This post is by Paul Callister and Heidi O’Callahan

In rail’s heyday, holiday times were hectic. On Christmas Eve in 1938, 16 express trains (including eight bound for Auckland) swept more than 11,000 travellers out of Wellington in a single day.

Those are significant numbers – fully 7% of the wider city’s population, on a single day. Leaving such a strong legacy, the people of 1938 would have expected New Zealand would have an advanced passenger rail network by 2020.

New Zealand can resurrect regional passenger rail. With the resources available to us today (including cheap fossil carbon for a while yet) we have a window of opportunity. We can establish a network our descendants will find functional in the low-carbon era they will face. It would be safer, more accessible, more user-friendly – and more able to cope with holiday volumes – than the transport network we have today.

The fastest and most comfortable passenger trains were mainline expresses, which limited their stops and often included sleeping and dining cars. The most famous was the ‘Night Limited’ express, which ran on the North Island main trunk line (NIMT) from 1924, cutting travel time between Auckland and Wellington to just over 14 hours.

From 1971 to 1979, the all-sleeper Silver Star briefly transformed NZ rail passenger travel.

Credit: Transpress NZ

I (Heidi) learned some details about the attractions of the Silver Star at an Anthonie Tonnon concert in December.

Credit: NZ Railways “Silver Star” brochure (thanks to Anthonie Tonnon)

Some first steps towards a national public transport network could be taken now. Obviously data collection and network design are needed. Bringing rail, bus network priority and interchanges up to standard will need an ongoing programme, and take time.

What’s possible reasonably quickly, however, is re-establishing an overnight sleeper service between Wellington and Auckland. The distance of 682 km is within the range considered optimal for a sleeper service, as suggested in a New York Times article, Once threatened, Europe’s Night Trains Rebound.

Cost is one excuse often used against investing in regional public transport. A benefit-cost analysis of a revived overnight sleeper service needs to re-assess the environmental, access and safety benefits. The current government wishes to see the price of carbon increased, emissions reduced, and social and safety outcomes prioritised, so any previous cost benefit analysis is out of date. What needs to be investigated includes:

  • how many people would shift from flying to the train if aviation was fully user-pays?
  • what level of support from individuals and businesses for the service will there be as climate awareness grows further?
  • what social and environmental benefits would we see, particularly if establishing the service is seen as the first step to creating a comprehensive public transport network?
  • while climate-aware citizens are frustrated by the pace of government climate action, what public engagement and mental health benefits would arise from seeing early, tangible action on transport’s rapidly increasing emissions?

The first point listed is important because flights are unnaturally cheap:

  • aviation is not paying for its environmental damage (especially carbon emissions);
  • passengers flying from Wellington to Auckland to join an international flight pay no GST on the domestic leg of the trip, but would be charged if they used the train as the connection;
  • government and local government have been subsidising many airports. Kapiti District Council ratepayers have provided support to a privately owned airline which flies from Paraparaumu (on the main trunk line) to Auckland;
  • land use and transport planning decisions in both Wellington and Auckland are often made to support aviation without a true understanding of how this negatively impacts other urban planning goals.

As a baby boomer I (Paul) missed peak rail. But as a youngster I did travel to and from Auckland with my parents on the overnight train. In my late teens and early 20s, I frequently used the overnight train to reach the central north island for hiking trips. In the 1980s I even used the sleeper service to attend conferences in Auckland and Hamilton. But all that ended in 2004 when the overnight train ceased operation.

Cocktails anyone? NZ Railways “Silver Star” brochure (thanks to Anthonie Tonnon)

Between Auckland and Wellington today, we have the daytime Northern Explorer, which operates three times a week in each direction, and takes 10 hours and 40 minutes. There are on-board toilets and a café car. The ample leg room and tables mean one can work on a laptop if needed, albeit without on-board wifi. However, the high cost, slow speed and infrequent schedule rules the option out for most travellers.

In his year without flying, Shaun Hendy used the service a number of times, and again on his recent No Fly tour.

Source: Shaun Hendy twitter account

Of course, regional trains need to be faster; we need improved alignments, a third and fourth line south of Otahuhu, double tracking through the Whangamarino Swamp and north from Waikanae to Otaki and perhaps as far north as Palmerston North. Yet none of this is critical for a sleeper service. Track improvements, when they come, can provide faster and more reliable journey times, meaning a later evening departure time is possible. But that’s not required to start the service.

The day train already has limited stops to save time. The trade off between speed and amenity is difficult, but until there are both limited stops and all stops services, perhaps the stations not timetabled could allow passengers to pre-request stops for a small fee?

A train leaving Auckland at 8pm could pick up passengers at Hamilton at around 10.30pm. Equally, a train leaving Wellington at 8pm could pick up Palmerston North passengers at around 10pm.

Cup and Saucer (link is external), 1948-1957, Auckland, by Crown Lynn Potteries Ltd. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. CC BY-NC-ND licence (link is external). Te Papa (GH009069)

Would the service be supported? In October 2019 newly elected Wellington Regional councillor Thomas Nash promoted the idea:

With an increasing number of people wanting to travel with a lower carbon footprint, he believed a business case should be done to see if a regular night train was feasible.

He also suggested on twitter

if a bunch of employers publicly committed to making bulk purchases of train tickets for their employees that might be the kind of evidence needed to make the case

Let’s think about those employers. Private and public boards alike are becoming increasingly aware of their obligations to ensure climate action is taken and climate risks are minimised. In NZ, the Institute of Directors and law firms such as Chapman Tripp and Simpson Grierson are all releasing recommendations, and there’s no shortage of international climate advice from the likes of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures and the World Economic Forum.

As an example, Victoria University of Wellington has committed to being net carbon zero by 2030. While some of this will be achieved through carbon offsets, a knowledge-based organisation like a university cannot ignore the limits to carbon offsetting, so reducing flying will need to be part of the mix. 3000 German-speaking academics have pledged not to fly distances under 1,000 km (621 miles) – journeys of up to 12 hours on the train. Shaun Hendy suggests:

that our universities get behind faster, more frequent train services between major centres

There is good potential for environmentally conscious NGOs to make some commitment to swapping planes for trains when travelling between Auckland and Wellington. This could include staff and supporters of Forest & Bird, WWF, Greenpeace, Oxfam, GenZero, Extinction Rebellion and School Strike.

Central and local government are also likely to be under increasing pressure to reduce flying. In the 2014-2015 financial year NZTA staff used 23,065 internal flights. By 2018-2019 it had risen to 34,300. Many of those would have been between Auckland to Wellington, and some could be done by train. When Barcelona announced its Climate Emergency this year, limits on flights by municipal staff was effective immediately.

Here’s a video of the Northern Explorer:

Credit: Darren Davis via Instagram

Change could come thick and fast as many New Zealanders are seeing what other countries are managing. Here are some examples.

In Australia – another sparsely populated country – there are overnight trains from Sydney to both Brisbane and Melbourne. The Sydney to Melbourne train sets off at 8.42pm arriving in Melbourne at 7.30 the next morning. A standard adult fare costs just under A$120, first class A$164 and a sleeper costs A$271.

The Caledonian sleeper train is a new overnight service in the UK. It leaves London just before midnight and arrives at Edinburgh at 7.30 in the morning. A twin ensuite can be booked from £150 while a sit-up seat starts from £48. There are ‘pet friendly’ options and bikes are carried for free. The trains are also wheelchair friendly.

In many European nations train passenger numbers are climbing and there is new investment in train services including overnight trains. Such investment is aided by very low interest rates.

In Germany, increased awareness of the emissions footprint of flying seems to have resulted in a drop in domestic flying and an increase in long distance train travel. And to increase it further Germany has just announced a price cut for long distance train travel.

An overnight train between Auckland and Wellington appealing to a large market would have:

  • competitive prices, with a mix of cheaper sit up seats along with sleeper options;
  • work stations and on-board 5G wifi;
  • wheelchair access and carriage of bikes;
  • great dining and socialising areas, with quality food and drink.

Youth and climate conscious voters are demanding action but seeing slow progress. In 2019 the government released its draft New Zealand Rail Plan, which is currently open for feedback. While it has many positive recommendations, a night train is not mentioned. Establishing such a service is an opportunity for the government to take early concrete action towards their vision of an enhanced transport system. We believe it makes strong economic and environmental sense.

Credit for the leading image: an ad for a copy of Jimmy Forrest’s Night Train album on Popsike.

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  1. Used to use it several times around 2000, was a good service but didn’t have the cabins or sleepers just uncomfortable seats. Would be great with sleeper carriages! Particularly useful during the ski season… depart Auckland around 7pm arrive at National Park around midnight and Ohakune soon after. That alone would take a lot of gas guzzlers off the road.

