure from the meeting.

The video was only an indication of the route, but the map contained much more detail.

The route would use the existing bridge across the Manawatū River east of Ashhurst, before curving north and across the river via a newly built bridge and curving back to the east.

Various small side roads attached to the route would give access to wind farms, with at least one possibly requiring an underpass beneath the new route.

However, some wind farm access roads, such as one off the Saddle Rd, would have to be closed instead of linking to the new route.

The route would the head south down the Tararua side of the ranges, before joining the route that used to take Manawatū Gorge traffic into Woodville.

Almost the entire route would have two lanes in each direction.

Meeting attendees view an animated fly-over video of the proposed route.

Meeting attendees view an animated fly-over video of the proposed route.

People who attended the information session in Woodville on Wednesday night were happy with the route.

John Gooding​ said he was more than happy with the proposal, as it would have long-term benefits for real estate and business.

“It seems like a pretty good quality route.”

Steve and Fiona Nesbit moved their business, Powerhouse Tattoos, from Palmerston North to Woodville after the gorge closed.

Fiona Nesbit said the proposed route was “amazing”.

Woodville residents Ian Cumming and Marty Lean discuss the new road map with NZ Transport Agency traffic consultant Jo Healy.

Woodville residents Ian Cumming and Marty Lean discuss the new road map with NZ Transport Agency traffic consultant Jo Healy.

“I didn’t expect it to be this tidy. It covers all the bases.”

Steve Nesbit said he was most impressed with how straight the proposed route was once it got onto the range.

“It’s just like a highway.

“Having it so straight, compared to the Saddle Rd, is a major. It’s a direct link [between Woodville and Palmerston North].”

The next information sessions will be at Palmerston North’s Convention Centre on Thurdsay, Dannevirke Sports Centre on Tuesday, and the Pahīatua Town Hall on Wednesday, all running from 4pm until 8pm.

Sessions have already been held in Ashhurst about proposed changes to the town’s traffic layout.

For more information on the sessions, and maps of the Ashhurst changes and Manawatū Gorge replacement route, see nzta.govt.nz/projects/sh3-manawatu-gorge.

State Highway 3 through the Manawatū Gorge has been closed since slips fell on the road in 2017.

State Highway 3 through the Manawatū Gorge has been closed since slips fell on the road in 2017.

Kāpiti expressway needs $2.3m worth of repairs, just 18 months after opening

The scale of the problem plaguing the leaky Kāpiti expressway has been revealed.

Forty-nine kilometres of lanes are estimated to need repairs – a job that will take two years to complete on the four-lane, $630 million road that only opened to traffic early last year.

About 5km of the 18km expressway on the Kāpiti Coast, north of Wellington, has already been fixed at a cost of $2.3m, New Zealand Transport Agency project manager Chris Hunt said.

“The Transport Agency takes a lot of pride in our work and we always aim to deliver great results for road users, so of course it’s very disappointing when a problem like this develops.”

The expressway’s slow lanes started leaking just months after opening in February 2017, resulting in discoloured cracks along the north and southbound lanes. Water leaking through a seal between the base – or pavement – and the asphalt was to blame.

Hunt said the full repair cost was not yet known, but it would be shared by the agency and its contractors Fletcher Construction, Higgins and Beca.

“People expect better and that’s why we have put so much effort into getting to the root of the problem, addressing it, and learning from it.”

The resealing of the north and south-bound slow lanes, as well as the fast lane remedial repairs, were planned for completion by mid 2020.

The total cost of repairs is not yet known, NZTA said.

The total cost of repairs is not yet known, NZTA said.

“The exact length of lane [kilometres] which may require remedial work will be determined after we have results from our monitoring of the pavement’s performance over the winter months,” Hunt said.

The information on repairs was released under the Official Information Act to former regional councillor Chris Turver who said it was an embarrassment the project had failed so badly.

“It’s still a great new road for the country but the sheer scale of sealing failure raises many questions, including who was responsible and who will pay.”

The discolouration is caused by water  leaking through a seal between the base – or pavement – and the asphalt.

The discolouration is caused by water leaking through a seal between the base – or pavement – and the asphalt.

The agency said both it and its contractors were responsible for the “delivery of the project and the remedial treatment of all defects”.

In October, Hunt said 14km of slow lanes would need resealing and contractors had been called in after the expressway showed signs of “minor fatigue” in May.

