Archive | February, 2012

Rail in 21st Century

27 Feb

If you think rail (including tramways) have no place in this 21st Century think again.

I’ve just read a brilliant book, Trains Unlimited by Tim Fischer.  Fisher is an ardent rail buff and former deputy Prime Minister of Australia (deputy to John Howard).  He also runs a Trains Unlimited radio programme on the ABC.  The very readable book is a world perspective while giving Aussie a good crack of the whip.  Auckland’s Britomart terminal gets praise with a proviso the underground loop needs to go ahead.  And the South Island TranzAlpine is included in his 12 best of the best world rail journeys.  Fischer helped to make the railway to Darwin possible and is an enthusiastic advocate for high speed rail in Australia.  He argues privatisation has worked in Australia but failed elsewhere.  He discusses lobbying for rail and claims rail wins hands down with many issues including fuel efficiency and climate change.  As a life-long rail devotee I discovered much I did not know, such as the brilliant rail engineer, George Stephenson, being illiterate before learning to read as a teenager.  The book is hard to put down.  I got my copy from Fishpond for $47.  Have also spotted it in bookstores.

Poignant anniversary

24 Feb

As with birthdays no longer cherished by those of us with a Gold Card, the first anniversary of the Christchurch February 22, 2011 earthquake was going to be one of mixed feelings.  Certainly it was going to be poignant.  I joined the estimated 20,000 assembled in North Hagley Park for the Memorial Service.  Brilliantly presented, the event included the reading out names of 185 casualties resulting from the shocking event.  At the conclusion 185 Monarch butterflies were released.  The beautiful winged creatures, their life cycles symbolising the demise and rebuild of Christchurch, seemed reluctant to take flight in their new freedom but I did see one fluttering amongst us spectators.  Prior to the Memorial Service I joined many people in a memorial garden in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.  I was amused to discover a tin Cathedral, the creation of a North Canterbury teenager.  A performance of Japanese Taiko drummers was impressive.  Here I first learned of the many nations associated with Christchurch because of seismic events.  Through tragedy Christchurch has gained a lot in world friendship.

Japan experienced the greatest loss in human terms when 115 people perished with the Canterbury Television Building collapse and subsequent fire.  Japanese casualties (many of the 115) were students of Kings English Language School.  A survivor, teenager Mayumi Asakawa, returned to Christchurch for yesterday’s events and bravely tolled the New Zealand World Peace Bell (Gifted to Christchurch people from Japan’s World Peace Bell Association in 2004.)  While a language student, Mayumi tried her utmost to live like a Kiwi kid.  This included taking her cut lunch to the language school.  But on February 22 last year she didn’t bring her lunch.  Just minutes before the earthquake at 12.51 pm, Mayumi left the third floor of the CTV building to buy her lunch.  For her it was a lucky event.  But a sad one owing to the loss of many classmates.  Meeting her and taking her photograph was, for me, the special event of the day.



Education by heritage tram

15 Feb

Education has been on the Wynyard Quarter and Dockline Tram agendas.   So here’s the ideal opportunity for schools looking for an out-of-the-classroom activity with a difference.  Hop aboard one of the heritage Dockline trams.  The education programme includes finding out how an electric tramcar works and experiencing a ride around the continually developing Wynyard Quarter.  While doing so students learn about Auckland waterfont history and discover Wynyard Quarter neighbours – Voyager Maritime Museum and Viaduct Basin in particular.  But the experience is not all passive.  Education packs (presently aimed at primary school students) include illustrated activity sheets to record such things as similarities and differences relating to contrasting eras of transport.  And there are comparisons of eras in architecture etc. to be noted around Wynyard Quarter and the environs.
• Parking is available at the Dockline Tram depot in Daldy Street.
• Cost: $5 per student. Teachers and adults. Free.
• Bookings (essential): tel. (09) 377 7701 or
• Allow one hour for the experienced

Tram curiosities

12 Feb

When driving the Christchurch trams I was often asked if it was propelled by a motor? I pointed out that the intruding pulsating clatter was from a compressor providing air to operate the brakes. I added the tramcar was powered by electric motors with electricity, a 600V Direct Current supply, from the overhead wire.
Another curiosity was the track the tram ran on. It is Stephenson Standard Gauge – an odd measurement of 1435 mm, or 4 ft. 8 1/2 in. (in imperial measurements). The rail gauge measurement is the distance between the inside edges of the rails. George Stephenson’s first railway- Stockton to Darlington of 1821 was a 4 ft 8 in. gauge (1422 mm), likely determined by the length of axles that would fit a Blacksmith’s forge. When the Manchester to Liverpool railway (the world’s first public passenger railway) was being constructed soon afterwards, Stephenson widened the track gauge by half an inch to enable rigid carriage wheels to more easily negotiate curves. Stephenson Standard is the most commonly-used gauge used by tramways worldwide (including the Auckland Dockline tram), and also for railway track. Exceptions are the tramways of Swiss cities Geneva, Zurich and Bern, typically utilising the metre gauge -also used for Swiss mountain railways. New Zealand railways run on a 3 ft 6 in. (1067 mm) track gauge known as Anglo Cape.

What’s happening in Christchurch?

12 Feb

Christchurch was the role model for city Heritage Tramways in New Zealand.  But the Tramway was semi-munted almost a year ago in the devastating earthquake.  There’s a real will to see the trams going again, possibly by the end of this year?  Two tramcars remain trapped in the city depot.  Three in use on February 22, 2011 were relocated to Ferrymead Heritage Park.  A week ago the grand opening of a new, large, Tram Barn to store the Christchurch Trams out of the weather heralded a big step forward.  Christchurch City Council donated $50,000 to the $100,000 project.  Another $5000 was donated by the Sydney Tramway Museum.  The Tramway Historical Society funded the balance along with countless hours of voluntary work.  Mayor Bob Parker was there on opening day offering his on-going enthusiastic support.  It was definitely a day of smiles for Christchurch Tram devotees.