    1. Doubt it, it’s not a long drive to either National Park Ohakune, I’ve done it dozens of times, no way am I going to take a train, with skis, boots and all the gear for a weekend. The advantage of leaving work early on Friday and being at the mountain by 20.00 is much better than keeping the kids up until late, taking an expensive taxi (how many have racks for 5 pairs of skis) to the railway station, then spending close to $1000 ($936 for northern explorer Auckland Ohakune return, 2 adults & 3 children) on train tickets, plus taxis to and from the train stations at each end of the journey, plus mountain transport, approx $1600 to use a train opposed to $150 worth of diesel. With a car I can ski whichever side of the mountain has the best weather, I can’t with a train.

      1. The article and comment are about what works on balance, not what works for you personally. This point is made in virtually every article on GreaterAuckland. Even looking at just what works for you, are you taking into account the damage caused by driving your diesel vehicle?

        1. It’s a Euro 6 diesel engine so not a lot. I also have an electric car on order but not so sure I’d feel comfortable using that up and down, charging I fracture in NZ is poor and fast charges are almost nonexistent.

      2. It’s a moral toughie, climate change. How do you weigh the convenience of skiing with your family when and how you want to compared to contributing to probably millions of displaced people, mass extinctions, foreign conquests and social destruction for your children’s great great grandchildren?

        1. It’s a Euro 6 diesel engine so not a lot. I also have an electric car on order but not so sure I’d feel comfortable using that up and down, charging I fracture in NZ is poor and fast charges are almost nonexistent.

        2. Life is going to change Mike whether you like it or not. The situation may come at some stage, assuming the mountains have enough snow, that it is public transport or not at all.

        3. “When that day happens Kevin I’ll probably be too old to ski, so I won’t be all that concerned.”
          I’ve gained the overwhelming impression from your previous commenets that you’re clearly someone who only cares about himself and not one bit about anyone else let alone his country, the wider community, the planet as a whole etc. And this comment reinforces this.

          So why (on earth) are you even looking at this website let alone posting on it? To tell everyone how they’re wrong because… …you don’t care because… …you’re selfish?

        4. Daniel I care to a point, but most of this is flights of fantasy stuff, to believe that a night train could be run successfully in NZ is beyond laughable, we can’t even manage to sustain a commuter rail service between Auckland and Hamilton, yes I know a new service is about to restart but since the operator hasn’t many any effort to purchase new trains, it will fail like the last attempt.

        5. @Mike
          Le’ts look at a comment of yours from an article from the 4th of December 2019:
          “I’m quite pragmatic about climate change, it’s happening, we contributed to it and that’s about as far as my interest goes. I’ll be long dead by the time (if it ever happens) the earth won’t be suitable for human life.”

          Yeah right you “care to a point”. You don’t give a crap at all! You are clearly some very selfish person who only cares about himself and can’t see beyond yourself.

          This very website is not for people with your mentality. So WHY oh why are you even looking at this?

        6. And your point is? My thoughts on climate change haven’t changed at all, I think a much better way to spend public funds is to prepare for the inevitable and stop pissing around trying to stop something which cannot be stopped. Humans are an adaptable species, we will learn to live with our changing environment.

        7. Mike, the scenarios for the future show wildly different outcomes; some of them many humans will be able to adapt to and others we will not.

          The difference between these scenarios is determined by how much carbon we emit. Reducing our emissions is critical to humans’ ability to adapt.

          Each low-carbon measure we can implement now is giving our kids another chance.

          I’ve spent time blogging about this but you’re just giving opinions without fact. Could you now please present the evidence that shows it is a reasonable assumption that “we will learn to live with our changing environment” if we don’t follow the recommended emissions reductions paths?

        8. Do I actually have to tell you what my point is?!
          Well to explain the blatantly obvious: You’re very obviously not someone who gives a crap about other people. You’re someone who cares about #1 and not much else

          So why on earth are you even looking at this website?

        9. “Humans are an adaptable species, we will learn to live with our changing environment.”

          Mike, adaptation won’t work in the long-term. Eventually, there would come a time that it would get so hot that all 15 billion or so of us would have to crowd onto Antarctica, somehow getting all of our food and water there too. Do you feel confident about the nuclear armed powers coming to a nice agreement about who crowds into what part? Do you see a space being left for us? What about if there isn’t enough food to go around?

          And problems are likely to occur before then too. In the near-term the developed countries will be able to pay to move coastal cities inland, rebuild their ports and buy their food from somewhere else. But what about the basket case countries with nukes? Think through the impacts of massive famines in say Iran and North Korea.

          The first problem though will likely be massive flooding in Bangladesh displacing tens or millions of people or more, going who knows where and eating who knows what. India and Pakistan have already fought a war over Bangladesh, and now they’ve both got nukes. And if they start, who knows who else could get drawn in.

          The price of mitigation is less than 1% of GDP annually I think. It’s not that big a price given the alternative.

          “stop pissing around trying to stop something which cannot be stopped”

          There’s no reason why we can’t stop it. We’ve basically got all the technology we need. The price is high, but not crippling, so long as we go about it in a smart way. All that is really lacking is the collective will.

        10. Sherwood you’re talking about the worst possible scenarios, nobody really knows what will come in the future, people will adapt, maybe a lot of us will die off, who knows, nobody posting on this blog will be alive when whatever happens happens.

          This earths had many extinction events in the past and will have many more in the future, it’s inevitable that one day humans will be gone.

          You’re correct Daniel I’m not all that interested in what happens after I’m gone, I also suspect that if you had a good hard think about it you probably wouldn’t be either, IMO it’s better to live life to the fullest now than live a life where you’re worrying about generations to come long after you’re dead, why make yourself miserable?

        11. “it’s inevitable that one day humans will be gone”. Maybe. But even if true, why bring that day forward millions of years when we can avoid it by giving up less than a percentage point on GDP growth?

          The science is pretty certain and the other risks are much higher than I’d like us to face.

      3. Yes I could see the ski thing would not work for a family apart from as a special one off thing but would work ok for an individual or maybe couple. This assumes pretty much status quo carbon pricing.

        1. oh and another thought is that most people would hire ski’s or boards anyway, makes a big difference to the luggage component of getting there and back. Specialist shuttles to and from your accommodation where you have your ski’s.

        2. The few times we’ve been, we’ve gone by train, and we’ve hired skis. The train was a big highlight of each trip, each time.

          My husband’s (old) firm also had various weekends in Ohakune each year, being half way between the Wellington and Auckland offices. It was great when there were daily trains, and workers from both offices would arrive around midday.

        3. I guess you were lucky with the weather then.

          Do not even think about taking PT to anywhere with unpredictable weather. You want to be a sitting duck in National Park in whiteout?

          Punishment for the climate conscious is harsh.

        4. Most people would hire skis, you’re having a laugh aren’t you, it also shows how often you’ve been skiing, if ever.

          If you are a frequent skier hiring is more expensive than buying your own gear. Ski equipment lasts a long time, my boots are 14 seasons old and I bought new skis last year, the previous pair were about 12 years old.

        5. Was about mid eighties when i would of gone once or twice if lucky a year & I was still growing most people would hire ski’s by far back then anyway. Anyway this is way off-topic now 🙂 Also this would be in the context of a day train really, night would suit to not even stop at the mountain due to the time of the night & lack of guaranteed sleep for others. See Nick R’s comments below.

      4. Northern Explorer is hideously expensive – it’s an unashamed trap for high value tourists.

        Part of the point of this article is saying that long distance rail needs to work for a much broader segment of the population.

        For comparison, the Caledonian Sleeper was $400 one way for my family of four – but you’re getting equivalent of two overnight hotel rooms for that as well as the travel. That’s much more acceptable pricing, especially when compared to how much businesses regularly pay for flights between AKL and WGTN, and any overnight accommodation if they cant get a flight time/price that works for them.

  2. Night trains that stop too often are a pain in the arse if you are trying to get a decent nights sleep.

    What about showers so you arrive fresh for your meeting?

    Don’t get me wrong I think an overnight rail option would be great but it would need to be more reliable, more frequent and of a higher standard than the current Northerner.

    I’ve done the Northerner – its fine but it’s a one off experience that’s all. I also did the old Silver Fern and Silver Star.

    Oh and a night rail service would do bugger all to offset carbon. 1 train in either direction a day…. c’mon get serious. Not a reason not to do it, but the post makes it sound like a potential game changer – yeah nah.

    1. 100% agree, I did Edinburgh London in 2018, I was so exhausted after the experience I’ll never attempt a sleeper train again. Work paid, I had my own cabin, not a fun experience. One I wouldn’t want to attempt with the wife and kids, that would be a nightmare.

