Back to the 1800s - Arnold Difflock

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Words: Arnold Difflock
19 Nov 2019

If railways had never been invented, would we be inventing them now, you may ask? Especially on a twisting and turning, undulating route from Auckland to Whangarei traversing swamps, bridges and tunnels and which takes a train over seven hours to complete the 215 kilometre journey (when it’s not held up by breakdowns, slips or cattle on the track).

But yes, our illustrious Government has decided to spend $95million of Shane’s slush fund on a short-term tidy-up of the 100-year-old line between the two cities as the solution to opening up the North and uncorking the region’s potential. It won’t do either of these things of course, and they’ve already admitted that it would take $1.3 billion to do the job properly. Given the responsibility that this Government takes with taxpayers’ money it might as well be a zillion.

Yes, this is what your Government is doing with the fuel tax you pay every time you fill your car. Splashing it on Victorian-era technology like trains and bikes and cancelling urgently needed roading projects.

National had it worked out. The way to open up the economy of the North was to plan for a proper four-lane road to Whangarei which trucks could cover in about two and a half hours (not seven), collecting their loads and delivering them exactly where they’re needed without any double handling. If trains have any relevance in 2019 it relates to the transport of bulk goods over distances of 1000 kilometres or more on a wide-gauge track without too many twists and turns. In other words, not in New Zealand.

But no, this makes no sense to the Coalition of Losers. Instead, we see Shane Jones with his Fat Controller’s hat on at the Helensville railway station announcing that patching up the tortuous 100-year-old, single-track railway line is the answer to kick-starting Northland’s economy. What he didn’t say is that the seven-hour trip is the best that the train can do. Inevitably it will get caught up in the Auckland suburban system with which it shares the line, and will have to travel at the speed of the slowest suburban train which has to stop at each station.

Then it will stop completely for several hours every time there is an accident on one of the many level crossings that infest this primitive network or when the line is blocked by a suburban train halted by a power failure. Of course this project is not just about freight trains.

If you dig far enough into their woolly thinking you will find mention of a dream world where passenger trains will rumble slowly up to Whangarei carrying tourists and holidaymakers half way to the winterless North, but conveniently there is no mention of how they will accomplish the rest of their journey to Kerikeri, Paihia, Cape Reinga or wherever they’re going.

The proposed extension of the four-lane Northern Motorway north of Warkworth has been canned (as have all the other four-lane roads proposed by National that haven’t already been started) and instead, your petrol taxes are going to be spent on propping up a rickety rail network in the provinces and clogging up the main arterial roads in the cities with slow trams which don’t go anywhere near where 95 per cent of the population lives.

So next time you’re stuck in a never-ending traffic jam on the two-lane death road between Warkworth and Whangarei, remember that you’ve got Jonesy and Winston to thank for spending your petrol excise on a 19th century railway line instead of a proper highway that would really open up the North to development and prosperity. And these are the guys who say that they’re committed to getting the economy of Northland up to speed. This $95million will simply be poured down a big hole.

Even if the line could be upgraded for free it will still be a white elephant because the ongoing costs of keeping it open will exceed the revenue by a wide margin. In its 100-year history the line has always needed a subsidy and that won’t change. It’s just that the subsidy will now come from your petrol tax and not from the consolidated fund.

Let’s hope that not too much of it is spent before we’re rid of this incompetent Government so we can get on with building the road that Northland sorely needs.

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