“This has subsequently loosened small particles in the top of the pavement, which causes the discolouration and texture changes,” he said.

The $630 million Kāpiti expressway opened to traffic in February 2017.

The $630 million Kāpiti expressway opened to traffic in February 2017.

“The issue appears to have been caused by the unexpected penetration of moisture through the membrane seal.”

The areas would be treated by reducing the number of joints in the pavement and joining sections together to make a more watertight and smoother surface.

Kāpiti Coast Mayor K Gurunathan said it wasn’t the quality of the road, but the constant repairs that were causing frustration in the community.

“I always factor in an extra 15 minutes of travel time because of them.”

Last month, those roadworks included contractors working on the Waikanae bridge joints in response to noise issues caused by the expressway.

Three other bridges were also recommended for treatment at a total cost of $1.4m.

The expressway will eventually link to the $850m Transmission Gully motorway to the south and a $330m northern section of the Kāpiti expressway running from Peka Peka to north of Ōtaki.

 – Stuff

Auckland’s $6 billion plan for modern trams could extend to Kumeu

Dave’s comment – When so much money has been or is being spent on development of the Auckland heavy rail network, why do Auckland council and the Government continue to ignore the expert’s calls for the proposed CBD – Dominion Rd – Mangere – Airport to be abandoned in favour of minor extensions to the heavy rail network?  At lower cost and with significantly less disruption than the proposed tram lines.

In an exclusive interview with the Herald, NZTA chief executive Fergus Gammie said the plan for trams from the CBD to Westgate will probably be extended to Kumeu.

Gammie also revealed that NZTA believes that the best route between the CBD and the airport is by train to Puhinui and transferring to buses or trams for the 6km leg to the airport.

What we are trying to achieve in the longer term is a system that enables people to spend a lot more of their life on public transport.

The transport agency still intends to build a $3.7b line for modern trams, referred to as light rail, from the CBD to the airport but sees the line as combining transport and development opportunities along the corridor, Gammie said.

For this reason, the project has been renamed the CBD to Māngere project, which will still serve the airport and allow workers to travel to the airport, a major employment centre.

The changes have been made after Labour handed over responsibility for light rail from Auckland Transport to the transport agency, which is going from being a road builder to looking at all forms of transport to benefit people and communities.

New homes like this one in Westgate are adding to congestion in the northwest
New homes like this one in Westgate are adding to congestion in the northwest

“What we are trying to achieve in the longer term is a system that enables people to spend a lot more of their life on public transport,” Gammie said.

Labour has promised to build light rail from the CBD to the airport and West Auckland within a decade, described as a “game changer” by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Labour’s plans for fast public transport separated from vehicles, known as rapid transit, also include a busway running from Botany to Puhinui train station, and on to the airport.

A spokeswoman for Transport Minister Phil Twyford issued a brief statement, saying the minister was on the same page as Gammie and there was nothing more he could add.

Extending modern trams to Kumeu is being driven by already congested roads from a housing boom and projections of 25,000 more homes in the northwest by 2032.

However, the idea is not supported by the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA), which favours extending rail from Swanson to Kumeu and running rail directly from the CBD to the airport via Puhinui.

PTUA co-ordinator Jon Reeves said trams are slow and very expensive, whereas trains can provide fast, frequent and reliable service at less cost. What’s more, rail can carry freight to the airport and reduce congestion on the roads, he said.

Reeves said there had been no official study comparing the cost of rail, modern trams or a busway from Puhinui to the airport.

He said running trains directly from Britomart to the airport via Puhinui would take 33 minutes. Auckland Transport has estimated it will take 42 minutes for light rail via the Māngere route.

Jon Reeves, co-ordinator of the Public Transport Users Association.
Jon Reeves, co-ordinator of the Public Transport Users Association.

Gammie said the transport agency was undertaking detailed business cases for the two light rail lines, which would be completed by early next year, and would soon begin public consultation.

“These projects are not easy because they do make a big difference to the local community,” said Gammie, who as the former director-general for transport services in New South Wales was involved in light rail projects in Newcastle and Sydney.

“Every light rail project around the world has been disruptive, but everyone loves light rail when it is finished,” he said.

