I love trains. I have ridden in luxury in Morocco on spotless carriages, empty because no one can afford to catch the train; instead, people hurtle down dodgy roads at 140 km/h in a 1970s Mercedes packed with seven people. I have experienced the seductive TGV, which is less like catching a noisy, shaking train and more like going into a room, sitting down, and getting out in another part of the country a few hours later. Unfortunately, I have also experienced Auckland trains; proceeding from downtown to Newmarket at what might charitably be described as a walking pace, I felt less than wrapped up in the mystique of the Orient Express or the Trans-Siberian. On the surface, this might be a good argument for pouring more government money into Auckland's train network - it could certainly use some investment. I'm not so sure that a city like Auckland is ever going to catch on to train, honestly - at least not with the right incentives.
Which brings me to my actual point. Today's Herald leads with good tidings - the government has indicated that they (under the guise of Kiwirail) may be prepared to purchase the proposed electric trains to expand Auckland's network; previously, the $1bn project was to have been partly funded by a regional tax on petrol and diesel. Good news, says the Herald, because now we don't have to pay - the government will. With taxes. That we pay. Auckland must supply, what, a third of taxes? (I can't be bothered looking it up; it's not really that important.) So we do pay for that bit. But now our trains, which we won't catch anyway, are going to be (even further) subsidised by people from Gore and Gisborne and Greymouth. Bully for us, I suppose.
But the other problem is about incentives. A further tax on petrol, especially if people knew it was being spent on trains, would presumably have encouraged people to use the trains, creating a virtuous circle that might, just might, end up with rail being able to exist without the kind of massive subsidies that we are talking about. But then it could be worse - we could have to pay for the trains and live in Gore.