      It’s also worth noting that there is only one sleeper each way between London and Edinburgh, cities with a combined population of 15m.

      1. My brother lives on the edge of the Highlands, so I did that trip to Edinburgh in 2016 (the new trains) with the wife and kids. Loved it. The operator Serco were having an ongoing nightmare, but that’s privatisation of rail for you.

        Not sure the size of the cities is relevant. The Scottish and Cornish sleepers are driven by trade in their rural catchments to a much higher degree than most sleepers.

        It’s the distance/time combo that makes them really worth doing; after all, you can get there in the daytime much faster. It’s the ability to have your days productive and travel at night while saving on a hotel that’s the real appeal.

        1. The New Caledonian Sleepers came into service last year. Rail
          In Britain has been privatised for several decades, that’s no longer an excuse IMO for lousy service.

        2. It shouldn’t be – but that was the reality. It was pretty obvious as a passenger that Serco was doing a shabby job – great staff on the train, just not resourced properly.

          I’m fine with the idea of private services; but theres a good reason uk rail operators are all being re-nationalised, one by one. Their model is broken.

        3. And you’re right on dates – was confusing a trip 4 years ago with one last July – trains were only a few weeks old when we rode them.

    2. “1 train in either direction a day…. c’mon get serious.”… As we said, “what social and environmental benefits would we see, particularly if establishing the service is seen as the first step to creating a comprehensive public transport network?”

      There are many political steps required to achieve the goal of a low carbon national transport network. Who knows which individual steps will be the most important – a daily night train might indeed be a game changer if the politicians and bureaucrats who make decisions use it.

      Showers? Have a look at the Silver Star image “Look Your Best When You Arrive”

      1. As I said I used the Silver Star – the image is not representative of the service.
        I’d love to see a comprehensive train service and would happily use it if it allowed me to arrive at the destination fresh and ready for work. But there are 18 return flights between Akl and Wtn every day. PT capacity is never going to make much of a dent in that level of patronage.
        It’s not as sexy but renewable fuels could reduce aviation carbon emissions by 80% tomorrow but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a discussion about that?

        1. SAS began using biofuel in May last year, still aviation only accounts for 2% of co2 emissions, it’s not that much and it’s getting better as more fuel efficient aircraft are brought into service and older aircraft scrapped.

        2. I don’t think it is getting better at all. Each time improvements are made the ticket price gets cheaper and more people fly resulting in even more aircraft flying longer distances.

        3. Showering in a moving train sounds like fun, especially with the window open, watching the scenery moving by. But shaving in a moving train sounds like it could be a wee bit hazardous….

        4. Yes, miffy. The industry was tasked with reducing emissions, and failed. Emissions have gone up. Meanwhile governments bail out failed airlines, and regional development funds and local governments subsidise the airports. And all while the carbon is not being priced.

          Luckily there’s push back. I’ve already written about Barcelona. Bristol has just said no to an airport expansion, with councillors saying:

          “The robustness of economic benefits are far outweighed by the harm to human health, community and environment…

          “We must weigh the benefits of this application, which flow towards airport share holders, pension funds, foreign economies and those seeking a cheap holiday in the Med, against the unbearable burdens that will fall on the local and wider communities and the environment.”

          Oh that our government and council would stand up to the industry like this.

        5. No Heidi, the aviation industry has been reducing emissions on average 2.3% per year sine 1990. But that doesn’t fit your pro train agenda does it?

          New technology and sustainable fuels result in 50% drop in passenger carbon emissions

          According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), carbon emissions per passenger have declined by over 50% since 1990.

          Much of this improvement can be attributed to the air industry achieving an annual fuel efficiency improvement of 2.3% since 2009, around 0.8 percentage points ahead of the target. This progress is due to investments in more efficient aircraft, the use of sustainable fuels, as well as operational efficiencies.

          “Cutting per passenger emissions in half is an amazing achievement of the technical expertise and innovation in the aviation industry,” commented Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO. “But we have even bigger ambitions. From 2020 we will cap net emissions. And by 2050 we will cut emissions to half 2005 levels. Accomplishing these targets means continued investment in new technology, sustainable fuels, and operational improvements.”

        6. Did I say “per passenger”? Emissions have risen. Full stop.

          The planet doesn’t care about “per passenger”.

        7. And the industry wasn’t tasked with reducing emissions per passenger, but overall. On that, they have failed.

        8. They haven’t failed Heidi.

          The real issue is you going to tell people living in developing countries that they can’t have the same access to aviation as people in developed countries have. Back in 1990 Indians and Chinese didn’t fly, now they do in ever increasing numbers.

          Aircraft manufactures and airlines can’t be blamed for the increasing wealth and desire to travel from people living in developing countries, this is where the vast majority of new passengers are coming from, Indian, China, Indonesia, Asia and Africa, over 1 billion people who 20 years ago didn’t have access to flying now do. These people aren’t going to give it up just because Heidi in NZ is angry over emissions from aircraft.

        9. Why can’t Heidi just admit when she’s wrong?
          Reducing carbon emissions in aviation has to be measured by passenger, otherwise how else do you measure this in a world with growing populations.
          As most of us can not rely on the loan of a Super yacht, every time we need to go to NY, we will be looking at sustainable fuels to get us there on Air NZ.

        10. Dave: I’m not wrong. I’m saying something you don’t want to hear. That’s quite different.

          The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 and entered into force in 2005. It requested Parties to work through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to reduce emissions from the sector. Despite this “request”, ICAO shows that emissions have risen.

          Currently, most people in the world do not fly. Writing in 2017, National Geographic estimated that 80% of the world population had never set foot on an aircraft.

          Mike: “Aircraft manufactures and airlines can’t be blamed…” Airlines that are planning on growth by expanding airports are manufacturing that growth, in the same way that roads induce traffic and cycle infrastructure boosts cycling ridership.

          Continuing to subsidise flying with cheap carbon, airport subsidies and urban planning to suit the airport, is assisting this growth. Countries and cities can choose another path.

        11. Yup. It’s hypocrisy. But let’s give them a chance to change. There’s certainly leadership coming from Barcelona, Bristol, and elsewhere.

        12. Heidi you aren’t listening, or you’re only listening to your own voice. The demand for air travel isn’t coming from the developed world it’s coming from the developing world, can you not see that? There are a lot of new airlines in existence today in Asia, China, Africa, India that didn’t exist 20 years ago, many of these airlines have hundreds of planes on order, all to support people who now have the wealth and ability to travel. Do you want to stop these people from travelling?? I’d like to see how that plays out.

          The ICAO don’t have the ability to stop people from travelling.

          If you read this report

          It clearly states they failed simply because more people are flying today than ever before, the problem is you don’t want to accept where those people are coming from, because to do that you have to come to grips with the fact that to meet climate goals the developing world can ever be allowed to develop to Western levels.

        13. Of course the increasing number of people flying is the problem.

          It’s a problem in developing countries.

          And it’s a problem in developed countries. In the US, for example, 25% of adults flew in the 12 months before the 1977 A4A Travel survey, whereas 48% of adults flew in the 12 months before the equivalent survey in 2017. Auckland airport is currently planning for 40 million passengers per year to pass through their facility by 2040. In the August 2019 year there were just over 21 million passenger movements.

          Which countries started to do so first, and which are following behind is irrelevant. The problem is a culture of resource waste, both where the culture is already entrenched, and where it is being established.

          This is happening because of the heavy promotion of flying from the aviation and tourism sectors. Flying is also promoted through the banking and retail sectors such as Fly Buy and Airpoint reward systems or overseas holiday incentives.

          And the flights are cheap, because they are subsidised, so of course people respond to this promotion.

          I’m not saying there aren’t technological improvements happening. I’m saying that technological improvements have been swamped by increases in travel, and so they haven’t managed to reduce the sector’s emissions overall. Emissions reductions technology will continue to fail to reduce the sector’s overall emissions because the sector is forecasting to double the number of people travelling by air to 8.2 billion a year by 2037.

          The sector is already causing 5% of current climate change damage, according to the IPCC and the WMO. This needs to drop to zero, so increases are a huge problem.

