Monday, March 16, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009: Train explosion

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.


  1. Way to name-check train systems that you have known... I've been robbed on the Prague-Krakow overnighter and enjoyed a sweet drug- (well, sleeping pill-) induced & uneventful sleep on the Rossiya Moscow-St Petersburger along with three strange Russian men. Well, as far as I know, it was uneventful...

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  3. After decades of inaction Labour bought the railways back, acknowledging the billions wasted on privatisation and the fact that no money had been spent by the private owners on rail infrastructure. Mike Lee and the ARC were given control of the project to upgrade Auckland's public transport and government approval for a fuel tax. National have already said that they want privatise a few assets to fund their tax cuts and Mike Lee would be a pain to deal with politically for National if they try to privatise rail again. What are National's plans for rail? None currently other than electrifying Auckland (ARC idea etc) because other than the Marsden Point project none are able to be fast tracked and Marsden Point will be useless for carrying freight to Auckland until tunnels on the northern line are widened to carry containes. The line to Auckland Airport is a way away with much more planning required. So the only one that they can stuff around with is Auckland before they try to sell it again. Let's hope they don't employ another Fay Richwhite etc.

  4. It's funny - people here in London tell me that the Underground is so rubbish, but I just laugh and tell them the epic tragi-comedy that is the story of Britomart.

    I continue the story with my own first experience on this train line on a trip home, descending into the diesel fog, a large woman clipping my ticket with the very same clippers they used to use on the bus when I was 10 (some 20 years ago), the incredible noise, and the insane length of time it takes to go one stop to Newmarket.

    But they invariably say - "That's New Zealand though".

  5. Agree on your comment about a fuel tax helping to incentivise rail use. Even better though would be to 'smart' toll the entire road network, where space and time specific tolls are electronically levied. Transit has already invested loads in the infrastructure for this when it set up the Alpurt B2 tolls north of Orewa.

    In the UK, Manchester recently voted on (and rejected) a version of this scheme, where cars would have to pay for passing across concentric rings around the city centre. Apparently the Obama team was looking closely at the result. If we had the balls, Auckland could influence Washington...