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Five train journeys worth taking. By Vincent Heeringa
Just about every day for 12 years of my youth I rode the commuter trains that ply the Hutt Valley. The crawling, blunt-nosed, red clunkers were upgraded during that time to smarter beige, then blue carriages, but I resolved after leaving Wellington to never catch another train.
Hello Auckland! Hello freedom! Hello traffic jams!
It’s fair to say that, along with other Aucklanders, I’m back on track. Encouraged by the $600-million upgrade to the region’s rail network—including the prospect of electrification and a one-card system across bus, train and ferry—Aucklanders are increasingly heading down to the station.
There’s a long way to go. According to the Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA), inhabitants of the Queen City take just five million trips per year, compared with 30 to 50 million rail passenger journeys in overseas cities of similar size. ARTA aims to grow this to 15 million trips by 2016. Given that Auckland’s car numbers are expected to swell by another 25 percent in the next ten years, that number looks doable. In the spirit of this return to rail, here are five train journeys to take this year or next.
1. To the CBD
Okay, so this is largely an Auckland and Wellington option, but the CBD journey is for many the best way to commute and makes a great day trip. In addition to the benefits outlined in the box, right, in Auckland you get to visit the architecturally inspired, award-winning Britomart depot and wander down Newmarket’s swanky Broadway strip from the newly refurbished station.
2. Wellington to Auckland
While airlines are slashing their wrists to offer you ways to burn up the atmosphere, The Overlander continues to provide the scenic route through the North Island. The journey takes 12 hours and you can buy a ticket from as little as $49. Compare the cost of getting to the airport or the hassle and dangers of driving all the way and the train looks like a very smart way to travel. There’s a power plug at the front of every carriage, so you can even take your laptop and get through a full day’s work—if you can tear yourself away from the view.
The four-and-a-half-hour jaunt from Christchurch to Greymouth is New Zealand’s most spectacular train journey, and perhaps one of the world’s greatest. Climbing the Alps through Arthur’s Pass, the 224-kilometre trip takes in 19 tunnels and four viaducts, the highest being the Staircase, at 73 metres. Departing daily, the trip is best saved for winter, when the snow makes the higher reaches look like a scene from Heidi. Just the ticket for a romantic weekend getaway, or entertaining those awkward overseas relatives.
By far the coolest way to get to Christchurch is to board the ferry in Wellington, then leg it to the Picton railway station for the 1pm train to the garden city.
Winding past seaside cribs, the track is framed by the Alps on the right and the Pacific on the left. The trip takes a little over five hours, but why not make a holiday of it and stay overnight in Blenheim in search of the perfect sauvignon blanc, or on to Kaikoura in search of Moby Dick.
5. Steamy ride
As long as the Kingston Flyer remains in receivership, the next best trips for pure nostalgia are offered by Steam Incorporated at Paekakariki. These steam enthusiasts offer a range of trips departing from Kapiti to all parts of the central North Island, including an Easter jaunt to the Tauranga Jazz Festival. The most popular for dressing up and partying down is the Napier Art Deco weekend on February 18, which includes a dinner train on the Saturday night. Gorgeous countryside, too.
5 more reasons to take the train
Transport expenses for a car owner are about $8,000 a year. A $12/day public transport fare still only amounts to just under $3,000. Plus you get free parking!
Fewer cars mean less congestion. ARTA reports that one lane of motorway can carry 2,400 people an hour; intensive heavy rail can carry upwards of 40,000. In some places, public transport is faster than driving.
Public transport is safer than driving your car; good not just for you but also for business. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), in 2000 in the US there were 24 million accidents involving cars, light trucks and SUVs; motor vehicle injuries resulted in the loss of US$71.5 billion in wages and productivity.
Air pollution can lead to respiratory problems; it causes 436 premature deaths per year, 58 percent of which are due to motor vehicle emissions. That’s 253 Kiwis killed by car emissions, every year. The more we patronise public transport the better our air will be.
A study by me shows that five of six staff at Good magazine read more books when using public transport than when driving. As for the sixth person, see point three.