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Chatting with James – Two

28 Feb

Despite Dockline Tram being hard work from a business point of view, Operations Manager, James Duncan, is an unflagging optimist.  “We are still hoping to be extended to the Voyager Maritime Museum within two years.  Plans have been put forward to then proceed further along Quay Street to the wharf where the cruise ships arrive.  We would then be on doorstep of the tourist heart of downtown Auckland.  The trams would be the most convenient link with Wynyard Quarter giving us a real reason to operate.

Another possibility would be to provide a morning shuttle service to Karanga Plaza for the ASB employees.  A special fare could apply.  James is confident the two veteran trams would handle the task.  2500 employees are expected at the ASB when it opens mid-2013.

“The long-term Auckland plan is to have a modern light rail system going to Saint Heliers.  It should go ahead owing to Aucklanders increasingly using public transport.  They’re fed up with gridlock.  Light rail vehicles are able to carry more people, are predictable and can offer a frequent schedule.  I have ridden on light rail systems in Britain and mainland Europe.  They have all proved their worth, ’’ says James.  In the meantime he hopes the Dockline Tram extension across the Viaduct Basin can be agreed to soon.  So many opportunities are at stake.

Dockline has struck a good deal with the Railway Enthusiasts’ Society to promote Thomas Days at the Glenbrook Vintage Railway.  The trams carry appropriate Thomas advertising.

Thomas day (1024x829) (2)

“Another worthy agreement is with MOTAT for the museum to sub contract a couple of our tram drives for busy days.  We have had no problems when our paid staff work alongside MOTAT volunteers.

“We are also negotiating with Wynyard Quarter restaurants to offer a pre-dinner tram rides with drinks and canapés.

“At present, weekends are the busier days.  Families turn up to the popular childrens’ playground.  The children typically demand a tram ride before they go home.

Wynyard Quarter progress
James says it’s a wonderful development with many activities including the Friday silo markets.  “Silo movies are also a big hit.  It’s like a drive-in. A recent screening of  ‘The Sound of Music’ attracted over 2000 people.  The sound quality and the image projected onto one of the silos were excellent.

He says the Daldy street redevelopment will be superb .  “It will look beautiful right outside our tram barn door.  In the meantime we are getting shaken by the machinery cleaning up the old oil depot.”

The Wynyard cafes etc are doing well with Rushworth and next door Gelato offering discounts to patrons presenting tram tickets.  “The new ASB will have a ground floor of retail shops.  We need novelty-type stores to complement the cafes and bars and to attract cruise ship passengers looking for something different.

“Our staff of five part-timers are just right for us at present.  It’s all working well.”

I spot James’s trammie uniform hanging neatly and ready for use.  He spends one day a week driving the trams to keep his hand in.
As on previous visits, I am impressed by the neatness of the tram barn.

Tram barn (1024x662) (2)

Chatting with James – One

27 Feb

He’s an interesting guy, James Duncan.  He walks in the present but his passions lie in the past – working with heritage tramcars and an old Wurlitzer theatre organ.  He is involved with trams at the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) and is Operations Manager of Dockline Tram trundling around the ever changing Wynyard Quarter.  His enthusiasm is contagious.  Of no surprise, one of Dockline Tram’s new products is the Roaring Twenties Tour.

James tells me it follows the very successful Down Memory Lane, a hit with Auckland retirement villages last year.  Down Memory Lane involved old colour movies of tramcars trundling along Auckland’s Queen Street accompanied by fitting music from a heritage Wurlitzer organ housed in Avondale’s Hollywood Cinema.  The organ music was so appreciated James ventured to build on the concept introducing the Roaring Twenties tour.

“Everything is 1920s,” James tells me.  Well not quite.  He insists the morning tea at Rushworth Café in Jellicoe Street is fresh on the day, although its venue in former Jellicoe Wharf shipping sheds is 1920s.  “And the trams are definitely 1920s.  We went to the Organ Trust archives for twenties music and produced great toe-tapping numbers.  The organ performance is accompanied by a 1920s dance band.”

Now, believe me, elderly folk toe-tapping for all they’re worth to tunes of the past is something wonderful to behold.  Twenties devotees can display an amazing zest for living.  James expects the Roaring Twenties tour to be popular especially through the next couple of months when the weather is cooler but agreeable prior to winter.

