Take back the track
- Murray Horton
Air New Zealand is not the only privatised asset to have been (partly) renationalised. Simultaneously, the Government announced that it would pay Tranz Rail $81 million to buy back the 86 kilometres of the Auckland rail corridor. This is because of the Governments commitment to do something about improving Aucklands transport system (not a view shared by newly elected Mayor, John Banks, who deems suburban rail a waste of money and has declared more motorways to be his priority).
But, unlike the Air New Zealand renationalisation, this was no bargain. The Bolger National government sold the Railways, in 1993, for $328 million. Included in this was allowing Tranz Rail to own the entire national track structure for an annual rental of $1. When negotiations started with local bodies, for the Auckland rail corridor, Tranz Rails asking price was for more than $100 million (an insult, considering how run down Tranz Rail has allowed the infrastucture to become, with sections of track positively dangerous to its workers and the travelling public).
Watchdog 97 detailed the Take Back The Track campaign of the Rail and Maritime Transport Union (a campaign we support). In October 2001, the 45,000-strong petition compiled by the union was presented to senior Ministers at the steps of Parliament. The presentation itself was one of the most novel ever seen at Parliament track workers (the "surfies" or surfacemen) wielding sledge hammers and poinjar machines laid a six metre section of rail track in Parliament grounds, and then ran a motorised jigger up it to hand over the boxes of signatures.
Once again we urge the Government not to stop at Auckland but to take back the lot. Nor should it be too fussy about compensation Tranz Rail owes the people of New Zealand, not only the tens of millions of dollars its made in profits and the huge sums its saved by cutting staff and not doing essential maintenance. It also owes a blood debt, in terms of people killed and injured because of its negligence.
to Watchdog 98 Index