I just about choked on my coffee this morning while reading Jim Hopkins’ opinion piece: Supporters of rail are on the wrong road. With such proclamations as “…the fact there’s more voters in one Auckland electorate than there are in the entire South Island” I was certain this was just a joke, some funny sarcasm perhaps in there to just show what dinosaurs the supporters of roads-centric transportation policies are. But no, in fact he seems quite serious about the whole issue. According to Jim “Expecting trains to solve Auckland’s transport woes makes as much sense as lassoing rogue elephants with spaghetti or telling Phil Goff he can win our hearts and minds by being himself.” Well, I guess there’s possibly some sort of argument going there, as for a large city “solving” congestion completely is a rather impossible task – as you create supply people use it, which means that generally the roads of a big city are somewhat congested no matter how good the transportation system is. Of course, one would not want to think what the roads of a place like London or Tokyo would be like WITHOUT their vast rail networks, but let’s just leave aside that obvious issue for a minute.

So what is Jim’s solution here? Teleportation perhaps? No…. in fact it seems like he’s Steven Joyce and his roading pals’ biggest fan. Once again, according to Jim: “Build a motorway and get over it.” One wonders from where should one build a motorway to where? He suggests Devonport to Sylvia Park, which I’m sure the residents of Devonport and the Eastern Suburbs will be just superbly happy to hear about. Seemingly, because Auckland has grown a lot in the last 50 years, it is an AA city (after automobiles) and therefore a train system will never work for it. Trains only work for BA (before automobile) cities. Never mind the fact that Tokyo is largely an AA city yet has the biggest train system in the world, Singapore is another fairly recently built city with a fantastic rail system. The list goes on… Furthermore, it’s actually pretty debatable whether Auckland is an AA city in any case: as a lot of its development was pre-WWII and was based around trams routes. Devonport is definitely a BA suburb, and grew because it was a short ferry ride from downtown and a short tram ride along Lake Road from Takapuna.

I shall be calm in the face of this stupidity. I shall be calm. Here is a well-reasoned reply to Mr Hopkins:

In response to the opinion piece by Jim Hopkins, entitled “Supporters of rail are on the wrong road” I feel compelled to disagree on almost every point Mr Hopkins makes. For a start, his assumption that there are more voters in one Auckland electorate than in the whole of the South Island is completely wrong: the population of the South Island is around 1 million while the population of an Auckland electorate is well below 100,000. But while that “fact” proclaimed by Mr Hopkins is amusing in its complete absurdity, it is more important to dispute the many claims that he makes about trains not being suitable for Auckland, and not being a step forward for transport, but rather a step back to the 19th century akin to returning to using wakas for coastal shipping.

It appears as though Mr Hopkins’ assumption that further investment in motorways and cars of the future fueled by hydrogen and the like can only be based on a myopic view of the world that clearly avoids looking at what every overseas country is doing. If trains don’t make sense for “after automobile” cities, then why is almost every country in Europe, Asia and even North America investing in rail infrastructure at a greater rate than they have done so in decades? Shanghai and Beijing are building vast metro systems as they grow extraordinarily quickly, California is investing in a high-speed rail link between its major cities and even Los Angeles (surely the ultimate after automobile city) has realised its folly and has stopped the construction of further freeways. Los Angeles residents voted for billions to be spent on public transport improvements last year, perhaps the ultimate sign that in fact it is the roads centric policies of the last 50 years which are starting to look out of date and “waka” like.

Rail is clearly the future as well as the present and the past. A magnetic levitation railway line now links Shanghai airport with its downtown – zipping tourists between the two at over 400 kph. And this is current technology, unlike the “self-steering car” and “hydrogen powered vehicle” whose proponents even admit are decades away from widespread use. By putting all its eggs in the roading basket, people such as Mr Hopkins are living in the 1950s and committing New Zealand to an unsustainable, congested and incredibly ugly (thanks to all the motorways) future.

Ah, great to get that off my chest.

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