Garden Tour

For something a tad different, tram driver Susan Walker, “a bit of a botanist” has taken an interest in gardens developing in Wynyard Quarter.  “Unlike your colourful rose gardens, these are very much nature’s gardens.  A lot of thought has gone into the ecology of the area,”  James tells me.  The tour kicks off with a tram ride.  Susan provides a commentary explaining the history of the flora.  A gentle walk follows, down to the Silo Park wetlands garden.  Of special interest is the environmentally conscious processing of the water and drain systems.  Then there is the abundant native plantings creating a green belt along Jellicoe Street.  “They’re all evergreens chosen so the plants can cope with wind and a degree of salt spray,” says James.  In time, the trees will bring back the bird life.  The container information centre in Karanga Plaza is particularly interesting, having a Scandinavian-style living roof.  The tour finishes off at Rushworth Café, then by tram to return to the participants’ transport.

Both new tours are $14 a head, including the tram ride and morning tea.
For more information and bookings phone (09) 377 7701

Return to the Quarter

27 Feb

It’s been almost a year since I was last at Wynyard.  Eye-catching changes include the almost complete ASB Bank building displaying, brilliant, colourful, architecture offering a stunning backdrop to Jellicoe Street.  Another eye reward is the colourful canvas coverings to several tanks in silo park.  The coverings are embossed with lines from the famous poem “Auckland” by CK Stead.

257 new backdrop (1024x715) (2)

Changing skyline (1024x635) (2)

Tank art (1024x668) (2)

Tank corner (1024x595) (2)

I couldn’t keep away from the cafes and bars along North Wharf.  I enjoyed a coffee fix at Rushworth.  A lunch (slightly expensive) was enjoyed at the Merchant of Venice Italian cuisine.  My choice was a salami and bread entree followed by entree-sized mussels with sumptuous toppings.  Accompanying wine was an excellent Red Tussock Pinot Gris – my best pinot gris to date.

Mussels and wine (1024x685) (2)

The sunny wharf-side table setting was idyllic with views of Waitemata Harbour goings on.  Later, curiosity lead me into Living Fish Restaurant for an afternoon beer and chat to Keita Sato, a young Japanese employee.  His working companion was Korean.  Nearby was a tank of barely animated lobster – the live fish.  One eyed me perhaps wishing it would be my first choice.  But I was really interested in a photo.  Although choosing one’s own live fish to dine on is integral to Asian culture, Keita assured me Live Fish is popular with European diners.

Living Fish (1024x685) (2)

I enjoyed an exhibition of sculpture, a Summer of Sculpture event running to March 15.  Of course I rode the trams and chatted to the tramway boss, James Duncan.

Sculpture (2) (755x1024) (2)

Riding the Rails

26 Aug

It’s impossible to keep keen trammies away from the rails and over the past few days Ken Henderson and myself have had a feast, beginning with a Mainline Steam excursion to Arthur’s Pass with the magnificent giant Ka 942. The day was extremely well run with us rail buffs being treated to four photo stops when our train backed up before performing a spirited run past with driver Mark Scotson brilliantly showing off the big Ka 942 for our cameras. What a crescendo of railway sounds bouncing around mountain tops. We were both invited to ride a few ks on the footplate, a thrilling, albeit rollicking experience. A great day was reminisced over a bottle of red and a cheeseboard  from the café carriage during the return journey.

Three days later we were kindly invited by KiwiRail to join a promotional run of the TranzAlpine comprising New Zealand-built AK carriages that will soon be an everyday TranzAlpine event, bringing New Zealand scenic rail journeys in line with the best anywhere. In fact, we are arguably better than the best. KiwiRail scenic staff are superior to most  encountered on my world travels. It’s that dinkum  friendly Kiwi attitude to the fore I suspect. Ken and I were able to compare experiences with Tom Evers-Swindell, manager of Kiwi Rail’s Passenger Group. Tom, an affable guy, discussed the difficulties of boxing on during an international economic downturn and New Zealand been additionally hit owing to almost two years of Canterbury seismic woes. Interestingly, New Zealand is the only country operating long-distance rail journeys without direct Government subsidies. And potential rail travellers need to accept the reality of paying more for a superior experience compared with, say, bus travel which is remarkably inexpensive in New Zealand.

Tom, also a discerning rail traveller, was enthusiast about New Zealand’s variety of landscapes, especially on the TranzAlpine route.  Amongst other travellers were reps from a variety of tourist-related organisations.  All appeared suitably impressed. Ken and I spent a good part of the journey on the open AKV observation carriage ever hopeful of capturing that memorable moment as the train wraps around a tight curve, hopefully with snow and mountains as a backdrop. As you may have guessed, we finished the journey reminiscing over a Café carriage purchased bottle of red and cheeseboard. The superior riding, quietness, and comfort of the new AK carriages certainly enhanced the experience.




Historic re-enactment

10 Aug

Almost 110 years ago Sir John Logan Campbell drove the first electric tram up Queen Street to inaugurate the largest municipal tramway project in New Zealand.  To celebrate this important occasion in Auckland’s history a re-enactment will be held on the first day of the Auckland Heritage Festival on Saturday September 29 at the Wynyard Quarter tramway.

