By Peri Zee
In order to use less of the planet’s finite resources we need to re-think how people move around our cities and towns. We need to shift the system away from prioritising private luxury for some to public luxury for everyone. Very high-quality public services are central to the concept of degrowth. Degrowth, according to Dr Jason Hickel, is a planned reduction of energy and resource use designed to bring the economy back into balance with the living world in a way that reduces inequality and improves human well-being. How might we apply degrowth thinking to transport in Aotearoa New Zealand?
First, we must acknowledge that all people deserve affordable transport options to access the people and places they love and to meet their everyday needs. This means every person has at least one option, but preferably more than one option, that suits their lifestyle and situation.
Transport options are constrained by the infrastructure available to us where we live, work and play. In most places around Aotearoa past decisions have prioritised individual car ownership: private luxury. This is problematic for our need to reduce energy and material consumption; it takes a lot of energy to move a 2 tonne vehicle (whether electric or not) usually carrying just 1 or 2 people. It is also problematic because not everyone can drive or afford to own a car. As fossil fuels become more and more expensive, we know that more and more people will get locked out of car ownership. Others will continue to be forced into car ownership having no other options to access jobs which will further exacerbate poverty. Furthermore, providing more roads to service the ever-growing number of private vehicles will become more and more expensive, emissions intensive and difficult in a changing climate.
A just transition to a low carbon transport system requires that we provide high quality public transport including trains. Trains get priority at intersections and have their own dedicated line meaning they can be faster than travelling by car on congested highways. Well-provisioned trains can include tables for working at, toilets and even a café car for long journeys. These features make them a luxury when compared to travelling by private car – especially when travelling with children.
For longer journeys we can compare the public luxury of trains to the private luxury of air travel. Air travel is expensive and will continue to become more expensive as airlines desperately try to decarbonise their operations with various (energy and land intensive) methods. While air travel is indeed a luxury it is not particularly luxurious an activity when compared to long distance trains. Air travel is quicker, but the whole journey times can be comparable for short flights given the need to head to the airport early, go through security and then take another mode of transport to get into the city. On an inter-regional train you can jump on minutes before it leaves, spend the journey relaxing or working then arrive in the city centre. I’d prefer a relaxing scenic train over a noisy, stressful, and cramped airplane any day – especially if it means never having to experience a freaky landing onto Wellington Airport on a stormy day ever again.
The future is rail – let’s invest in this luxury for all to enjoy.
By Ross Clark
It may not seem obvious, when trying to revive long distance passenger rail in New Zealand, as to why we also need to look at inter-urban bus services. These services have been declining for many years, with consequences for that part of the population which could be considered to be, "transport-disadvantaged".
My working paper, Scheduled inter-urban coach & shuttle travel in New Zealand: an assessment of market size and market trends
By Darren Davis & Malcolm McCracken
It’s one month until Budget Day 2023. Read on to hear the critical need for rail investment in the Lower North Island.
This is a sad story of how we still ‘plan’ for growth in Aotearoa. We do so without providing people living in new and growing communities with real transport choice. Even when public transport solutions are available with high benefits, we tend to double down on big roads which make existing issues worse. This makes it nearly impossible for Aotearoa to achieve a zero-carbon future with genuine, inclusive transport choice.
The first part of the tragedy is growth without transport choice. The second part is that even when good transport choices with high benefits are on the table, the choice is to double-down on roading investment and spend the bare minimum on public transport.
The most clear and present example of this Transport Land Use Disintegration is taking place here and now in the Lower North Island where significant growth is taking place in Kāpiti, Horowhenua and the Wairarapa. For example, Horowhenua District Council’s updated growth strategy in 2022 plans for an additional 26,008 additional people by 2040 – a projected 71% increase. Kāpiti District, part of which is beyond the Wellington urban rail network, is projected to increase by 32,000 people over the next 30 years. Wairarapa is also growing, partly due to lifestyle reasons and partly driven by housing affordability challenges in Wellington. For example, medium growth projections indicate that Masterton district’s population will grow from 27,500 in 2020 to 30,549 (+11.1%) by 2031. At the same, the single commuter train from the Manawatū, Horowhenua and northern Kāpiti is at capacity as are the three peak-direction commuter trains from the Wairarapa. Put simply, there is a lot of growth coming, and there is no public transport capacity available for more people to use the train now, let alone any ability to accommodate population growth on public transport.
