June 27th, 2008

Edge

Bringing New Zealand back on track, I: Introduction and the upper North Island

I imagine this series of entries is going to be of interest to just about nobody (oh yeah, nothing like that sort of introduction to hook people!). It has evolved out of a procrastination exercise over the last couple of weeks to stop me from going absolutely insane with university work. I think it's a bit of a shame that the topic of transportation stimulates precious little interest in the public at large, as transport networks are what keep this place ticking and are pretty much central to human society. But I guess it's just a lot easier to get people really, really mad about terrorism, something that is less likely to personally affect the average Westerner than being kicked to death by a donkey, than about something that is central to their daily life. A good transport network means you can get home quickly from work and maximise your leisure time doing things you like. An inefficient transport network means you'll spend bloody ages in traffic jams or intolerably slow trains or clapped out old buses, and when you finally get home, your food and other things you like will be more expensive due to the extra freight costs hidden in the overall price. It really does matter.

This series of entries will focus on New Zealand, simply because it is the part of the world I know the best - even those areas that I largely haven't visited, I have studied historically, geographically, and socially. I would hope that by choosing to focus on New Zealand, I am avoiding talking out of my arse like I would be for most of Australia. There will be three parts: upper North Island, lower North Island, and South Island.

Put simply, it's time for an end to short-sighted transport planning. We need an integrated and efficient transport network and we need to start work on it now. We can't wait until we're at crisis point. Modes of transport should be used in complementary rather than competitive manners, e.g. bus routes feeding railways, as this will create a more efficient and sustainable network. In 1870, Julius Vogel's Great Public Works policy proposed a network of trunk routes linking New Zealand's major centres, and bringing the provincial railways under the control of the central government and standardising the system. Although Vogel's plan was to some extent hijacked by local interests (with the worst manifestation meaning Nelson today has no railway), it meant New Zealand completely avoided gauge disparities that have caused countless problems in Australia and elsewhere, and most importantly, it was absolutely pivotal to the development of New Zealand from a bunch of disparate British colonies into a cohesive nation. Before the railway linked Christchurch and Dunedin, they were a lengthy sea voyage or arduous overland journey apart - after the railway, they were an easy day's travel away. We need a Julius Vogel for today, though I’m not quite sure where we’re meant to find one. We need somebody with the long term vision and audacity to actually implement a vast, sweeping plan. It will be expensive and it will take time to bear fruit. But short term fixes are not the answer. New Zealand currently has a 19th century railway being ravaged by 20th century mentalities. Let's bring both the railway and the mentalities into the 21st century.

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Tomorrow or whenever I get around to it: the lower North Island, focusing on services out of a Wellington hub. Also, assuming I don't ramble too much, some rolling stock considerations.