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The great train disaster

  • May 7th, 2008

David Farrar links to the Sydney Morning Herald (“You only get one Helen Clark in your life”) chortling at the Toll’s besting of the the gullible Kiwi leaders pretending to be business people.

Here’s an extract from an email I got from a friend yesterday who was a very senior NZ Rail executive before it was sold the first time:

Toll are laughing all the way to the bank. They have made a killing, their share price will take a jump because they have got rid of the “bottomless pit” ( rail infrastructure and passenger services ) and still retained the lucrative “ Freight Forwarding” business and get to stay rent free ( I think ) in the buildings they are currently in, how crazy is that. That is where the money is. I don’t think any passenger service in the world makes money, NZ Rail certainly doesn’t. If I was Toll’s competitors I would be up in arms.”

He went on:

“Clearly this whole move is an attempt to win votes, nothing more and nothing less. …. the Dom Post got it right this morning when they described it as a “ Billion Dollar Buy Back”. However, I think from experience they will find it to be “ Several Billion Dollar Buy Back “.

Cullen is saying it fits with Labour’s Kyoto commitments. How the hell is he going to “Green Rail “. The Rail Ferries use Sludge for fuel ( you can almost walk on it ) which is the most polluting fuel available so they will have to install what they call “ Scrubbers “ ( I think ) on the ships, that’s if they can. On top of that you have the huge amount of Diesel the Locomotives use not to mention the electricity to power their electric fleet. In fact they use so much power they tap into the National Grid. Then you have the Rail Heritage Groups who own and run Steam Locomotives around the country – a large business. It will cost the Government megabucks to comply with Kyoto. But then they won’t be worried because, come November, hopefully it will be your problem.”
I want to see some genuine analysis of whether rail is genuinely fuel or carbon efficient under New Zealand conditions.

With another family we have four railway wagons. I know how heavy they are, because we personally dug the holes and worked the jacks to put them on piles to be our bach.

There is no way that hauling 10 to 35 tonnes of steel (depending on type) up New Zealand’s steep hills can be as fuel efficient as a similar capacity truck, unless it runs mostly full most of the time. For passengers (people are a light load in a heavy vehicle) I suspect a bus would win under NZ average loadings.


  • jcuknz
  • May 11th, 2008
  • 9:46 am

Most calculations by the road transport loobby ignore the appauling damage the heavy trucks do to our roads which is not paid for by the industry but subsidised by the light vehicle user. Any claim by the industry about this is typical hog-wash protecting its base. Whereas rail has always paid for its use of its track.

Having travelled over most of the AMTRAK routes in the States I am obviously biased in favour of rail as a customer. Despite the delays, which come from unfair practice in routing procedures by the freight companies which control use of thye track, it is a great way to travel and see the country in a way impossible from 30,000ft.

While your arguments about hauling tonnage appear to make sense it ignores the potential for lightweight rail traffic. One of the problems with rail is that its stock was made to last. You should also not confuse weight with drawbar pull … rail generally does not go up and down hills in the way roads do.

  • jcuknz
  • May 13th, 2008
  • 8:40 pm

I thought Bill English was parroting the same old junk this morning when he talkedf about the way NZR was run twenty years ago.

Actually once Sir Roger Douglas told Rail Bosses that there was no money in the kitty for them they did a great job of turning NZR around into a reasonably efficient outfit .. sadly for private enterprise to make a killing out of rather than for the benefit of the country. A case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

No, if the politicians keep their noses out of the trough NZR people are perfectly capable of running the show and if the politicians want to make certain services available then they should provide the money for NZRail to do the job.


jcuknz is talking nonsense about trucks, two of the government’s own studies in recent years show road user charges more than recover the average maintenance costs of the state highway network (RUC is fairly precise as to charging damage based on weight/axle configuration).

Stephen, the former Railways GM about 25 years ago was saying rail was no good for passenger loads until it started carrying the equivalent of 3 full bus loads or more. Then the additional costs of bespoke equipment and motive power start to be more marginally cost efficient for rail over buses. In NZ you struggle to get this except peak times on some Wellington services, the profitable TranzAlpine tourist route and a handful of Auckland services.

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