Value of Rail?

29 Jun

In yesterday’s The Press I was interested in a story Government writes down KiwiRail value.  The Opposition had a field day claiming our rail asset was being prepared for sale, revisiting a disaster of the past. Finance Minister, Bill English, and Prime Minister, John Key, denied the allegation. Key went on to say, “it (KiwiRail) is not likely to be something there would likely be a lot of appetite for.”

A sad commentary on what should be New Zealand’s premier means of land transportation? Seems the government has no appreciation of the true economic comparison between rail transport and say, roads, which they seem hell-bent on sinking endless funds into, arguably to the national detriment . One could go on and mention New Zealand’s woeful environmental commitment. Rail is proven five times more fuel efficient than trucking –hence a lighter carbon footprint.

In my travels I particularly enjoy visiting a country knowing the population obviously supports transportation on rail. Two in which I have spent considerable time and attract my repeat visits are Switzerland and Japan. The former, population about 7 million, is described as a glorious full-sized train set, mostly electric powered and a mix of state and private ownership. Several cities boast modern tramway (light rail) systems. Swiss pride in their railways is demonstrated in their acclaimed metre-Gauge scenic Glacier Express. A huge Swiss flag design (the Swiss Cross) is seen between every carriage. Yet, magnificent as it is, the flamboyant Glacier Express is really no better than recently-equipped KiwiRail scenic rail experiences. I would be confident saying KiwiRail Tranz Scenic staff typically offer a superior travel experience. It’s that wonderful Kiwi friendliness to the fore, I suspect.

Japan, population 120 million +, has similarities. Even locals tell me they are confused by the complexity of their huge railway system. Most Japanese guys growing up aspire to working for JR (Japan Rail). I once enjoyed welcoming Japanese visitors to our Christchurch Tramway. I would say Watashi no Shinkansen ni yokosoo.  Translation is “Welcome to my Shinkansen (Bullet Train).”  It always earned an enthusiastic round of clapping. Not unexpectantly, I met my match when a Japanese guy said in almost apologetic English , “But Roy-san, I think my Shinkansen goes much faster that your Shinkansen.”  Humbled, I enquired which of Japan’s railways did he work for?

Another guy told me, proudly, Japan had the world’s best railways. I readily agreed. Then he said. “But there is one other.”  Expecting him to mention a railway in Switzerland, he dumbfounded me answering ,with a mischievous grin, “Christchurch Shinkansen.”

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