MOTAT Tram No 44 is almost identical to that first tram driven by Sir John Logan Campbell on November 17, 1902. No.44 will be part of this re-enactment including Auckland’s two present Dockline tramcars. Mayor Len Brown will officiate at this event together with “The Father of Auckland – Sir John Logan Campbell”, who will take Tram 44 on its celebration journey around the Wynyard Quarter tram circuit after the formal speeches commencing at 1.30 pm in Jellicoe Street, outside Jack Tar cafe bar.

Constructing the Auckland Tramway system was a huge project undertaken by the British Electric Traction Company from 1899. Within just three years 27.5 km of tracks had been constructed and 43 tramcars were operating. Eventually the fleet comprised 269 trams covering 72 kilometres.

Roll up for a party day

17 Jul

Heaps of activities are on at Wynyard Quarter.  Hot on the heels of the launch of Team New Zealand’s big cat, is the Quarter’s first anniversary on Saturday August 4.  If you’re an early riser, join the dawn chorus at 7 am.  Highlights will be the form throughout the day with boat rides amongst classic yachts berthed in Silo Marina, walking tours from Karanga Kiosk, lantern making for the kids and, in the evening, movies at Silo Cinema from 6pm.

At 10am the steam tug William C Daldy will arrive at its new Hobson West Berth.  The tug will be open for public inspection.  Also look out for the Dockline Heritage Tram and take a ride.  Don’t miss calling in at some of the excellent cafes and bars lining Jellico Wharf.  A tram ticket enables you to hop off and hop back on all day – an ideal way to make the most of the day.

For details visit ?ID=44&Title=Wynyard Quarter First Birthday

Small but important

17 Jul

Three red vehicles are stored in the Dockline Tram Barn.  The smallest, obediently in a corner, should not be overlooked.  It’s the EBV – Emergency Backup Vehicle in the form of a 1950s “Fergie” tractor.  I spotted it earlier in the year on a trial run after mechanic Clinton Pearce had finished giving it a new lease of life.  The Ferguson brand farm tractor gained fame in 1958 when our Sir Edmund Hillary drove one of the same colour to the South Pole while supporting the British Trans-Antarctica Expedition.  Don’t have misgiving about its diminutive appearance.  It can easily tow either of the Dockline Trams around the track in an emergency such as an impromptu power failure.  So far it has not been called on to do so.  Its biggest “emergency” mission,was being called in to carry an over – sized package of fish ‘n chips back to the Tram Barn!

Big cat launch

17 Jul

It’s been a behind doors thing involving 65,000 hours, or 50-man years, to design and build. But next Saturday, July 21, the Emirates Team New Zealand new catamaran Ac72 will be unveiled as it is launched on Viaduct Harbour. The event (free to attend) is open to the public with good viewing from Halsey Street wharf, Events Centre, and various areas around the basin. Those attending are advised to be in position by 5.30 pm, with the promised spectacular event kicking off at 5.45 pm. The big cat has been built for next year’s America’s Cup challenge in San Francisco.

Showcasing Auckland past and present

16 Jul

A brilliant new book by author, photographer and publisher, Graham Stewart, showcases the city of sails with an emphasis on urban transport past and present.  Many historic photographs contrast with the present such as pedestrian control in the CBD.  One colour page of pedestrians awaiting traffic lights contrasts with a black and white page of pedestrians deftly dodging tramcars on the Queen Street and Customs Street intersection.  The author grew up in Auckland so is able to offer a personal perspective on what has become the “Super city.”  He had access to historic photo collections as well as his own vast photo library.

Dockline trams get a good crack of the whip as do the Viaduct Basin and new Te Wero Bridge leading to the developing Wynyard Quarter.  There’s plenty more modern scenes such as the Queen’s Wharf  “The Cloud” created for last year’s Rugby World Cup.  Building the Harbour Bridge gets an airing along with the buzzing harbour ferries, past and present, with a dramatic shot of the 1905 launching of The Kestrel.  Stewart’s eye is frequently drawn to the scarlet pohutakawa lining parts of an idyllic foreshore.  One gets an impression Aucklanders enjoy the outdoor opportunities in their city.  Many photographs depict a 1950’s Auckland.  The majority post 1940 photographs are the author’s.  Along with the CBD and waterfront, the suburbs, including the North Shore, are featured with their on-going changing appearances.  As with all Grantham House books, this one’s presentation is well above average.  At a RRP of $39.95 (including GST) this is a comprehensive book to adorn most Aucklanders’ bookshelves.  It’s already in the bookcases of a few one-eyed Cantabrians, including my own.

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.”