        14. @Heidi
          Don’t forget that civil aviation across the world enjoys considerable subsidies from the taxpayer. That’s what shifted it from a glamour mode to pretty much the norm in the 1990s.
          If governments began cutting those back a few %’s; you’d start seeing sudden hikes in ticket prices and drops in aircraft movements (and thus emissions). A fair few airlines would also go under.
          The airline industry is actually pretty tough & cutthroat even with the heavy subsidies because it’s actually an inherently inefficient transport industry. And I’m sure we can all see the irony in how that’s the accusation always levelled at railways 😉

      2. I used the Silver Star JAN 1st 1974 and the sleeper was comfy and I’m 6′-4″ tall and I found the amenities ok but the restaurant car was a failure as the staff all they wanted to do was get rid of you so they could have a clean car before change over . Then I did the overnighter 19 years later and that was good considering all you had was a seat to sleep in , and I couldn’t find the pillows to rent .

        And that was cheap as a friend and I travelled on a return and we got the one way price for the return trip and the cost was the same as for the bus .

    3. there doesn’t need to necessarily be showers on the train itself – they could be at Wellington and Auckland stations, maybe even Hamilton and Palmerston North (many large airports abroad already provide shower facilities for example). The stations are run-down partially because they currently don’t have the passenger throughput, but if facilities are in place, then people will use them – it’s all part of making PT easy and convenient to use.

      1. Norwegian Railways night trains give sleeper compartment passengers use of showers at hotels next to the stations at Oslo, Bergen & Trondheim as they don’t have showers onboard. Despite having a cafe car, you also get a voucher for breakfast discount from memory at the hotel too.

        1. That must have been a long time ago, you now have to pay for the breakfast and shower facilities. you can find it on the website.

      2. Every sleeper train I ahve used in Europe (and I have used a few) even in Romania, had shower facilities. It is not unusual.

  3. Definitely an idea worth considering. But the fact that in Auckland the trains would have to start/finish at the Strand makes it so much harder to get in/out of.
    It could be definitely cheaper than flight+hotel, but having more than one departure time could give some more certainty, that if something goes wrong there’s another option.

    1. NZ is a small country with a small population, I doubt we will ever have good enough frequency to make regional rail, let alone long distance trains competitive with private passenger cars and air transport.

      1. What does “competitive” mean when there’s no fair carbon price? And when the other costs of driving and of providing airports are externalities imposed on society?

        Should we internalise all the costs of driving and flying, and let the market respond? Or should we calculate it, and subsidise rail and public transport at the same rate?

        Arguing for competition and then not providing a level playing field simply subsidises certain modes and industries. We don’t have to continue with such absurd bias.

        1. If booking at short notice you will never get cheap airfares to somewhere like palmy, so the train does get slightly competitive even at $129+ one way.
          I wanted to book to palmy this Easter, but they aren’t running train probably because its Easter!

          When you factor in travel to /from airport, waiting for flight, there isn’t a, huge difference between flying and train to manawatu. 5 vs 8hrs

          Hamilton is too close to auckland to make air viable, a train service that stops at puhinui makes its somewhat easier to get to akl Airport from waikato

        2. It all about cost and time as far as I’m concerned, trains are generally more expensive than flying or driving, and they take longer to get from A to B, plus they don’t have the flexibility of my car.

          If trains were cheaper , faster and significantly more frequent in NZ then they might stand a chance, but they never will be, there simply isn’t enough of it to make a return on the massive investment the govt would have to make to give us a first class rail service.

          You can argue till the cows come home, but IMO the NZ govt doesn’t have the money to build the kind of network that we would need to get people out of cars and planes and onto trains.

          The cost to upgrade the 520km of track between Oslo and Stockholm to allow faster running in 2018 was 5.1 billion EUR, to build a new line it’s 17.8 billion EUR.

          Can we afford this in NZ?

      2. What if car travellers were paying for the cost of the road – compare Italy at about $12 per 100km? Would that make rail more attractive for many?

        1. People don’t have infinite ability to soak up travel costs. Chances are people would just not travel at all. Probably great for people determined to make cars more, but probably bad news for people who are trying to make ends meet.

      3. Luxembourg is a much smaller country with a population barely over half a million and they have dozens of trains every hour servicing the whole country. It’s more of a mentality thing than anything else.

        1. As you said it’s a tiny country, 2500 km2 Auckland region is 4900 km2. You can cross the country in a car in about 45 minutes, they also have exceptionally good roads, and they are a lot wealthier than us per capita. Because of there size and money they can afford things that we can’t.

        2. True.

          And with driving being the most expensive land transport mode, we need to shift funds away from roads and onto the more cost-efficient modes.

        3. Yes it’s a mentality thing. Not to mention our population is growing quite fast with predominantly fatter, faster roads being built everywhere to accommodate us.

        4. “People don’t have infinite ability to soak up travel costs.”
          I agree that they don’t, so they look for alternatives first. In Europe bus and rail is cheap.
          I am not sure of the details, but I think Heidi has written of an Austrian proposal to revolutionise inter city transport in that country by making PT so cheap. Of course Vienna has already achieved that in the capital city.

      4. We already did ages ago, when we had a smaller population. We just systematically dismantled rail and favoured cars and air transport with government interventions, market distortions and perverse incentives.

      5. Mike, did you actually read the original post – in 1938 the rail service moved 11,000 people (7% of the population at the time) out of Wellington in a single day. PT in 1938 was “competitive” because at that time cars were expensive, and roading was poor. We used to have a regional rail network, and we can, and should, have one again – because if the full climate change costs of road and air transport are paid, then there is no “competition”. We had the population to support such a network in 1938, we very definitely have the population in 2020…

        1. I did jingyang, how many of those 11,000 people had cars, and there was no domestic flying for almost anyone back then. Today we have more options, back then people didn’t mind spending the day on a train, mainly because if they wanted to go anywhere they had no alternative. Today we do, NZ abandoned rail, the cost to bring back a viable, fast and frequent rail service would run into the tens of billions, we simply can”t afford it.

        2. Oh okay Mike.
          We can’t afford to ever upgrade the railway network. But we somehow can afford Transmission gully and other high cost and low BCR roading projects.
          Right you are mate.

        3. Come on Daniel be sensible, we only have so much money, the public are more interested in driving, that’s life in NZ, if you don’t like it move somewhere else. How many billions would have to be thrown at rail to make it price and time competitive with cars and air travel? You talk about subsidies, rail would need them as well. So why build something we don’t need to replace something the vast majority of kiwis are more than happy using?

        4. Mike, to know what Kiwis prefer, you need to survey those who have both rail and road equally available.

          Could you please link to a study that has done so? No, you can’t. You’re just giving your opinion, without any facts.

        5. Ahahaha ah no Mike.
          How many BILLIONS have they chucked into low BCR roading projects like Transmission Gully?
          If that money had been put into rail instead; you’d be seeing plenty of Kiwis saying “oooh, this is better than driving”. Maybe not you, but you’ve proven yourself to be an exceptionally narrow-minded and selfish person…

        6. @Jezza:
          Mark my words: I doubt that too many locals will use transmission gully after a while either. Driving up/down that long incline (and a few accidents) will soon put people off of it.
          The entire project will be a testament to what stupid and dysfunctional nation Nz has allowed itself to become.

      6. Several small countries in Europe show that kind of thinking is a complete fallacy, Finland being a good example with a low population and comparatively large land area yet well serviced and used regional rail network…and imo the best night trains in Europe.

        It is completely doable if we get our transport planning and funding prorities right…like those European countries.

        1. @David L I rode on the night train and a connecting fast inter-city train in Finland in January 2019, so yes, mid-winter. 6 months a year of winter or not, they have a good rail network of both rapid inter-city trains and night trains. I don’t think weather has anything to do with it.

          @Mike Your point is? The fact is they have a good rail network, and they have a similar population and largish land area.

  4. Great article, could not agree more. A lot of domestic flying could be displaced by adding new train services between major centres, and as long as the quality of the trains and timings is well considered people will take that choice.

    OBB, Austrian Railways, appear to have built a massively successful new business in the sleeper train space, picking up where the German operators gave up. I love the design for the new carriages they have on order, with enclosed individual berths. Makes overnight travel much more attractive for a wider market just to have that privacy:

    As the article says, AKL-WGT is the ideal distance and timing for a sleeper. We might not be Europe with a whole network of long distance trains, but we’ve had it before and it would so obviously be attractive at this point in time for anyone who wants to reduce their carbon footprint.

    I’d take it for business, and I’m guessing a lot of others would swap getting up at 4:30am to fly for a civilised breakfast on the train.

    1. TimR
      Good point about OBB who of course are government owned. Austria, which pollutes just about as much as us per capita have set a target of carbon neutral by 2040.
      Last year we travelled from Salzburg to Milan on the OBB Night Jet. The cabin also had access to shower and toilet facilities. From memory the journey was 10 hours and I certainly woke up way more refreshed than from any plane journey that I have ever made.
      Is there a place for a night train in NZ? I strongly suspect there is on the emissions consideration alone. When even financial fund investment managers are saying that businesses are going to have to adapt quicker because we will dramatically overshoot emissions targets then many aspects of life will change.
      Many European countries have already made a strong commitment to rail and all our journeys there were great ways to travel.