Trams or rail ‘as long as it’s faster’

Yelena Khalevina was excited to hear Auckland Transport's plans for a possible tram line to Kumeu. Photo / Greg Bowke
Yelena Khalevina was excited to hear Auckland Transport’s plans for a possible tram line to Kumeu. Photo / Greg Bowke

When quality time with your three-year-old son consists of being stuck in a car for three hours a day, the prospect of modern trams is very enticing.

Every workday, Yelena Khalevina, her husband and son leave home in Huapai at 6.30am for the long 30km crawl into the city. With jobs and daycare over, they get back in the car at 5pm and don’t get home until 6.30pm.

There’s a stash of books and toys for the “quality time” they spend with their toddler, who’s tucked up in bed soon after they get home and feed him.

“I would gladly take the bus,” says Yelena, except it takes longer than the drive to and from her job as a digital analyst in the city.

The family recently moved into a new subdivision in the rural community of Huapai, part of a housing boom in the northwest causing congestion with more than 18,000 vehicles driving on State Highway 16 per day and causing a bottleneck through Kumeu.

Yelena says the family made the decision to move to Huapai for the lifestyle, knowing that being stuck in traffic is something that goes with living in a big city.

They plan to live in the area long-term, says Yelena, who is very excited that one day, perhaps 10 years away, they will be able to go into the city on trams or rail.

As well as plans by the New Zealand Transport Agency for modern trams, locals are campaigning for trains to Kumeu/Huapai with billboards erected on the roadside encouraging people to sign up.

It wouldn’t make any difference, trams or rail, says Yelena, “so long as it is faster than being stuck in traffic”.

Traffic chaos on Auckland’s motorways causing commuter headaches

A truck has broken down on the Southern Motorway. Photo / NZTA Twitter
Photo / NZTA Twitter – Truck branding obscured by “unknown”

Crashes and a breakdown on Auckland’s motorways have caused headaches for commuters heading into the city this morning.

One crash on the Southern Motorway after the Te Irirangi on-ramp temporarily closed two lanes while a vehicle was recovered and debris cleared from the area.

The New Zealand Transport Agency says the crash occurred around 8.20am and that congestion through to Manukau was now easing quickly.

Meanwhile, a truck breakdown that partially blocked the citybound on-ramp to the Southern Motorway at Takanini has been cleared.

NZTA says that the truck has been towed from the area and asks that motorists allow for extra time for travel from Papakura to Takanini.

A crash on the Northwestern Motorway is blocking the left lane from Newton Rd heading towards the Port but is not currently causing delays.

Earlier today a crash on the Northwestern Motorway after Western Springs has resulted in congested traffic through the area.

Safety shares top spot in new transport priorities

A vastly increased commitment to road safety, public transport and competitive freight efficiency were promised by the Government yesterday when it released the Government Policy Statement (GPS) on Transport.

To achieve all three goals, there will be a renewed focus on both Auckland and the regions.

Meanwhile, there were queues at some petrol stations around the city as drivers looked to beat impending price rises.

Those price rises will come from new taxes announced by both the Government and the Auckland Council.

Yesterday morning the council adopted its 10-year budget, which includes a regional fuel tax of 10 cents per litre (11.5 cents with GST). It will come into force on Sunday.

In the afternoon the Government’s GPS announcement included a nationwide rise in the excise levy, or fuel tax, of 3.5 cents per litre (4.025 cents with GST) for each of the next three years. The first rise will be imposed on October 1.

From that date, the average Auckland household will pay $3.80 more per week for petrol.

Those with the lowest 30 per cent of incomes will pay an average $2.26 more per week. Households with the highest 30 per cent of incomes will pay more than twice that: an average $4.79 more per week.

Both the Government and the council say the extra taxes will allow them to undertake what Finance Minister Grant Robertson has called “New Zealand’s largest ever 10-year plan for transport investment”.

Standing in the giant KiwiRail freight yards at Onehunga today, Robertson promised “a long-term pipeline of transport projects that are fully funded”.

“The GPS prioritises linking production with distribution,” he said, “and that means a focus on freight.”

Transport minister Phil Twyford said that “for the first time” rail would be fully considered alongside roads when the Land Transport Fund was allocated by the NZ Transport Agency. “They will consider the merits of road and rail on a case by case basis and allocate the funds to whichever will do the job best.”

The Government would also “lift the standard of roads right across the country”, he said, adding that “the vast majority of serious crashes are on local roads”.

