Running between rack and ruin

13/07/2008

Not content with buying the trains, Labour is now talking about building them. 

The Government will consider assembling new KiwiRail locomotives in New Zealand instead of overseas, State Owned Enterprises (SOE) Minister Trevor Mallard said.

 But the National Party says the plan is “an idea from the 1950s” and would waste taxpayer money.

Make that waste more money.

The Government bought rail operator Toll this month for $690 million. The purchase also included $140 million in debt. Finance Minister Michael Cullen has said an $80 million injection will be needed over the next five years to keep rail running. He has also signalled a “reinvestment package” of about $380 million which will include new locomotives.

Mr Mallard today said although the components of those locomotives would be bought overseas the Government was investigating the possibility of assembling them in New Zealand.

“There is no doubt there is a possibility of assembling locomotives in New Zealand,” he said on TVNZ’s Agenda programme.

“It’s probably a very logical thing to do from a currency perspective, from a value for money perspective.”

I don’t think logic has anything to do with this suggestion.

But National’s SOE spokesman Gerry Brownlee said the plan was “daft”.

“New Zealand’s economic well-being will not be served by returning to the glory days of NZ Railways, which everyone knew was a huge waste of taxpayer resources,” he said.

“New Zealanders still don’t know what the final bill for the railways buy-up is, let alone the cost of something like this.”

He said the fact the locomotives would be assembled in Mr Mallard’s Lower Hutt electorate suggested it was little more than a “save-my-seat campaign”.  

My first flat at Otago entered a float in the annual University capping parade. We built a railcar and one of the slogans we painted on its side was : NZR – running between rack and ruin. The more I hear about Kiwirail the more I think that slogan would apply to it too.

Update: No Minister   shows what going back to the 50s would mean and Inquiring Mind  says Labour’s indulging in time travel.


Trainwreck Back To The Future

04/07/2008

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.


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