Rushing and waiting

July 31, 2009

It’s hard to travel without rushing or waiting and today we’ve done both.

We couldn’t get a seat on a plane home from Milan in time for the National Party conference and the next best option our travel agent came up with was leaving from Zurich.

We left Verona at 9.30 this morning and were due in Milan at 10.55 with 15 minutes to catch the connecting train to Switzerland.

The train from Verona was late, leaving us with just 5 minutes to get off it, run with cases to find the platform for the next one and board, which we did with two minutes to spare.

That train was supposed to take us all the way to Zurich but about a third of the way in to the journey it stopped at a station and we were told to get off. Several announcments were made in German which didn’t help us and we had an anxious wait until a train arrived three quarters of an hour later and we were told in German, French and English that we should board it.

It was bound for Lucerne, and we were told we had to change for Zurich but not at which station. We found out in time but had only a couple of minutes to catch the connecting train which got us to Zurich Central Station.

It was just a short train ride from there to the airport however, we were too early to check in so had to hang round for nearly two hours with our cases.

Still, better too early than too late and at least we were able to wander around which was easier to deal with than the hour wait on the tarmac which Cactus Kate faced.

We’ve a flight to Singapore ahead of us now, four hours in the airport there then the final leg home. But I won’t relax until we get to Christchurch because we’re scheduled to land at 9.30 on Saturday morning and any major delay will mean we’ll be too late to vote in the election of directors  at the National Party conference.


Train thoughts

July 22, 2009

It’s always better to start with the worst and move up to the best.

We did it the other way round with European trains.

The first was one of Spain’s fast trains which was clean, comfortable and on time. We changed in Madrid to another fast train which was of a similar standard (though I wouldn’t recommend the food).

In Barcelona we swapped to a slower train. The seats were still comfortable but not as good as those in the fast trains. It was about half an hour late but as we were in holiday mode that didn’t worry us.

Yesterday we left Montpellier on a French fast train which was better than the previous day’s slow one but not as comfortable as the Spainish one. We swapped in Avignon to a slower one, got in late to Nice where we only just had time to catch our connection to Ventimiglia and then found it had been cancelled.

The train we were supposed to catch had been leaving from platform E. When it was cancelled we were told to go to G – down the stairs we’d just lugged our cases up and up another set of stairs. We milled there with other confused travellers for about 10 minutes until someone who could understand French translated an annoucnement which told us we had to go to platform D – back down the stairs and  up the ones we’d descended from platform E.

The train eventually turned up and left 20 minutes late. We had originally had 15 minutes to spare to get the connecting train and weren’t hopeful of making it but there were so many of us they’d held it back.

That was a good start and the seats were comfortable but the train was slow, it started off 20 mintues behind schedule and ended up 50 minutes late in Milan.

The only food on offer was very expensive junk (2.70 euros for a very small packet of dried fruit).

But the worst was the loo – clean enough but all it was just a seat with a pipe straight on to the track. Pity the poor people who live close to the railway.


Not who pays but what we pay for

March 21, 2009

Jim Hopkins is on the right track:

And we all missed the point. What matters is not who pays for stuff but the stuff we’re paying for.

Like trains, for crying out loud. Apparently, much of this new post-regional, national fuel tax will fund the electrification of Auckland’s railways.

Well, electrify them, by all means – assuming we can persuade ourselves to build another dam (or let the Russians sell us a surplus nuclear sub we can moor off Waiheke) but don’t pretend trains are the answer.

If they are, you’re asking the wrong question.

Expecting trains to solve Auckland’s transport woes makes as much sense as lassoing rogue elephants with spaghetti or telling Phil Goff he can win our hearts and minds by being himself.

Cities are created by the best available means we have to get around them. When that was feet, cities were small and compact. When it was trams and trains, they got bigger. Now it’s cars they sprawl, like concrete amoebas, all over the place.

And people move randomly about them – from Howick to Devonport to Sylvia Park, something trains can’t easily handle.

That’s just how it is. Some cities were created BA (Before Automobiles) and trains make sense.

Others grew AA (After Automobiles) and they don’t.

Build a motorway and get over it.

Being relegated to fortnightly offerings hasn’t dimmed his wit.


Running between rack and ruin

July 13, 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.


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