Associate transport minister Julie Anne Genter spelled out some of the detail of the increased commitment to road safety. She said $2 billion more would be spent on state highways with a focus on safety, and $800 million on local roads, also with a safety focus.

More median barriers and roadside barriers will be introduced for open roads, and some stretches may have lower speed limits too. There will be more roundabouts and other measures to make roads safer in built-up areas.

The Government has also made a 99 per cent boost to funds for promoting road safety and the use of public transport, cycling and walking.

Government spending on transport will rise from $3.6 billion in 2017/18 to $4 billion in 2018/19. By 2027/28 it will be $4.7 billion.

The way funds are allocated to local regions will change. Currently, the Government tends to match the funds of local councils, dollar for dollar.

“We pay 50:50 now,” said Twyford. “That will rise in many cases to government paying 75 or even 80 per cent.”

For example, funding for high priority projects around Tauranga will rise to 75 per cent, and in Gisborne it will be 84 per cent. That takes pressure off ratepayers and gives councils significantly more bang for every buck they commit themselves.

The Government Policy Statement (GPS) contains four “strategic priorities”: safety, value for money, access and the environment. It sets out spending priorities for the whole country and complements the Auckland Transport Alignment Plan agreed between the Government and the Auckland Council.

Changes to transport spending

• $4 billion over 10 years to “establish rapid transit investment”.
• 116 per cent increase in funding for walking and cycling infrastructure.
• 99 per cent increase on road safety promotions, alcohol interlocks and promotion of cycling and walking.
• 96 per cent increase in regional transport projects that improve safety, resilience and access.
• 68 per cent increase for public transport, to be spent on operational subsidies and new projects.
• 42 per cent increase on local road improvements.
• 11 per cent less on state highway improvements.

Transport GPS welcome but New Zealand falling further behind

“The Government’s Policy Statement on Transport confirms record investment over the next decade, but with capital investment levels half what they are in Australia, ongoing congestion, housing unaffordability and constrained economic growth will continue,” says Stephen Selwood CEO of Infrastructure New Zealand.

“The final GPS for Transport released today locks in record transport spending of $4 billion moving to $4.7 billion per annum over the next decade, supported by new fuel levies.

“The funding certainty this provides to the New Zealand Transport Agency, councils and transport industry is welcome and it’s clear that the Government is doing as much as it feasibly can with existing transport tools.

“But it’s not enough. In fact, it’s well short.

“New South Wales has announced a A$14.7 billion transport capital programme for the 2018/19 financial year.

“By comparison, just $2 billion – $3 billion of GPS spending this year will be focused on improving transport networks.

“Even after top-ups from the consolidated account to pay for Auckland’s City Rail Link and council expenditure, New Zealand’s investment in transport improvements will be half what the New South Wales government alone is doing on a per capita basis.

“This is why New Zealand’s cities are among the most congested for their size in the developed world and it is why we can’t unlock enough land to house our population.

“It is also why nothing is going to change, in spite of record investment, until we change the way we plan, fund and deliver transport.

“Asking road users to cover the cost of projects increasingly oriented towards urban development separates those funding improvements from those who will benefit – landowners.

“Constraining investment to levels road users are prepared to tolerate holds back the economy and urban development.

“We need to double investment if we are serious about tackling congestion, improving safety and delivering homes.

“Projects with strong benefit-cost ratios and significant strategic benefits need to be accelerated.

“Major transport projects need to be debt financed. It is not realistic to fund a long-term investment programme by an annual allocation from road user charges.

“Debt should be repaid by beneficiaries – road users, property owners and the Government via GST, income and corporate taxes which grow with the economy.

“A shift to road pricing would not only provide the mechanism to fund needed investment, it would also manage congestion much more effectively.

“Record transport investment is a step in the right direction, but New Zealand remains a giant leap behind our competitors.

“If we want to change our transport performance, we need to change our outdated and restrictive transport funding system,” Selwood says.

Petrol cars headed the way of the horse and cart – what’s next?

The New Zealand Transport Agency has begun thinking about how it may need to prepare for the arrival of autonomous ...

The New Zealand Transport Agency has begun thinking about how it may need to prepare for the arrival of autonomous vehicles such as this Volkswagen driverless concept car.

