Monday, December 03, 2007

Time to buy back the trains too

A few years ago, the New Zealand government bought back the track, repurchasing the vital infrastructure flicked off for a song by the Nats in the 90's. Now they're apparently looking at buying back the trains as well, after repeated failure to reach a long-term agreement with Toll Holdings (the railway operator) on track access fees.

IMHO this is a good idea. Rail services are vital infrastructure, and its entirely appropriate for the government to own them. While the partial model did partly resolve the key problem of private ownership - the tendency of private owners to cut back on maintenance spending and run down the infrastructure, effectively mining the company for short-term profits - it was only a partial solution. While Toll is supposed to be paying access fees sufficient to maintain the track, they have consistently refused to do so, and even rejected a mediated settlement and an independent assessment of reasonable fees. So in short, we're effectively subsidising them, and paying for their profits, by maintaining the infrastructure they depend on to run. Buying them out - effectively paying them to go away - will taste bad (who wants to reward a bunch of asset-stripping corporate pirates?), but it will finally solve the problem created by the ownership model, and allow us to have a properly planned rail network and services again.