The second part of the tragedy is about doubling-down on high-cost, low-benefit roading investments when robust public transport business cases that provide effective, affordable solutions with high benefits are ignored.
At least $4 billion is being invested in roading in the Wellington Northern Corridor which serves Kāpiti and Horowhenua. $2.325 billion of this is for already-opened sections of expressway and motorway from Transmission Gully through to Ōtaki and $1.5 billion is budgeted for Ōtaki to North of Levin. Waka Kotahi is also due to pay $125 million a year for the next 30 years under the terms of the Transmission Gully Public Private Partnership. This takes the total roading investment in the Wellington Northern Corridor to over $7 billion. All this investment doubles down on car dependency and a high carbon future, often just to get commuters and holidaymakers to the back of the traffic jam faster. At the same time, the once daily Capital Connection commuter train from Palmerston North to Wellington is on life support and being patched up with refurbished rolling stock from the 1970s to keep it limping along for a few more years. The Wairarapa Line trains are out of capacity and also in urgent need of an upgrade.
The contrast could not be starker along State Highway 1. The gold-plated expressway, 100% funded by central government, at times parallels a single-track rail corridor with a solitary weekday peak-direction commuter train and the three times a week tourist-oriented Northern Explorer service.
In the wake of recent extreme weather events, we often talk about the need for resilience and redundancy in our transport networks, but in reality, this only seems to apply to roads. For example, the Transmission Gully expressway was specifically designed to provide an alternative to the vulnerable Centennial Highway, wedged between the Paekākāriki Escarpment and the Tasman Sea. But the rail line parallel to Centennial Highway still clings precipitously to the escarpment on its steep, slow, single-track descent from Pukerua Bay into Paekākāriki and is subject to regular disruption from increasingly frequent extreme weather events. While car capacity has doubled with Transmission Gully, rail capacity remains severely constrained to serve the fast-growing Kāpiti and Horowhenua districts by the section of single track between North and South Junctions. This also severely impacts on the ability of the Wellington urban rail network to meet growth in the parts of Kāpiti on the Wellington urban network.
While the interim Capital Connection rolling stock, made up of refurbished 1970s Mark II carriages from the UK, will buy a few years’ reprieve, the opportunity cost of this is that it puts off, but doesn’t replace the need for a robust long-term solution to regional rail rolling stock that would provide a template for regional rail networks across Aotearoa.
What makes this situation worse is that there is a robust business case on the table with high benefits which provide a compelling case for passenger rail solutions for the Lower North Island. This is the 2019 Lower North Island Longer-Distance Rolling Stock Business Case.
Lower North Island Longer-Distance Rolling Stock Business Case
This business case was completed at the end of 2019 and made a compelling case for the existing Wairarapa Line and Capital Connection rolling stock to be replaced within the limited lifespan of the current fleet by 2025. It proposed its replacement with 15 four-carriage dual mode trains able to run on electricity within the Wellington electrified network. It noted that both the Capital Connection and peak Wairarapa Line trains were at capacity and urgently required additional services, as well as new or much improved non-peak services and a doubling of weekend services on the Wairarapa Line and new weekend service on the Manawatū Line.
The business case had a benefit cost ratio of 1.5 to 3.1, compared to the very low benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of 0.22-0.37 for Ōtaki to North of Levin Expressway, originally estimated to cost $817 million. At its new cost of $1.5 billion, this BCR will most likely have slipped further. Construction cost inflation means that the Ōtaki to North of Levin Expressway project is once again being rescoped to fit within budget.
The benefit of the recommended investment is not limited to regional rail. The infrastructure investment would benefit freight and Kiwirail Great Journeys train services, without those services picking up any of the cost. The business case did include significant investment in Wairarapa Line infrastructure to enable more frequent service. However, much of this investment is now underway as part of a separate Wairarapa Line upgrade programme, which means that the benefit of the new rolling stock is even higher, given that much of the infrastructure cost is already covered. In an irony, that is frequently repeated in New Zealand public transport planning, the Wairarapa Line infrastructure improvements enable, but don’t provide for, improved rail services to use the improved infrastructure. If a future decision were taken for electrification of the Manawatū or Wairarapa lines, investment in dual mode sets is not a sunk cost as it would enable those services to be extended further beyond any future electrification, for example to Whanganui.