The transport revolutions of the past – railways, petrol cars and air travel – have shaped our cities and driven some of the most sudden and dramatic changes in society.

So it’s probably no wonder that transport is one of the first things we consider when we think about future technology.

In a few short years, people have gone from debating about whether electric cars will take off at all, to arguing about whether and when they will be self-driving.

Meanwhile, the leading edge of transport research and development has skipped ahead a mile.

Last month, Uber began laying the groundwork for a fleet of autonomous electronic helicopters or drones that would ferry commuters between the rooftops of skyscrapers, so they could bypass congested city streets.

The company aims to have a commercial service operating in Dallas and Dubai by 2023.

One vehicle that could perhaps do the job is being trialled in – who would have guessed it – New Zealand.

United States company Kitty Hawk, funded by Google co-founder Larry Page, has been testing a self-driving “flying car” called Cora, which can take off and land vertically, in Canterbury since October.

Spokeswoman Anna Kominik said it had settled on New Zealand for the trials after a global search for a jurisdiction that was “safe, had aviation experience and was a good place to do business”.

Kitty Hawk is headed by former Google X scientist Sebastian Thrun, who led the development of Google’s self-driving car and its Google Glass augmented-reality spectacles.

Its website explains Cora “rises like a helicopter and flies like a plane, eliminating the need for a runway and creating the possibility of taking off from places like rooftops”.

Kitty Hawk assumes Cora will be used for an Uber-like “ride-sharing” flying-electric-car service, rather than being a modern take on the exclusive corporate helicopter.

The Cora won’t be available for sale to individuals, it says, and is instead “about giving everyone a fast and easy way to get around that doesn’t come at the expense of the planet”.

However, Kitty Hawk is also trialling a one-person vertical take-off “personal aircraft” called the Flyer that is designed to fly up to 10 kilometres on a single electric charge.

The Flyer is designed to travel for up to 20 minutes at 20 miles per hour, though it's currently limited to flying over ...

The Flyer is designed to travel for up to 20 minutes at 20 miles per hour, though it’s currently limited to flying over water at an altitude of only 10 feet.
Coming back down to earth – but not with a bump – Telsa founder Elon Musk envisages a network of “hyperloops” that would smoothly whisk people between cities at up to 1200kmh, which is just under the speed of sound.

The incredibly high speeds touted by hyperloop researchers are conceivable because people would travel in pressurised “pods” that would glide on magnets, pushed by magnetic pulses through tubes that were kept at a near-vacuum to reduce air resistance.

One of the huge (some think insurmountable) engineering challenges is creating and maintaining something close to a vacuum in tubes that could stretch hundreds of miles.

Without the near vacuum, hyperloops just become a bit like a Maglev train in a tube.

Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson has signed a “preliminary agreement” to build a hyperloop that would transport people 160 kilometres between the Indian cities of Pune and Mumbai in 25 minutes, implying a less whizzy average speed of about 350kmh.

Its tubes would be depressurised to about 100Pa (pascals), equivalent to the very thin air pressure that exists 60km above the ground.

Branson, who has come off the bench to personally chair his Virgin Hyperloop 1 venture, told the BBC he believed it could transport people in Britain “far quicker, in far greater numbers, with far greater convenience than any other train network in the UK”.

If ever built in New Zealand, a hyperloop could cut the land-travel time between Auckland and Wellington to under an hour, and the commute time between Hamilton and Auckland to less than 10 minutes.

KiwiRail general manager of planning David Gordon says KiwiRail “has not formally looked at hyperloop technology for New Zealand and has not formed any view on it”.

Compared with drone taxis and hyperloops, self-driving cars might sound positively pedestrian.

But Christchurch consultant Roger Dennis is one of a growing number of professional future-watchers who argue they are an advance we can definitely count on.

Dennis forecasts self-driving trucks and cars will first prove their safety in the confines of mines, university campuses, ports and hospitals before being gradually allowed onto public roads by regulators.

Tragedies such as the death in March of a pedestrian in Arizona, who was hit by an Uber vehicle travelling in autonomous mode, will prove only an unfortunate “blip”, he believes.

“Driverless trucks have been used in mines for a number of years and, when they remove the human driver, accidents go down and productivity goes up. Human-driven cars kill more people every year than autonomous cars ever will.”

Self-driving cars may not be given licence to roam all of New Zealand’s eclectic mix of public roads in one swoop. Regulators may instead open up the road network in phases, he says.