      1. Totally agree JohnW. And combined with its truly amazing cycle trails, travelling around Austria is an absolute blast.
        You do see enormous car transport trains cruising past you regularly as you ride, but at least the trains are electrified:)

        1. One thing that has changed since train services became uneconomical is the number of tourists. Sure most tourists would prefer to fly or drive. But some (esp those from Europe) would love the idea of a sleeper train. It is one less nights accommodation to pay for, it’s interesting, and it avoids the hassle and cost of getting to and from airports.

      2. Johnwood European countries never gave up rail, NZ did, to get European levels of service would cost us significantly, I believe the numbers would make the govts recently announced transport plan look like chump change.

  5. Back in the day mid seventies there were two trains the Northener left first maybe about 5 pm and the Silver Star later maybe 8 pm if I recall correctly. I can remember having to travel in the smoking carriage and arriving in Wellington smelling like I had spent the night in a pub. I have an idea the Silver Star had limited stops but not sure. But why stop at Wellington I can recall travelling on the overnight lyttleton Wellington steamer in the late sixties in fact on the Wahine six months before it sank. Breakfast in the the dining room at the railway station in Wellington and then all day to explore the city before boarding the overnight express for Auckland.
    So we could have an overnight train to connect to the ferry and the Coastal Pacific to Christchurch. And vice a versa. I wonder how I would handle the trip today. It didn’t seem to have being too tiring at the time but then I was a lot younger.

      1. It was a real occasion the Invercargill train would arrive in Lyttleton and it used to be shunted onto the wharf there were photographers to take your pictures and people used to throw streamers between the wharf and the ship. You walked up an open gang plank and onto the ship. There was a bar and dining room if I recall although there must have being six o’clock closing earlier. We always ended up in quite large cabins maybe 6 or 8 bunks but I suppose there were smaller ones. The stewart would wake you up with a cup of tea and a biscuit just before the ship entered the harbour. I travelled on the Wahine the Maori and I think the old and new Rangitera. I will look that up. My spelling and memory may not be correct. They were oil fired steam turbine because there was much less vibration than a motor ship. Cars were lifted on board by cranes so there were no ramps.

        1. Great memories Royce. I travelled once on the new Rangatira, which I see was only in service from 1972 to 1976. It was New Year’s Eve and a piper strolled the decks at midnight. Were there even streamers between the boat and the shore, or was that another ship?

          In 1930 D’Arcy Cresswell wrote, “But now, when I arose at daybreak as the Ferry was nearing the Lyttelton Heads and saw the summits of the Southern Alps above a long bank of mist, arrayed in that ancient light which the Titans took from Jove, I looked with awe and delight on that dazzling chain of rocks, but my heart inquired, ‘What country is this?'”

        2. So you threw the streamer down from the ship to the people who were seeing you off on the wharf. Then as the ship got under way the streamers would part. My first trip was probably about 1962 and I would have being 10 years old. I seem to recall traveling on the Maori on the northward trip and coming back on the old Rangatira or maybe vice a versa.

      2. Heidi,
        You might find these links useful, plenty of photos etc

        TEV Rangatira (1930):
        TEV Maori:
        TEV Wahine:
        TEV Rangatira (1971):

        Also couple of advertising posters from the Turnbull Collection
        1966 – TEV Wahine:
        1968 – TEV Maori:

    1. Obviously, the Union Steamship Company couldn’t compete with the Air New Zealand 737 services back in the 70s.
      But in the near 50 years since and with the population growth of the two cities and increase in demand due to tourism, etc: I wonder if there could be a place in the market for a direct Wellington-Lyttelton ferry again? I doubt it would need to be anything as large and fancy as the Wahine and Rangatira were, but maybe something?

      1. Wellington Lyttelton ended not just because of NAC and the 737, the NZ Rail service between Wellington and Picton was cheaper and quicker for people taking there own cars.

        Wahine and Rangatira are small ferries by today’s standards, you’d need a decent sized ship to run year round operations. The new vessels KiwiRail are going to operate will be significantly larger than any ferry that’s ever operated in NZ before, 200 plus meters, over 40,000 tons, they’ll have all sorts of amenities to keep passengers entertained and you want to run a small ferry between Wellington and Lyttelton just for tourists?

  6. There was never anything comfortable or quiet about the old overnight express trains. I never got to try a sleeper or go on the Silver Star (or Asbestos Star) but we did once have a sleeper on the Sydney to Brisbane overnight train. You don’t get much sleep and you are completely knackered when you get there, but it is fun, particularly using a fold down toilet.

    1. That makes me laugh… If you never got to try a sleeper or go on the Silver Star how do you know there was never anything comfortable or quiet about them?

      You could be right, I wouldn’t know. But you don’t sound like someone who does either.

      1. The first sentence clearly says my views are about the overnight express trains. I rode on the express plenty of times in a seat. It was noisy, it shook from side to side, it made a racket passing over level crossings and when it got going fast it moved around so much you couldn’t stand without holding on. Maybe you can sleep in a bed like that but I don’t need to lie down to know I couldn’t. I barely slept on the Sydney to Brisbane and that has a wide gauge, straighter route and you are further from the engine.

        1. I forgot about those level crossings, clang, clANG, CLANG, CLang clang cl… And the jerk every time, both starting and stopping at nearly second loop to let goods trains trundle past, a DA on full noise just outside the window.
          Ah the Romance of Rail. Mind you landing in Wellington in a gale, or queing to rebook a disrupted flight is far from romantic as well.

        2. Miffy you and other on this post all seem to want to be in your own little room from home with your creature and soundproof comforts . try travelling on a long haul flight where you have people want to go to the toilet every 5 mins while you are trying to sleep and that is worst than travelling on a train or bus .

        3. Miffy it’s a shame you didn’t experience the Silver Star. It was super smooth and almost silent. I don’t know what what it takes to get you to sleep but I never wanted for sleep on that train. The first trip I had was southbound and I remember waking briefly and looking out the window to see Mangaweka station complete with hand operated platform crane sliding by. It was quite expensive to travel on the Star and I think the only time it was booked out was during a pilots strike. I saw the northbound leave Wellington and it was ablaze with light. The last time I saw it in action so to speak was at Mercer heading to Thames with a loco each end.

    2. The Northerner, when it was a full size sleeper train, used to stop at every tinpot station along the way and everytime it stopped it would slow down smoothly then jerk to a halt. Which woke you up. Over and over again all through the night.

      1. I think for some that are super light sleepers it may not work so good but of course this is the old system you are thinking of and if you did it more than once you would probably sleep more soundly. Sure would work better than an overnight bus which I tried.

        1. Better still is drive from Auckland to Wellington and have a good night’s sleep in a quiet room in a bed that isn’t moving. I did it and back last month as I needed my tools and a car with a towbar in Wellington. You need to allow 10 hours if you want to split the driving into 2 hour bits and have time for lunch.

        2. “if you did it more than once you would probably sleep more soundly.”

          Have you been reading “Why We Sleep”, Grant? Good explanation in there about why the first night somewhere is broken and then after that you sleep more soundly.

          It’s a great book, by the way. I haven’t finished it because it convinces me to sleep every time I read it, and so I’m reading it in chunks of 2 or 3 pages at a time (and it’s a new book so had I couldn’t renew it).

          From experience, I find sleeping on trains far easier than sleeping in a hotel room the first night.

    3. “once have a sleeper on the Sydney to Brisbane overnight train. You don’t get much sleep and you are completely knackered when you get there,”
      I took the overnight train between Grafton and Maitland on the same XPT service at the end of 2017 and I got a decent sleep.

  7. I lived in Europe so I know how good inter-city train travel can be, but everyone citing continental examples of how good it could be is ignoring the staggering level of infrastructure spend required to get us anywhere near capable of that level of frequency and service.

    1. We’re spending a staggering amount of money on roads. And the government is excluding inter-regional public transport from their analysis based on myths they don’t even have the data to disprove.

      1. The HS2 line from London to Birmingham will cost £106 billion pounds once complete. I don’t think you really understand the staggering costs of building a viable rapid regional rail. It’s going to cost significantly more than the 12 billion the govt is spending on there recently announced transport plan.

        The proposed KiwiRail Intermodal Freight Hub to be built in Palmerston North will cost upwards of $4 billion. CRL is near $4 billion.

        How much is it going to cost to reinstate branch lines and rebuild stations? I’ve been told it would cost about $200m to rebuild the branch line to Rotorua with a new central city station.

