Wednesday, June 23, 2010

To Rangiora via Berlin!! Bob takes his most expensive trip yet

Double EMU on suburban line,  Frankfurt und Rolleston, mit engineer Bob at the controls?

New Zealand's railway network is approximately twice as long as the German rail network*

*Per capita - and taxpayer.

Germany has 43,000 kilometres of railway track (much of it double and electrified) and 81 million residents. If the wabbit caculates right, that means around 1890 residents (and pro rata taxpayers) for every kilometre of rail track. By comparison in New Zealand we have 4000 kilometres of railway track but only 4.3 million residents or 1067 residents (and pro-rata taxpayers) per kilometre. In Australia this difference is even more exaggerated - only 661 residents per kilometre of track - but it also has huge long haul ore and coal trains etc which may soften the costs for taxpayers.

So if even before we step on a train - and even if we don't - a kiwi taxpayer will be forking out around two bucks for every one dollar equivalent of German citizens, on every bit of rail track.
Of course we also have to import most of the hardware - whether raw steel or built up parts - so that adds greater freight and added Exchange rate factors. The absolute number of tourists adds significantly to public transport ridership figures -  Germany getting 300 million tourist nights per year!

Hey but we get the space man!! All that wonderful open air and uncrowded living space and that fantastic backbone of snow covered alps! Yup 

Germany is not such a big country physically - about 25% bigger in land area than Te Wai Pounamu. Expressed another way if we had a comparable population to Germany we would have 60 million people living south of Cook Strait. Not counting school bus ridership, all surface-based timetable public transport systems in Te Wai Pounamu, between them probably currently carry around - at the most exceedingly generous estimate - 25 million passenger trips per year (i.e. ChCh Metro network 17 million; Dunedin CC network 1.5 million passengers per year, plus longer distance bus trips and trains and some smaller cities with services).

Multiplied by the equivalent German population 25 million trips per year x 60 million - that's 1.5 billion passengers a year our Te Wai Pounamu networks would carry if we had a German size population even just on a current low percentage transit usage!  In reality with that sort of population/tourist density ridership services can afford to run far more often, including fast and smooth (wider track) long distance electric trains at frequent intervals stimulating far far greater use of public transport.

So not only is New Zealand operating a railway system almost twice as long per capita as Germany but, in Te Wai Pounamu at least, we have one 60th the potential passenger ridership available, probably less if we factor in our lower absolute tourist usage level. In the circumstances, building any public transport system dependent on rail has slim chance of success or being cost effective or even environmentally effective. Rather it will consume billions of dollars - as it is in Auckland - whilst delivering minimal quality service - long walks or needless bus/rail transfers, lots of standing passengers, services in three or four directions only and heaps of land in carparks.

I say it is time that we said "auf wiedersehen" (i.e. goodbye for now) to rail and started building effective public transport systems, the sort that minimize journey times and maximize frequency, direction and doorstep to doorstop access!!


  1. This is the saddest news ever! I do not like it, even if it does represent "realtity".

    Is there really no other way around the cold fact that logistically we should be a nation of bus users. Jolty, small, no where to walk and part of the road system rather than the deliciously liminal feeling of being miles from civilisation on a train. Surely that needs to be factored in?

    If rail is so prohibitive - then why was it the transport of choice for pioneer New Zealand?

  2. Awesome courage Rethread!!!

    Courage to feel sad, to feel sad that fantastic dreams can't always be realised! Sad, yes, but real, however horrible "rea"l is never ultimately sad, sooner or later one looks down and realises - hey fantastic - my feet are standing on the ground.

    You can't bullshit reality, it bites back!!

  3. Added comment a few days later - travel in a high powered Scania or Volvo quality double decker with airbag suspension, plenty of foot room and air conditioning, as I did last year,on Inter-City Christchurch-Invercargill (or as others can travel on Auckland-Wellington). It is slighlty surreal floating above the landscape and looking down into every small stream and gully crossed; there is nothing jolty about that! In fact it was much more comfortable than any NZ train (measured against 6 train trips in the last 5 years). I think most people remember rail sentimentally for the comforting de-duck de-duck noise [on welded rail sections not always so distinctively there] and forget how violently NZ rail lurches and tugs and pulls - my last trip down the Rangitikei Gorge early this year had a US tourist couple on the adjoining table clutching each other and holding tight their coffee cups with trepidation. I had to reassure them this was just normal(admittedly the driver was thrashing it!!). In time I think guided busways and truckways will traverse many obscure places, cutting through the back blocks off conventional roads, racing across viaducts (albeit without railway systems extreme weight a fraction of the cost to build) joining the most effective aspects of both rail and road transport into a super effective combination.