“A logical approach would be to say, ‘We think these roads are suitable for autonomous vehicles and there’s another set of roads where it won’t work’. Then, as artificial intelligence improves, you will see more and more roads become certified.”

The New Zealand Transport Agency is starting to prepare for the arrival of autonomous vehicles (AVs), says one of its managers, Martin McMullan.

Virgin is one of the companies pioneering hyperloop systems, which could let people travel on land at up to 1200 ...

Virgin is one of the companies pioneering hyperloop systems, which could let people travel on land at up to 1200 kilometres an hour.

Trans-Tasman body Austroads, on which the agency has a board seat, produced a report last year on changes that might be required to the road network.

It stressed the benefits of making intersection designs and machine-readable signs “consistent”, so they could be reliably interpreted by software.

“Feedback suggests that many AVs will be designed to operate on our road networks as they currently are”, but existing infrastructure was “problematic” for some manufacturers, the report concluded.

“Roadworks are a key aspect noted to be of particular concern to AV manufacturers and system suppliers. It is necessary to ensure that roadworks become well planned events.”

Colin Gavaghan, director of the New Zealand Law Foundation Centre for Law and Policy in Emerging Technologies at Otago University, says it’s only “human” for AV accidents to weigh heavily on our minds.

“I’d wager that one pedestrian death from a driverless car would stand out in people’s minds more than all of the 300-odd road deaths in New Zealand last year combined.”

People imagine they are safer when they are in control of a vehicle, and “no amount of actuarial data can budge that belief”, he says.

“That said, I’m not sure that we should be settling for ‘a bit better than the status quo’ if it’s reasonable to expect driverless cars to be much safer.

“I have a vision of a future where car deaths are as rare as air traffic deaths today, and we should be demanding that level of safety.”

Research firm Bloomberg argues the world is unlikely to run out of lithium before the electric vehicle (EV) revolution is complete, even if it remains an essential ingredient in batteries.

Although not super-abundant, lithium is not a “rare earth” metal, with discovered global recoverable reserves estimated at somewhere between 10 million and 40m tonnes and rising – potentially enough to power more than 10 billion electric cars, according to Bloomberg.

Neither would New Zealand be likely to run out of electricity, according to Electricity Authority chief executive Carl Hansen.

“Electrifying all light vehicles would increase electricity demand by approximately 15 per cent, but this will likely occur over several decades,” Hansen says.

“We’re confident that the industry can cope with building generation in a timely way to meet the demand increases.”

Electricity prices might not even need to go up. “Over this time period there’s a high chance that electricity prices will decline in real terms due to the declining costs of technology such as small-scale solar generation.”

The same is true for transmission costs, he says. “It is possible the average cost of delivering electricity to consumers could decline due to higher use of existing network assets, especially during off-peak hours.

“Electric vehicles offer a fantastic opportunity for New Zealand to reduce its transport-related carbon emissions.”

Tony Seba believes petrol cars will go the way of the "horse and cart" far faster than most planners expect.

Tony Seba believes petrol cars will go the way of the “horse and cart” far faster than most planners expect.

There is less agreement on when EVs and AVs may take over.

Right now, the switch to conventional self-driven electric vehicles has only just begun.

At the end of May, there were 5984 EVs registered in New Zealand, not including plug-in hybrids, according to the Transport Ministry.

That’s up from just 735 two years before and 2444 a year ago, but still a drop in the ocean among the total fleet of 3.6 million light vehicles.

Stanford University economist Tony Seba turned heads at an Apec conference in Wellington in November when he forecast no petrol vehicles would be built after 2025.

He believes that, by 2030, most journeys in the US will be taken “Uber-style” in fleets of self-driving cars that will pick people up and drop them off.

In the US “200m cars are going to be stranded – useless”, said Seba, who is known for his bold forecasts.

At the conservative end of the spectrum, the Transport Ministry forecasts EVs will still only make up 40 per cent of the fleet by 2040, even though it believes the typical lifetime cost of owning an EV will fall below that of a petrol car equivalent by about 2025.

The ministry is not making any forecasts about self-driving cars. But  McMullan says if AVs follow the pattern of other vehicle technologies they will take between 10 and 30 years to dominate vehicle sales, and then at least a further 20 years to squeeze out the existing fleet.