        1. and the Whangerei line rebuild is about $12 million. That sounds very reasonable for taking a significant amount of freight off the road.

        2. Forget about what happens in the DisUnited Kingdom and look to other countries where they have built thousands of kms of high speed rail lines at a much more reasonable cost.

          “The proposed KiwiRail Intermodal Freight Hub to be built in Palmerston North will cost upwards of $4 billion”

          Yeah we’ll need a source because I’m almost certain that is a gross exaggeration.

        3. CRL is a project that affects the whole network. What if it results in a doubling of rail patronage? Or we approach the level of ridership of some European cities?

          We know that you are unlikely to change as global warming really bites, but the Green Deal coming to Europe is likely to spread.

        4. The $4 billion mentioned in the press release for the KiwiRail Freight Hub was just a bit of puffery referring to the total economic value. They are envisaging that lots of distribution centres would be built nearby. Judging from the pictures (8 sidings, some large sheds, and some land) it surely would cost only a tiny fraction of that.

        5. $200m for Rotorua is somewhat pointless unless there’s a business case for going past there, possibly into Taupo. I don’t think it’s been looked at in a while. It’s something I’d use if I could then get from there to the skifields.

        6. Johnwood the govt and PGF are spending at the moment around $200m for what is left on the NAL all the way to Otira , which I think is good value rather than spending thousand just on small repairs every few weeks .And that is for a line were nothing has been spent on it for decades . And it’s all going to be finished going by what KR hav said by the end of the year .

          And it’s cheaper than a Km of a road .

        7. Johnwood the Whangarei line isn’t being rebuilt to run passenger trains, its being rebuilt to run slow freight trains, logs and containers don’t care if the ride is comfortable or not, people do. To rebuilt it to run passanger trains would cost a hell of a lot more.

        8. “The HS2 line from London to Birmingham will cost £106 billion pounds once complete.”
          Ah no not necessarily.
          The reason why the costs for HS2 have ballooned so high are because of the incompetence of the Tory government in demanding that contractors account for all possible risk in their cost assessments.
          It probably won’t cost that much.

        9. Oh yes Mike, if it’s British it simply must go overbudget like the East London Line, Thameslink, Heathrow’s Terminal 5…
          …oh, wait…

        10. Yes some projects came in on time and within the budget, bravo! Others didn’t, Wembley Stadium, Jubilee Line Extension…………..If you’ve been reading the news about HS2 nobody expects it to come in on time and within budget.

        11. Ah no Mike. You implied that British civil engineering projects must inherently always go overbudget. And the fact you’re not now piping down says a lot about you.

      2. So how would you pay for a freight and passenger network that can compete with roads?
        You wouldn’t even start to have a clue on how to price in the carbon – so don’t go down that route.
        We live in a large country with the bulk of the population in a small triangle. Roads are much cheaper to move goods and people than any of the alternatives. That’s just a fact.

        1. “Roads are much cheaper to move goods and people than any of the alternatives.”
          Thanks. That’s all I need to see to realise you have no idea.

        2. Dave – Its not about rail competing with roads its about what is more cost effective directly and indirectly and is environmentally friendly sustainable.

          It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that rail is cost effective to shift passengers, semi and bulk regional and inter-regional than a bus or truck.

          A 20 wagon freight train takes 10 truck and trailer units off the road, reducing carbon emissions and less wear and tear on roads. 200 passengers on a regional or inter-regional train takes 3-4 buses off the road reducing carbon emissions and less wear and tear on roads.

          A kilometre of rail track is more environmentally friendly and sustainable and cost effective when you factor in the ongoing indirect costs of pollution, heath, social, etc costs.

          A kilometre of road is not environmentally friendly and sustainable nor cost effective when you factor in the ongoing indirect costs of environment, pollution, heath, social, etc costs.

  8. I wonder if one of the issues at play here is the modern demand for extreme speed and convenience (and cheapness too if possible). In Palmerston North there is an excellent bus service to the university that is free to staff and students – it’s paid for by the regional council and the university. It offers a choice of 5 direct routes and takes about 15 minutes. There are also two fully separated cycleways and the distances are not large.

    Nevertheless, most students drive and pay $2 a day in parking. Even where students are flatting together, they often won’t carpool as they have different schedules and want the flexibility to come and go and different times.

    1. I went to Uni there (10 years ago) and the free buses were usually packed, half the time I was late for morning lectures as the bus drove past full.
      Granted there is enormous amounts of parking at Massey campus and its way too cheap. I certainly drove when I was in a hurry / feeling lazy.

  9. I used the Silver Star Auckland to Wellington a dozen or more times in the seventies. Departure from Auckland with my wife and four children seeing me off around 7-30ish was fun for all concerned.
    And arriving in Wellington showered and breakfasted and walking along Lambton Quay directly to my meeting was very convenient.
    I did however, always come home from Wellington by air around 5pm to enjoy the same evening at home.
    A great service while it lasted.

    1. In Match last year I took the Silver Star for a 3 day, 2 day trip,and while it was an amazing experience I can’t see it being a practical overnight experience for working people. When the tracks aren’t in great shape, which is pretty much the state of the main trunk line, sleep isn’t really that great,

      I’d love this to be a thing in NZ but I suspect the train cruise market is what will provide sleeper trains in NZ at costs way above A-B travellers.

  10. So build two trains with comfortable reclining seating. Then get a refurbished EF locomotive to tow them between Palmerston North and Hamilton. So catch the Capital connection from Wellington to Palmerston then Board the Recliner between Palmerston North and Hamilton. Upon arriving at Hamilton then catch the Tron to Auckland. If that works out we could look at building Hybrid EMU’s with diesel motor backup to run the whole distance. You would hope by that time the third main etc will be finished and there will be paths into Auckland central. Probably better for tourist both overseas and New Zealand moving up and down the island rather than business people.

    1. The GWR trains from London Paddington to Cornwall are Hitachi diesel hybrids, they run under the wire until it stops then run on diesel the rest of the way.

    2. After more reflection just buy 6 emus with appropriate seating. So each train should be able to travel say Hamilton Palmy return and back to Palmy in 24 hours. So great utilisation of rollingstock. Hamilton and Palmy crews working 8 hour shifts so swapping at National Park. Electric powered so green and hopefully cheaper than diesel. Don’t over think it passengers will decide probably on price if it’s right as I stated above connections to Auckland Hamilton and Wellington Palmers ton North trains and buses and drop off and pickup plus do I mention it park and ride. So two three car set trains in service at any time plus two spares for maintainence or maybe three three car sets at busy times. The other thing would be to have some commuter trains running Hamilton Te Kuiti return or Palmers ton Fielding. So three return trains per day with the possibility of shorter distant commuter trains if more EMU’s are brought.

      1. There use to be 3 Railcars that ran between Auckland and Wellington and after an accident there are still two which could still be used and why can’t they buy more and open up a number of return services that were closed by Toll around all the lines on both Islands .

        And after seeing this video on youtube we are lucky we still have what we have ;-

      1. Daniel, I stayed at the Hokutosei Train Hostel for my first two nights in Tokyo in September last year. Nice place, and pretty cool to be sleeping in ex-night train bunks!

  11. I’d do it next week if I could – I live in Wellington and have to be in Auckland next week, so someone has helpfully booked me a 6am flight leaving Wellington, to arrive AKL 7am, so I can get a taxi into town by 8.30. That’s a full fare red-eye fare, but means that I have t get to the airport by 5.30 which really means I need to leave by 5am so I have to get up by 4.30am…. The alternative is to fly up the night before and pay for a hotel for the night.

    The serious alternative therefore is to grab an overnight train – leisurely leaving 7pm and arriving 8am? I could live with that, and if it is a similar cost to the sum of flight+hotel room, I am much more happy, and don’t have to wake up at 4.30 am. So a figure of $150-200 each way would seem to be a good thing…

    1. Entirely agree. I’d much rather take a night train than be up at 4.30am in the morning for a flight. And it was great in Europe, and also a couple of times in Japan last year, to do exactly that (and yes in Japan despite the Shinkansen network there are still places either not on that network or that the earliest Shinkansen doesn’t get you to early enough for a meeting eg Tokyo to south of Hiroshima).

  12. The mana sleeper bus used to provide similar service. However it eventually go out of business.

    I am not sure the reason behind this, it is due to poor profitability? or because they get bullied by Intercity?

    Given such bad example, I think such business would be risky.

