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Tranz Rail under fire for fourth price hike

By Ray Lilley

Friday 24th November 2000

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A pre-Christmas blow for any business moving goods by rail - Tranz Rail is expected to announce its fourth freight-rate increase since March.

The rail operator has already lifted general freight charges 16-17% in three steps since the international fuel price increases began flowing through locally. The latest price hike took effect from October 20.

"Assuming we're not going to see another dip in [international] prices, we can't carry these [latest] fuel price rises," said Tranz Rail corporate relations manager Fred Cockram.

The company's rate adjustments were passing through higher fuel prices but these were "separate from its base freight rates," which had not been altered.

He rejected claims by road transport firms and South Island industry that freight rates on Cook Strait ferries had risen up to 100% since independent operator Top Cat pulled out of the service last month.

"That is certainly not true."

The figures could be manipulated by using Top Cat's cheapest off-peak discount rate of $45 per lane metre against the full peak-time Tranz Rail rate of $90.

"It's a bit rich ... to come out with this sort of accusation."

He said Canterbury producers were clearly frustrated at the prices of getting their goods to the Auckland market, using road transport. Mr Cockram said if groups like the Road Transport Forum were "totally outraged" at what Tranz Rail was doing, it was "always a fair indication" of trouble within the road transport sector.

Spin doctor's new trip

Fred Cockram, one of the country's toughest PR operators, who has fronted for ACC and Tranz Rail, is leaving.

With the corporate office and sales and marketing group moving to Auckland by early next year, Mr Cockram said his personal circumstances meant he preferred to remain in Wellington.

His decision to quit had nothing to do with the major restructuring Tranz Rail is undergoing under new managing director Michael Beard.

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