Dennis – noticing a Tesla electric car pass by his window as he speaks – says the “safe money” is on it being eight to 15 years before AVs become noticeable on the roads.

“The two big barriers will be that the last 20 per cent of the technology challenge will be difficult, and regulation and public policy.”

The obvious roadblock for drone transport and electrically powered flight in general comes in inventing the battery technology that could provide the necessary power-to-weight ratios.

British vacuum cleaning inventor James Dyson announced Dyson’s move into the electric-vehicle business last year and is among those betting big on new solid-state batteries that would have a solid electrolyte instead of the conventional liquid one.

Last month, carmakers Toyota, Nissan and Honda and battery manufacturers Panasonic and GS Yuasa received a US$14m grant from the Japanese government to team up on solid-state battery research.

These could at least double power-to-weight ratios at the same time as slashing recharge times by a factor of six, according to some researchers.

Dennis says there is “always interesting stuff in the labs”, but cautions battery technology has not been  a fast-moving field, at least up to now.

A “10-year timeframe” would be realistic for any breakthroughs, he believes.

“I think everybody finds it really difficult to think long term, and the classic example of this is the rebuilding of Christchurch, New Zealand’s largest infrastructure project costing more than $40b.

“There are at least four new car parking buildings in the CBD, yet if you look at Oslo in Norway, their CBD is going to be car-free by 2020. These are multi-storey buildings whose usage will probably start to tail off in 10 to 15 years – maybe sooner.”

KiwiRail welcomes Northland rail pledge

There is local support for rail improvements.

KiwiRail is welcoming the Government decision to investigate upgrading and expanding rail north of Auckland.

The initiative was announced by the Ministers of Transport and Regional Development as part of a package of Provincial Growth Fund improvements to help Northland’s economic and social growth.

They pledged $500,000 to examining the potential for rail improvements.

The coalition agreement between Labour and NZ First said the new Government would commission a feasibility study on the options for moving the Ports of Auckland, including giving Northport serious consideration.

Friday’s announcement did not mention the port specifically.

“We are looking forward to participating in the business case process. As the Government has indicated, KiwiRail has the ability to drive economic growth in the regions through our freight network, world-class tourism services and the passenger services we enable,” said KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy.

“Using rail also delivers a range of significant benefits including reducing carbon emissions and road congestion, making our roads safer, lowering spending on road maintenance and upgrades, and reducing fatalities.

“Every tonne of freight carried by rail is a 66 per cent emissions saving over heavy road freight.

“Northland’s rail lines are under-used and much of the rail infrastructure is old, reducing the speed at which trains can travel. The tunnels are not fit for purpose when it comes to container freight and considerable investment is needed to bring the rail line up to modern standards.

“If it proceeds, this work will allow for faster trains, larger modern sized containers and tourism services.”

KiwiRail currently runs one weekday return service to Auckland on the line predominantly carrying dairy and forestry.

– Stuff

Trains back on Wairoa – Napier line

Trains will be moving again on the Napier to Wairoa line for the first time in six years next Wednesday.

“The project to re-open the line will pass a significant milestone when a work train travels up to Eskdale from Napier delivering ballast,” KiwiRail Chief Executive Peter Reidy says.

“Having work trains running is an important part of getting the line open to shift logs by rail and take trucks off the road.

“The line is expected to be ready for logging trains by the end of the year.

“This is also a good time to remind people of the need to take care around the rail line. Because it has not been in use by trains, people need to be aware that trains will now be on the line, and that they need to be looking out for them,” Mr Reidy says.

There will be a ceremony to mark the return of trains at KiwiRail’s operations depot in Ahuriri.

There are good vantage points for members of the public who are keen to see the train as it passes at Meeanee Quay and Domain Rd at around 11.30am.

The line is being re-opened by KiwiRail using $5 million of funding from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund, and will be used to transport logs to Napier. The work is expected to take two years to fully complete.

“This is an important project for the region, for New Zealand and for KiwiRail. It lifts the regional economy. It makes the roads safer by taking logging trucks off roads that were not designed to cope with growing volumes. It helps the environment by cutting carbon emissions,” Mr Reidy says.

KiwiRail has estimated that using the Wairoa-Napier line to move the logs could take up to 5,714 trucks a year off the road, and cut carbon emissions by 1292 tonnes.