Despite this compelling case for investment, the 2022 budget bid for this rolling stock was refused while investment continued in the Ōtaki to North of Levin expressway, whose costs vastly exceed its benefits, continued. The failure of this bid took everyone, most particularly the Greater Wellington and Horizons regional councils, by surprise, given its high benefits, support for transport choice in growth areas and its role as effective climate change action. The two regional councils have resubmitted the proposal in the 2023 budget, to be made public on 18th May.
Instead, Government decided to implement an interim solution for the ageing Capital Connection fleet with the refurbishment of 1970s era ex- British Rail Mark 11 carriages which have been quietly rusting in Taumarunui since Auckland electrified its rail network in 2015, making these carriages redundant.
While this may provide a stop gap solution for the Capital Connection trains for a few years, it means that a more extensive refurbishment of the existing Wairarapa Line rolling stock will be required to enable them to operate until 2032. This would be avoided if they are replaced by the bi-mode trains proposed in this business case as well as making much earlier use of the much-higher service frequency enabled by the already committed Wairarapa Line infrastructure investment.
It also kicks for touch the urgently needed longer-term regional rail rolling stock solution, which could provide a template for similar regional rail solutions in the Upper North Island and Canterbury.
Given that there is at least a four-year time frame from funding commitment to new rolling stock being in operation, a decision is required now in order to have the new rolling stock running for 2028.
Put simply, our ask is that:
So, if you believe that passenger rail has a crucial role to play in securing sustainable, inclusive, carbon-friendly mobility for Aotearoa, the time to act is now.
By Lindsey Horne
Credit: Dries Buytaert
Approaching the Easter weekend or any kind of long journey with small children often means car seats, snacks, wishing for an extra iPad, pre-planning sanity stops along the way, a lot of deep breaths as you’re stuck behind traffic or on a more serious note, hopes and prayers for a safe journey during one of the most notorious times on New Zealand roads.
Alternatively, it means extremely costly flights with toddlers in tow, making your way to the airport, and then from the airport to your destination, with more and more emissions ticking over when recent climate related weather events are staring us in the face.
As part of the parliamentary enquiry into inter-regional passenger rail, Women in Urbanism sent out a simple survey to New Zealanders, asking them to share their stories of what long distance trains meant to them. They received over 330 stories from over 130 New Zealanders.
The findings showed support from a wide range of New Zealanders, with diversity across age, gender and regional spread. In particular, long distance trains did seem to strike a chord with caregivers travelling with young children. This makes sense when we dig into the key themes of why travelling by train with toddlers is so appealing.
Motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of deaths for children under 14 and in 2019 after the Easter Weekend and ANZAC day long weekends, 19 children were killed on our roads in car crashes. It makes sense that when travelling with precious cargo, that you want to keep them safe and avoid time on the roads this time of year.
“Trains have saved me years of stress from driving on busy, dangerous highways, getting tired and feeling unsafe on the roads.”
18-24 Female, Canterbury
“No one was exhausted by the experience of the train travel, no stress of driving, parking, security, driver fatigue and safety.”
70-74 Male, Auckland
“I always enjoyed the train much more than the car journey, which was often nauseating and scary.”
30-34 Female, Wellington
QUALITY TIME OVER TRAFFIC
No driving involved, so caregivers and their children can spend that time relaxing, playing games, people watching, window gazing and arrive far less strung out than a long drive or a journey to and from the airport with a jam-packed flight in between.
“We took our daughter on a train trip, who was 8yo at the time. For her it was a wonderful trip, somewhere she could move between carriages and also enjoy the open-air viewing area.
Food was very expensive, but great to have it available. Having toilet access throughout was also amazing. Having recently made the same journey by car, I gazed jealously at the train as it glided (glid?) by. Sure the car was cheaper for our family - now numbering 5 - but it is also a squeeze, with carefully planned rest stops and frequent arguments.”