  13. My NZ experiences of over night travel in the 1960’s and 1970s are:
    The Steamer Express Wellington to Lyttelton on the near new Wahine inside 4 berth cabin. No streamers on departure. Buy on board food reasonably priced, competitive with on land prices. Heading into a moderate southerly swell was too much for many passengers who were reacquainted with their recently acquired food. Was only marginally better for those sharing a cabin on what became a long night with same.
    Return trip on Maori was smooth, but four berth cabins without ensuite meant a lot of corridor movement all night.
    Would I do it now? Not at current airfare prices even paying for a nights accommodation at one end.
    NZR Limited Night Express 2nd class Wellington to Hamilton return. Express it was not.
    Comfortable neither.
    Would I do it now? Well only as a last alternative to a bus, at least the toilet on the train travelled with you.
    Overseas experiences;
    Night travel on a 1st Class Euro Rail in the 1990s. The pass saved paying for a nights accomodation and the convertible compartments gave a better sleeping position then just sitting up.
    You did meet interesting people.
    Would I do it again?
    Probably, but I would pay the premium to a proper sleeper.
    Indian Pacific train from Port Augusta to Perth, early this century, two berth Silver Kangaroo class cabin (now discontinued) BOB food not cheap.
    Comfortable, but a bit like sitting in a cupboard during the day, but you could escape to the lounge and dining car for a change of scene. Showers and toilets at the ends of each carriage. Bunks did give lie flat sleeping and with the blinds up the view from the bed, stunning.
    A very worthwhile trip for personal reasons as my wife was partly bought up on Nullarbor rail settlements and later regularily flew out there with the Flying Doctor Service. Scenery beautiful by it’s sheer scale.
    Interesting aged fellow travellers using their annual pensioners heavily discounted fare. “Fogies on Bogies”
    But unbelievably expensive, the return by air from Perth to Auckland including a stop over in Sydney was considerably cheaper.
    Would I do it again?
    No need.

    1. Don they need to bring the old NZ services to show these young people how good they have it now and to shut them up over how thry think it’s bad now .

    2. Don Robertson – I agree with you about the Indian Pacific train. I had planned to travel from Sydney to Perth in Red Kangaroo class cabin (own sleeping compartment and food included) and got off at Adelaide as I could handle the journey.

  14. People used the train in 1938 because they couldn’t yet fly. Our terrain is not suited to rail, the cost of building it simply doesn’t stack up with such a small population.

    The minute someone married a turboprop engine into a modern airframe (in NZ, the Vickers Viscount and then the Fokker F27) and created a safe, fast and comfortable aircraft suitable for commuter routes the long distance train was dead in NZ.

    As long as we have frequent and affordable domestic aviation, and we are serving a small population isolated by rugged terrain, then long distance scheduled passenger rail aimed at the domestic traveller will be a non starter.

    1. “Our terrain is not suited to rail, the cost of building it simply doesn’t stack up with such a small population.”
      You do understand that just about every major centre of population (bar Nelson and Queenstown) was connected to rail by the turn of the 20th century, and that the alignments sill exist, right?

      “The minute someone married a turboprop engine into a modern airframe (in NZ, the Vickers Viscount and then the Fokker F27) and created a safe, fast and comfortable aircraft suitable for commuter routes the long-distance train was dead in NZ.”
      That’s not true at all. Long-distance trains in NZ remained popular into the 1980s long after either of those aircraft appeared in NZ.
      Domestic flights across NZ didn’t start becoming very affordable until the 70s and cheap until the mid-90s.
      Improvements to roads and availability of cheap imported second-hand Japanese cars did more to kill off passenger rail in NZ than short haul flights. And of course; complete underinvestment and government-ruined management played a part.

    2. Sanctuary – Unfortunately, we now have a planet that is warming every hour of every day and those days you mentioned will be distance memories, as NZ grapples to adopt with a warming planet.

      Turboprop aircraft are more environmentally friendly than jets but trains and coaches/buses are more environmentally friendly than fossil powered cars and current turboprop aircraft.

    3. Bullsh**. Large parts of Switzerland, Austria. and Norway are the same if not worse than NZ. Finland & Sweden have a harsher climate etc Yet they all have good inter-regional rail links, including night trains. And I’ve used most of them personally.

      And by the way, I work for a major airline. Interestingly there was a piece in the NZH or Stuff last week from an aviation expert saying that it’s likely Air NZ will further cut some regional routes in the next few years since some of them are just not sustainable.

  15. Id like to see the Journey time for pax rail between Auckland and Wellington brought down to 8 hours. Given the record was around 8 hours in the 60s it shouldnt require a vast amount of money. Also, multiple trips daily, at least four so people get a degree of flexibility.

    1. complete electrification between Ham and Puke (and change locos at Parmy), or have dual mode battery electric locos to use that beautiful overhead resource without changes, too… hmmm delicious clean green lecky-trains!

    2. Hear hear!
      An ~8-hour train journey between Wellington & Auckland could DEFINATELY be competitive with driving (which is how many people do the journey today).

    3. As far as day trips are concerned ok, but the whole thing around night trains is not speed. It’s efficiency and comfort. You leave at night and wake up the next morning at your destination. Night trains don’t need to be 150-300km/h. Competitive cost and comfort are far more important. Don’t confuse the requirements of day and night trains.

  16. My suggestion for a night train between Auckland and Wellington would have three elements:

    1) It would run both ways every night.

    2) It would pick up/drop off all stops Auckland to Hamilton, and Palmerston North to Wellington, but would not stop between Hamilton and Palmerston North.
    This would give a guaranteed six to seven hours of uninterrupted sleep in the middle of the night.

    3) The train would be the same as the one that runs during the day, being kitted out with airline style lie flat beds that convert to business class style seats during the day.

    Queensland rail has this. This would allow the same two trainsets to do four services a day, i.e. a day train and a night train in both directions. The only problem is the journey time is probably a touch long to cycle twice in 24 hours. My guess is if it could be sped up to about 10 hours each way there would be enough time for cleaning and servicing and timekeeping.

    1. Nick R – 99% right. Needs one stop at midnight at Ohakune/National Park, so that skiers can get off from either direction.

      1. I doubt that would work with the schedule. To stop in the ski towns at midnight you’d be arriving at Auckland/Wellington at around 5am, which is maybe two to three hours too early for a convenient arrival and a decent sleep (you’d be waking people at 4:30am to prepare to disembark).

        More likely the national park/ohakune stop would end up being around 2:30am, which defeats the purpose as you’d both be on a night train and need a hotel of the night, and wouldn’t get a decent sleep in either!

        I think you’d stick to the daytime services for that.

        1. Not sure that I agree with your timings here. Current Northern Explorer leaves Wellington at 7.55am arriving in Ohakune at 12.44pm and National park at 1.14, then Auckland at 6.50pm. Assuming the same or similar times could be met a 7pm departure would mean arriving at Ohakune at 11.44pm and National Park at 12.14am – and arrival in Auckland around 6am (reasonably standard time for arrival in many overnight trains – or just slow the train down for a more convenient arrival. (this happens on some overseas overnight services e.g. the night sleeper from London to Edinburgh. In the opposite direction (from Auckland) the times are similar – a 6.30pm departure would result in the arrival times noted above (with National Park being the earlier of course)

    2. Good point re ski area timings if at night. The trip speed could be sped up probably with just a bit of track improvement & noting that in the scenic day time I think they run some bits slow so people can take in the highlighted views better like over the huge viaducts. Could be wrong on that with it being the track speed anyway & is only in a handful of places.

    3. Nick R – I agree with you. I have traveled on the Spirit of Queensland and like the Railbed and Premium Economy seating products. This concept would work for a limited stop overnight train services between Auckland and Wellington.

  17. I have no preference for rail or air, but both should pay their true costs to ensure a level playing field. (as noted in the article aviation should pay the carbon tax & gst on domestic legs of international flights)

    If central or local government wants to subsidise rail or air it should have to show that there is a net socio-economic benefit in doing so.

    1. kiwi overseas – Many of the rail services in Europe are subsidised (Even Nightjet OBB admitted they break even with the help of Austrian govt) but I don’t have a problem with that because trains (especially local and inter-regional) connect communities so there is from my POV a socio-economic benefit from having those services. That conflicts with NZ where we only count benefits and costs in $$$.

      I work in the tourism sector (for an airline) and the most common complaint I’ve heard from European tourists when travelling NZ myself, is how poorly our regions are connected compared to European nations, and I totally agree.

      1. I’m sure if our population was 10m plus and more people living in the regions we would have better connections, but we don’t live in a country with a highish population. Kiwis left the regions in the 60’s and never went back, urban drift killed the regions, the closing of dairy factories and freezing works and associated farming related industries took away the jobs, the regions will never recover so why spend vast amounts of money connecting them with rail, when they are already well connected with roads?

