Thursday, March 15, 2007

The railway religion

You, through your taxes, are paying to reopen the Onehunga railway branch line so that a new passenger rail service can be started from Onehunga to Britomart. Yes there is a railway there, but the passenger service ended in 1973 (a decision by Ron Bailey, Minister of Railways in the Kirk government – hardly a government of neo-liberal economists!). Freight services dried up some years ago with the termination of contracts for serving the wharf at Onehunga. The line simply has no economic use, unless some major freight customer wants to use the wharves at Onehunga.
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One commenter on the NZ Herald website looks at it critically (Tony - most of the rest commenting are muppets)
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$10 million is needed to bring the line up to scratch – that’s your taxes. As much as $5 million more is needed to build a station, that will probably come directly or indirectly from Auckland regional ratepayers. There will need to be more trains to provide the half hourly service (yes half hourly!! The tracks will sit empty every 15 minutes – imagine a new road like that!) . So another $9 million for 3 2-car diesel units for a half hourly service, double that if you want quarter hourly, double it again if you want a service that reflects the minimum efficient capacity of a passenger train (three busloads). However I’ll be conservative and argue $9 million, not $36 million for a frequent high capacity service.
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So $24 million before we’ve carried a single passenger. There will be fare revenue, but it will recover about 40% of the operating costs (based on recent cost recovery ratios from fares) – that doesn’t include renewals.
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So how many people will this be for? 300 more rail passengers in the two hour peak by 2011. Of that 300, only 57% will actually be at the two stations on the line, the rest will be people at the stations on the main line (catching it because of a higher frequency service, which could be achieved without spending $15 million on the line itself). So that’s 129 passengers on the branch itself. Of those let’s conservatively assume half are a transfer from the local bus service, (which I believe is a commercial – i.e. not subsidised, service). So we are down to 60 people a day. 60 people to shift mode for $24 million. $400,000 per person to shift mode!! Add in the remaining 85 on the main line (remember 171 would use the trains for the line at stations on the main line, and half of those were bus passengers), who can share the cost of the rolling stock and the subsidy, and we are down to $374,000.
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And that’s before you’ve paid 60% of the cost of running the damned train from your fuel taxes and rates.
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But this is a good deal according to the Greens - because trains are good, always, without fail, even services that couldn't stack up in the days the railways were run as an employment scheme with a monopoly on medium to long haul freight.
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Of course the next step they all say is a rail service to the airport hmmmm, with a bridge no doubt. Remember the city-airport rail service in Sydney isn’t economically viable, and Melbourne looked at it and couldn’t justify it, developing an express bus service instead (which was introduced after the Citylink tollway was built, greatly reducing travel times to/from the airport). Ask yourself how many people going to Auckland airport actually start their trips anywhere convenient to the rail line between Britomart and Onehunga - why would you get the train from the North Shore (you're going to transfer downtown really?), Waitakere and Manukau or even most of the isthmus. Would Helen Clark get it from Mt Roskill? Hardly.
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Nevertheless, this is a religion – the rail religion – devoid of economics and reason. 129 people on 4 train services in the 2 hour peak is around 33 people a train - that's called a bus load - and a train that short is NOT environmentally better than a bus, because trains are heavier and consume more fuel - that's why a general rule of thumb is you need 3 bus loads to make a train start to be worthwhile.
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Now if you talked about the corridor being used to take trucks (and buses) between Onehunga and the Southern motorway, you might have a better case.
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No - you're gonna to be made to pay $374,000 up front to shift one person from car to train, and subsidise 60% of that person's trips, whereas before you didn't. You could always buy them small apartments next to work instead.

1 comment:

Andy Moore said...

All Christchurch is encouraged to make the time to attend the Public March To Protest Anti-Smacking Bill.

When? Wednesday 28 March 12pm
Where? Victoria Square (close to Cathedral Square
Speakers: Simon Barnett and Gary McCormick from MoreFM's show Si&Gary, Ali Jones from NewsTalk ZB.

www.politik.co.nz has all the information plus a map of where to meet.

This is quite likely the most significant protest march you will ever attend - do not miss it. We must show the Government - who have been ignoring the public - exactly what us Kiwis do think on this crucial issue.

Good parents will be criminalised if Bradford's bill becomes Law.

Make sure that it doesn't by supporting the march!

There will be marches also in Wellington, Nelson and Fielding. www.politik.co.nz has all the information on these marches, plus news updates, polls to vote in, petition forms and info on how to email the MPs.