45-49 Female, Canterbury
ACCESS TO TOILETS ON THE GO
A big selling point for trains with toddlers is access to toilets and changing areas while you’re on the move. No side of the road pull-overs or trying to time a trip to the toilet around a delayed flight.
“When our child was born in 2007 I would take the train with him to Hamilton and be collected by my parents (a one and a half hour drive from Tauranga). It was a more comfortable journey than the bus, I could change his nappies in the little toilet (not ideal but fine), and we could move around if he needed a change of scene. The journey was part of the adventure (but long 10 hours to Tauranga). I could pay attention to him in a way I couldn't if I was driving.”
50-54 Female, Wellington
ACCESS TO FOOD ON THE GO
A hungry toddler…watch out. Having a dining cart on the train and being allowed to bring snacks on board is another benefit to travel by train. You can avoid the petrol station packaged food and opt for barista coffee and meals on board, or have a dignified lunch at a table as you watch the world roll by with your little ones.
“We travelled Auckland - Wellington - Auckland. It meant we could travel as a family with young babies (at the time). Walk up and down. Look out windows etc, without some air hostess telling us to sit down or to stop loitering around the toilets. So much easier to feed the children too.”
45-49 Female, Auckland
ABILITY TO GET UP AND WALK AROUND
Having a toddler strapped into a car seat for hours on end is not fun for anyone. Being able to walk around, go to the viewing carriage, walk to the dining cart can result in a vast decrease in screaming and whining.
“My husband and I have four children and they were just 2, 4, 6 & 7 yrs old at the time. As you can imagine, this is a handful to manage during a long distance car-ride.
Therefore, all the children and I got tickets for the train from Auckland to Wellington. My husband dropped us at the Station before 7am, then he drove to Wellington that day in our overstuffed car, while the kids and I travelled in blissful comfort on the train! My little ones loved being able to explore the carriages - playing happily with other travelling children, and visiting the Observation Car and little cafe. I spent time in enjoyable conversation with our fellow passengers, and loved everything about the train and our trip. We had a fun (and scenic!) stretch of our legs in National Park en route, bought lunch at the cafe there, then off again to arrive in Wellington by 7pm.
We even hosted my youngest child’s 4th birthday on a train! Trains are fabulous. Let’s have more of them.”
45-49 Female, Wellington
Kiwirail Great Journeys is offering $25 tickets for kids on their services over Easter…but there’s a catch
Yes, it’s true - $25 tickets for children under 14, which is excellent and actually speaks to how a national passenger service should be affordable all year round and for all ages. However, there is no Northern Explorer service that runs on the actual Easter weekend, only the days before and after the Easter break.
In addition, there are only three train routes, so if you’re not on Auckland to Wellington; Christchurch to Picton or Christchurch to Greymouth routes then you’re out of luck. And while that $25 child ticket is looking mighty affordable, it’s $229 for parents - each, one way. That’s $1,016 for a return trip for two parents and two kids.
What that tells us is that despite having a few long distance trains, they’re not frequent, they don’t go to enough key destinations and they’re unaffordable.
New Zealanders want alternative, affordable options to driving and flying and trains are an obvious opportunity
The recent parliamentary enquiry into inter-regional passenger rail saw more than 1700 submissions, the vast majority in favour of long distance passenger rail, alongside Save Our Trains’ petition which has almost 11,000 signatures in favour of more train options across Aotearoa. In particular, long distance passenger trains need to be affordable - so that families can afford to use them, all year round not just over Easter with cheaper tickets, we need to have more frequent services on our existing lines and broaden our network to reach more locations.
This is possible for Aotearoa. Up until 2001 we had a passenger service running from Tauranga to Auckland, the Christchurch to Invercargill Southerner service closed up shop in 2002 and many countries with similar sized populations and population distribution are showing us that it’s possible to run long distance trains in smaller countries, such as Finland, Ireland, Croatia and Argentina.
What’s good for the kiddies is good for everyone
New Zealanders are making it clear that they want more transport options like passenger rail and the opportunity to invest is now. The benefits of travelling by train aren’t just for toddlers and their caregivers. Having access to toilets, the ability to walk around and have a relaxing journey, and having a safe journey are benefits for all New Zealanders.