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New Zealand takes rail back into public hands

15 May 2008

‘The news that the New Zealand government is to repurchase its national rail and ferry operations is not only good news for passengers in that country – it is also a clear proof that the same could – and can – be done in this country,’ says ASLEF’s Keith Norman. ‘All it needs it the political will – and for the UK government to begin seeking solutions rather than excuses.’

The New Zealand transport union RMTU is delighted at the news, which was announced earlier this month.
‘Railway workers are celebrating the news of the government’s repurchase of the national rail and ferry operations,’ said its leader Wayne Butson. ‘The RMTU campaigned long and hard to get the Labour-led Government to buy back the rail tracks but we always knew that in order to have the rail industry deliver what this country needs that they couldn’t stop there. We have all been urging the government to go the final step to renationalize the network.’
Wayne says that from the day that the National government sold the industry to a US-led consortium, it’s direction has been ‘all down hill’. He accuses the private owners of ‘extracting the cash, replacing it with debt and doing just enough to keep it going’.
He added, ‘The RMTU is keen to be a part of the rejuvenation of the NZ rail industry so that it can deliver the safe sustainable transport option demanded by global warming and escalating fuel prices, and we call upon the Government to make strong early statements of investment in new locomotives and wagons.
‘We know that there will be those who will condemn the Government buy back as a return to the ‘bad old days’. To them we say, ‘Look at the record of the public industry from 1987 to 1993, which turned it into a profitable enterprise.’ Hopefully this is the closing chapter of the rail saga that goes back to the right-wing political cabal who stripped New Zealand's assets and sold them to their mates during the 1980s and 1990s.’

Finance Minister Michael Cullen pointed out that, ‘The government’s buy back of the rail system is a long-term investment in our economy.

‘A modern rail system will contribute to a more sustainable transport network. And if we can get more freight off roads and onto rail, we can expect significant savings on road maintenance as well.’

‘It is music to my ears,’ says ASLEF’s Keith Norman. ‘If only the UK government was not deaf to sensible argument on the issue.’

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