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An electrified rail system linking Timaru and Christchurch is a potential economic stimulus project being pushed by the Green Party.
The idea, floated by Green Party co-leader James Shaw and Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter, comes two weeks after the Road Transport Forum announced they would be lobbying Government to consider "a four-lane highway between Selwyn and Timaru" as part of their economic stimulus projects post-lockdown.
Genter said the rail proposal would mean significant intercity rail investment over 10 years to roll out fast, electric passenger services connecting key provincial centres with Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
Should it go ahead the Christchurch rail link is proposed to eventually extend as far as Timaru.
Genter told Stuff the Christchurch to Timaru line – and regional services around Christchurch - would cost approximately $1.2 billion to complete stages one and two.
"We will be having internal discussion with the Minister of Finance and other colleagues about the economic recovery package being developed by government."
Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter is pushing for an electrified rail system which could eventually stretch to Timaru. (File)
Genter's proposal comes at a time when the transport systems in South Canterbury are under already in the limelight following the RTF's proposal.
The trucking lobby's idea was floated in response to a Government announcement that it had tasked a group of industry leaders to seek out infrastructure projects that are ready to start as soon as the construction industry returns to normal to reduce the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"A four-lane highway between Selwyn and Timaru would connect people and freight between the food basket of South Canterbury and more populous markets to the north," RTF chief executive Nick Leggett said on April 6.
However, Genter also told Stuff a modern electric train service between Timaru and Christchurch would be faster than driving a car.
"Electrification and the kind of track improvements we're taking about would allow trains to travel up to 160kmh – and the straight rail lines in this part of the country allow for consistent higher speeds," she said.
"That means the trip between Ashburton and Christchurch by train would take about 47 minutes and between Timaru and Christchurch 1 hour 40 mins."
Genter said the proposal can be delivered in two stages: first electrify and make targeted improvement to the track between Christchurch, Ashburton, and Timaru.
"This would allow a for a start-up service using comfortable modern electric trains to start with a couple services a day.
The second stage would involve installing faster rail lines, by straightening track, creating passing loops so deliver a much faster service that runs every two hours."
Stage one could be completed realistically in the next two to three years, and stage two could be progressively delivered over the next five to 10 years, Genter said.
Historically, Genter said, the country has spent billions on motorways that have resulted in more congestion and climate pollution.
"If you build motorways you get suburban sprawl and loss of productive land. If you build passenger rail you get housing and business opening close to train stations in existing towns and cities.
"The Greens want a transformational infrastructure stimulus package fit for the 21st century that has economic recovery and climate change front and centre.
"That's why we're proposing a nation-wide intercity rapid rail programme that would bring our provincial centres and biggest cities closer together through fast, electric passenger rail.
"This will create real alternatives to driving or flying for people who want to travel around the country for work, to see their family and friends, or for domestic tourism.
This article first appeared on www.stuff.co.nz
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