Trainwreck Back To The Future

The best advice I had from a racing driver was to look where you’re going because you’ll go where you’re looking.  Jim Hopkins  proves the lesson doesn’t just apply to the road:

We like looking back. We love the rear-vision mirror. It’s our true compass.

That’s why we’ve just bought all those trains, lock, stock and funnel – for $640 million or a billion, depending on who you believe.

And, apparently, all us good old, rear-vision Kiwis are positively chuffed we’ve got the trains back. We think it’s great that Michael Cullen’s the new Thin Controller.

No matter that we didn’t need to buy 100 per cent of Toll when 51 per cent would’ve been perfectly fine.

No matter that we’re now obliged to spend $300,000,000 on new kit. No matter that any increase in rail traffic will, paradoxically, increase the demand for better roads – to truck goods from the hinterland to the track.

Because we’re back where we were. And yesterday is such a cosy place.

Meanwhile, Kupe and Cook are in India, talking to the Tata motor company, which is busily developing a French-invented compressed-air engine that will replace the gas-guzzlers we’ve got in our cars and trucks.

And that’s just one of the innovations under way in places where people look forward.

Mark my words. Within a decade, the world’s roads will be teeming with vehicles running on air, hydrogen, fuel cells, electricity and, who knows, maybe even that weird stuff you find in your belly button when you’ve forgotten to wash it for a while.

The combination of a ubiquitous infrastructure and a propulsive revolution will make trains even quainter than they are now. And no amount of sticking up RUCs to screw the transport scrum on the very day you become Brutish Rail will change that.

If you haven’t read this yet, it’s probably because your paper’s late and that’s probably because the roads are jammed with angry truckers who’ve probably decided they’ve had enough because they probably think our great leap backwards has gone off the rails.

And we’ll all be casualties of the train wreck that results from this reckless ride back to the future on 19th century technology, fuelled by 20th century ideology and funded by 21st century tax payers.

7 Responses to Trainwreck Back To The Future

  1. poneke says:

    Why do people like you keep claiming trains are 19th century technology?

    Have you never been to Europe, China, Japan, America, and seen the fabulous 21st century trains that travel at hundreds of kms an hour, that get from London to Paris or New York to Washington DC faster than can be managed by flying?

    Cars are 19th Century technology… they still use the technology they did then. Trains have massively advanced since then.

    Shanghai has a train that runs from the airport to the CBD at FOUR HUNDRED KMs AN HOUR.

    Stop parotting pathetic propaganda written by others, it demeans you.


  2. homepaddock says:

    Guilty as charged but what are the chances of us getting those sorts of trains whoever owns them?


  3. bobux says:


    Its worth noting that even with vastly higher population densities, crowded roads and clogged airports, many of those high-tech railways still rely on government subsidies to be viable.

    And as homepaddock says, there is not the slightest prospect that these high-tech marvels will ever be used in New Zealand. That would require not just the tracks to be replaced but also the underlying railbeds to be upgraded. It simply isn’t going to happen.

    I too love the technology used in the high-speed trains, and was thrilled to be travelling on one a fortnight ago. But suggesting they have a place in New Zealand is like suggesting Moscow’s astonishing metro system could work in Auckland. I wish it were otherwise, but it aint.


  4. Ed Snack says:

    Poneke, are you prepared to put up the $10 billion or more it would take to just START on having train system like that ? If not, cut out the absolute bullshit that you know is bullshit. Trains are still using the same technology, just like cars, and like cars, they use it a lot better. The excpetion being Maglev trains, and there’s a reason there’s only one or two of them around…

    Rail in NZ would take a massive investment to be a truly modern infrastructure, probably $100 billion or more to get to the levels you are talking about, because we start with nothing. Think of the expense to regrade the track, widen it to a more sensible 2 metres or so, bore out every single tunnel, rebuild every single bridge, completeky new equipment, and so on and so forth.

    So, stop pushing other peoples propaganda, you are thereby demeaned youself.


  5. […] Century technology.” This falsehood has even been picked up by people who should know better, such as the blogger Homepaddock , a fellow journalist whose brain would normally engage before she parrots such trite […]


  6. kotare says:

    I’m with Poneke on this. This post and the Jim Hopkins piece are codswallop, pure and simple.

    Poneke’s said it pretty well, so just a couple of additional points. Hydrogen fuel cell cars face enormous challenges to get to market in anything approaching reasonable numbers – like, for example, the need to install a completely new energy transportation and fuelling system.

    As for electric cars – good idea in theory, but imagine the load on our already creaking national grid if everyone was charging up their plug-ins overnight from the mains.

    As for bobux’s comment about massive government subsidies to rail – who do you think keeps our national roading system going and expanding? Not the private sector, that’s for sure.


  7. bobux says:


    Doubt anyone will see this, but your claim is wrong. The roads are fully funded by by combination of Road User Charges on diesel vehicles, and a fuel tax on petrol sold.

    The people who use the roads pay for them. This isn’t what I call a subsidy.


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