Budget 2019’s big infrastructure winner was rail with a $1 billion investment in KiwiRail. This includes $375 million for new wagons and locomotives, $331 million to invest in track and other supporting infrastructure and $300 million from the Provincial Growth Fund for investment in regional rail initiatives.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said that “rail has huge benefits for New Zealanders’ wellbeing, including unlocking regional economic growth, reducing emissions and traffic congestion, and preventing deaths and injuries on our roads.”  

Budget 2019 also provides $405 million extra to build the Auckland City Rail Link (CRL), which is the most significant investment in Auckland’s transport infrastructure ever. It will provide the equivalent of 16 extra lanes of traffic into the city centre during peak times.

Engineering New Zealand welcomes this reprioritisation of investment from road to rail.  We argue in our Engineering A Better New Zealand: Cleaner Energy publication that “mode shift matters most.”

But this budget mostly provides for renewals and additional costs for the CRL. Transport Minister Phil Twyford has promised that “the funding in this year’s Budget is just the first step to rebuilding rail as the backbone of a sustainable 21st century transport network, with a long-term national rail plan to be developed this year.” We need a steady pipeline of investment in rail rather than a one-off injection to resuscitate an ailing network.

There has been criticism suggesting that there was too little investment in climate change initiatives in this budget (although there was some, including funds for a new Climate Change Commission). This misses the point that a cleaner transport system is the biggest opportunity to reduce our emissions quickly whilst increasing productivity and choice.

Other items of interest for engineers are the investment of $9.26 million for Insurance Claims Resolution, which should support continuing work on the Christchurch Claims Resolution Service. We await more details here.

There is a new $229 million Sustainable Land Use Package that includes support for projects to protect and restore at-risk waterways and wetlands and provides support for farmers and growers to use their land more sustainably.  

But we are yet to see the increases in investment required to make the improvements in our drinking and wastewater systems identified by Department of Internal Affairs’ review of three waters infrastructure. We doubt that local government can get there without more support from the centre. Perhaps 2020 will be the water budget?