Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Getting Railways On the Ground

As an urban planning student, I take great interest in transport systems and the like, boring as people think it is. To broaden my knowledge and get information, I often go to lectures and debates that take place at the university about transport and planning. As you would expect, it's usually full of lefties, with Jacinda Ardern and Keith Locke making appearances regularly. Auckland is a critical topic, with piss poor planning almost ruining the city for the last 80 years and a transport system on the brink of gridlock. Lefties want more public transport (I think they're just attracted by the word 'public') and especially more railways. The problem is, lefties hate business and have never mentioned any commercial use of railways - except for one MP.

Gareth Hughes (Green-7, candidate for Ōhariu) has said "Rail freight and coastal shipping are more sustainable, safe, and energy efficient modes for moving freight." ACT hasn't been too impressed with this, and the shipping part is bad timing with the oil spill, but finally there is a case for railways.

Public transport (especially for Auckland) has always been a contentious issue, ever since planning policy back in the 1950s advocated a sprawling car-dependent city, it has been difficult to implement public transport where necessary. People live too far from where they work now, too far apart, and Auckland's geography with all the hills and estuaries makes it sprawl even further. Industrial and commercial areas are actually well situated for railways though, since many industrial areas grew up around them (think the mass of railway tracks around the old slaughterhouses in Otahuhu). The problem is, railways have been neglected for goods transport, and this has happened before, during, and after the privatization of them, so it's not a case of private railways. In fact the biggest interest in railways has been shown by Fonterra and Mainfreight, so there is interest in their commercial use.

Problem is, it's extremely hard to justify railways on public transport alone, Len Brown is working extremely hard to push for the CBD rail link, and the opposition is coming from those who say it is not economically justifiable. Giving commercial use of railways does help though, the amount of goods that can be moved, the efficiency of goods being moved, and the added capacity this has to our total transport network - can provide huge benefits. Doubling the use of the tracks for commercial use is not a big deal in practice, but the economic potential is huge.

  • India: The British originally built the railway tracks to move goods around the country, so they could be exported to Britain and other markets. Now they're famous for their use as public transport.
  • Europe: What is often the model for other railway networks, France and Britain are well known for their railway pioneering and high public transport usage. From living in the UK near the trunk line between London and Birmingham, they sure as hell get used for moving goods around.
  • Auckland's Onehunga line: There are plans to get this extended to Mangere and Auckland International Airport. A railway line that started out serving the industrial areas of Penrose and Te Papapa is now looking at a new role as a major commuter line as well.

The problem with the railways in this country is that they've been neglected, allowing air, road, and sea transport to beat them in competition, furthering their neglect. Investment in railways is contentious, as it currently is state-owned and is not seen as efficient. But in the long term, they can make site rewarding investments, especially if successful businesses such as Fonterra reckon they could make good use of them. Lefties will never get railways off the ground without acknowledging that business, their arch-enemy, can use them too. 

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