Thursday, 12 July 2012

Now Like Then

I took up a subscription to the Herald again, recently, for a few reasons. One was because they offered a trial free subscription, another was because we could use the paper to light the fire (I usually read it online before the paper version is delivered).
The third is that the experience with a newspaper is different to a news website. I find viewing news on websites allows me to look only at the extremes; news I strongly agree with and news I strongly disagree with. I suppose that's to do with the self-selecting nature of websites. Somehow with paper news I find myself compelled to skim every item on every page and decide whether to read it based on the first paragraph or two, rather than the title of a hyperlink.
Enough musing.
What struck me is the strong and consistent anti-rail tunnel campaign the Herald is running. Clearly I've not read Auckland Transport blog enough recently. In the last few days there has been a cartoon and on Saturday two opinion pieces, taking a full page, with anti-rail loop sentiment.

The cartoon first. Credit to the creator, Emmerson. It shows two people in a Jetson's style aircraft (at some stage in the future) commenting on the rail loop funding being approved, with a rejoinder of "whatever 'rail' is". The clear message is that rail is obsolete.
That's a fundamentally flawed message. Flight, especially flight for individuals in a car-like manner, is most certainly not the way of the future until at least two fundamental problems are solved. The first is the ability of people to fly personal aircraft. We lack the culture to do this en masse (the flight rules we have at the mpment rely on uncrowded skies and extensive training), and we don't yet have the automatic systems needed to take the human factor out.
More importantly, we don't have the energy required to power the aircraft, and with energy likely to become more expensive, the scenario put forward in the cartoon is fantasy. Without removing the human factor, and much cheaper energy, rail is much more likely to be the future of urban transport than personal aircraft.

In his opinion piece, Jim Hopkins also suggests that rail is obsolete. The first thing I asked myself is "how would Jim Hopkins know?". As far as I can see his claim to fame is, well, once I find something, anything, I'll post on it.
His opinions are fatuous at best, it would be fairer to say they are baseless.  I looked at the ten most livable cities (Auckland is tenth, at present) and found that what the nine higher placed cities have in common is better public transport than Auckland.  At least five of these are completely or, like Auckland, partially underground systems.
But evidently hydrogen powered driverless cars will save us, and be ready before the rail tunnel can be built. I won't beat about the bush - that's not just wishful thinking, it's fantasy.

The last opinion piece was Michael Barnett's. He suggests that the Auckland - Manukau Eastern Transport Interchange, or AMETI, should be a higher priority than the rail loop. As the head of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, he has undoubtedly had more opportunity to consider the issue than feather-weights like Jim Hopkins, but that merely means his views deserve more respect, not that they are correct.
The basis for Barnett's argument is that freight volumes from Auckland's port to the inland port at Onehunga are expected to double in the next twenty years, from one movement every 14 seconds to one every seven seconds. It's a subtle variation of the "think of the disturbance to the lawyers and bankers with homes overlooking Hobson Bay" argument. On that basis, and accepting that lawyers and bankers are our equals (not our masters), it's not a bad argument.
I'm yet to see a good mode argument on the AMETI, though. If its benefits are for the movement of goods by truck from the sea port to the inland port, surely rail would be more effective. If it's more complex than that, and it seems likely, then another motorway is too simple to be the solution.
However, I'm happy to reduce it to a funding argument.  Ratepayers can fund the rail loop out of general residential rates. Commercial and industrial ratepayers can fund AMETI from commercial and industrial rates, too.  Yeah?
Meanwhile we see KiwiRail doing the wrong thing, with the spectre of Stephen Joyce ever present in the background.  Rail is popular and being expanded around the world.  I don't mind going against trends, leading the world, but this  is a step in the wrong direction.

Exponents - Something Beginning With C, 1992

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