  18. One thing that has changed since train services became uneconomical is the number of tourists. Sure most tourists would prefer to fly or drive. But some (esp those from Europe) would love the idea of a sleeper train. It is one less nights accommodation to pay for, it’s interesting, and it avoids the hassle and cost of getting to and from airports.

    1. “Sure most tourists would prefer to fly or drive.”
      I would think the opposite; Tourists generally prefer taking a train over driving or flying.

        1. Driving when you don’t have much time to get over jetlag isn’t wise.

          Could you please link to studies of tourists and what they would prefer to use if it was available?

        2. Erm no. Why would that make any difference? Tourists want the least hassle, most reliable, most looked-after options that allows them to see as much as possible.

        3. Tourists may prefer to take the train… after we actually introduce some train services.

          It depends on many things, mainly on how you travel. If you tend to rigorously plan everything in advance then you can book PT in advance as well. Otherwise you’ll be going straight from the airport to the car rental.

        4. The average length of time a tourist spends in NZ is 19-22 days.

          Daniel for the average tourist to see as much as possible in those 19-22 days car is the easiest way to get around.

          You know we don’t have trains going everywhere, we never will, you need to get over yourself, the reality is NZ has roads that go from everywhere to everywhere else, even if all the old rail alignments were reopened you will never be able to get the same coverage as road based transport.

    2. Jimbojones – This the current situation, that tourists will drive and fly as there is the perception that NZ is small, is easy to drive in and doesn’t have good national train and bus/coach travel networks. This is why NZ has a dirty tourism industry.

  19. I think we need to put the past to one side and try to come up with an operating pattern that suits our needs and the inferstructure we have in place. Also what happens overseas can only be a consideration we have our own set of circumstances which is not replicated elsewhere. It may be counter intuitive but the problem is Auckland Wellington is just too long on a slow train. If we break it up a bit maybe it would be different. It would be an advantage if tourist stopped off along the way and spent a bit of money instead of doing the trip in one go. For internal tourist too.

    1. For the tourists, a daylight journey is scenic, but apart from Auckland and Wellington only Ohakune and National Park could count as tourist destinations. Hamilton and stations through to Auckland and similarly Palmerston and the stations through to Wellington would provide some of the through traffic.
      For an overnight train, scenery would not be a draw and there is a dearth of stops between Palmerston North and Hamilton that would generate traffic in the unsociable hours the train would be passing.
      Let’s get the Wellington to Palmerston North service upgraded, as well as Auckland to Hamilton up and going, as a priority next step. Then further extensions to the Bay of Plenty followed by some more local extensions from Hamilton. Just retaining the scenic daylight service to Wellington upgrading to daily if increased demand is apparent.

  20. With a small family its actually very workable to go to Ruapehu by train. We have been twice on the train to National Park – its actually very easy, comfortable, collected by shuttle at the station. As far as skis are concerned, join a club and store them on the mountain, or just check them in on the train. Its very easy to find excuses not to do things a bit differently, but we have found this a good way to get to the mountain (from Wellington). A 7pm departure would be even better.

      1. Well that settles it then, overnight passenger trains will never work in New Zealand because there is no club storage for skis at Turoa. One wonders how the overnight trains in tropical north Queensland survive, I’m informed they have no ski clubs whatsoever!

  21. It’s a nice dream.
    But to make passenger rail services across NZ competitive with flights and driving would require considerable and sustained investment. The rail network beyond the main truck line & East Coast Main Trunk would need considerable millions to improve the track conditions to allow trains to transit at competitive speeds and with smooth enough a motion. Remember that in 1938 when they had all of those trains rolling out of Wellington; Automobile ownership was uncommon, most automobiles in NZ were not pleasant to drive long distances in and the DC-3 was cutting-edge technology not yet available in NZ.

    I think that overnight trains with journey times of 5+ hours could definitely find a market though. Because there’s a lack of appeal in driving at night through areas you’re not too familiar with (especially across mountain ranges) and night flights are scarce and having to pay an expensive taxi from deserted Airports at the journey’s ends is highly unappealing.
    But in my opinion; the service operator would be wise to invest in carriages like these ones they’ve used in Japan:
    Because to be honest; I used the overnight overlander service about ~20 times between 1995-2004 and I NEVER got more than a slumber’s worth of sleep on it. The people traveling between the most distant stops should get beds to lie-down and get something more like a bonafide sleep in. And if the service offered a decent enough sleep then that too could be a selling point of the service; save yourself a night in accommodation.

    1. They’d also need wifi.

      At first i could not believe the Northern Explorer didn’t, but when you consider the tourist haven of NZ has hotels charging NZD24 a day for the privilege, its not really a surprise.

      1. You can’t even get mobile data (& possibly mobile ph coverage at all?) through sections of the journey given the route, but hey that’s part of the experience.

        1. Yeah around the King Country area there was no coverage the last time I took that train a couple of years ago.

          I used the old Northerner once and, yeah, seats, even reclining ones are not conducive to sleeping! Gotta be lie flat to have any chance of a reasonable sleep – either airline style (eg Spirit of Qld) or compartment. Once I also was in a reclining seat Utrecht-Dusseldorf (Deutsche Bhan website booking system wouldn’t allow me to buy couchette or sleeper because of the comparatively short distance) and again, not helped by keeping the lighting on too, I was unable to sleep at all.

          IMO you’d only have maybe one seating carriage on any new night train, mainly for students, backpackers, and those on lower incomes, and those maybe only needing to go a short distance eg just Auckland to Hamilton, Wellington to Palmy late at night after an event, day trip in the bigger city etc

          The image which daniel linked to of bunks in the japanese train hostel (Hokutosei Hostel) in Tokyo which I used last year, actually reminded me of couchettes in European night trains, as most of the night train sleeper beds would be better quality in my own experience of both. But it does also bring up the fact that to offer a competitive priced option for those on lower incomes, and also for family or friends groups, I’d want to include basic bunk couchette carriages, not just good quality sleepers.

    2. So you bag my posts up above but now you agree with pretty much everything I’ve said, we simply can’t afford to spend the tens of billions of dollars it would take to build a rail network to high enough standard to compete with car and air.

      1. ” but now you agree with pretty much everything I’ve said”
        You need to go back to primary school and improve your reading comprehension level.

        Exactly where have I ever completely rubbished any idea of bringing back intercity passenger trains in NZ like you have?
        And before you bumble into claiming it: No, pointing out that something will take an awful lot of investment is NOT the same as saying it shouldn’t be done.

        1. My basic premise is rail is too expensive for NZ to implement to make it price, time and cost competitive with road and air based transport, and here is your comment which agrees with me.

          ‘But to make passenger rail services across NZ competitive with flights and driving would require considerable and sustained investment. The rail network beyond the main truck line & East Coast Main Trunk would need considerable millions to improve the track conditions to allow trains to transit at competitive speeds and with smooth enough a motion. ‘

        2. Are you low-IQ or something?
          You’re actually repeating stuff I shot down in the post you’re replying to!

    3. Daniel Eyre – As you know the planet is warming every hour of every day and as a country we need to be fully sustainable and environmentally friendly so the country adopts to a warming planet. We need to stop seeing planet warming through our ‘here and now’ tinted glasses. To be fully sustainable and environmentally friendly is not going to be cheap.

      The existing national rail network needs to be made a major strategic ‘steel road’ asset as the existing national state highway and regional road networks are major strategic ‘asphalt road’ assets.

      Upgrading the national rail network for train weights, speed and frequencies is cheaper and environmentally friendly in the long term when indirect costs like land usage, pollution, health costs, etc are factored in.

      Upgrading and/or building new roads are not environmentally friendly in the long term when indirect costs like land usage, pollution, health costs, etc are factored in.

      1. Oh I agree.
        I’m just pointing out that it will cost a lot of money. But if I’d had my way; that sort of money would’ve been spent on this over all of these years instead of those roading projects like that dopey transmission gully.

      2. “Upgrading the national rail network for train weights, speed and frequencies is cheaper and environmentally friendly in the long term when indirect costs like land usage, pollution, health costs, etc are factored in.”

        Have you got evidence for that?

        I’m not supporting Transmission Gully or other roading projects with poor economics, but I think the decisions about rail need to be made on a case by case basis.

        You started off your comment discussing global warming. I haven’t crunched the numbers but I suspect that the cost of abatement using rail could be pretty poor, except in cases where the rail economics are generally pretty good – like the Third Main in Auckland etc.

        I do think road users should bear the full cost of their activities though.

        1. Have you got anything for New Zealand? My guess is that rail economics are typically better in the UK.

          Even so, the National Rail page doesn’t directly address the point that I think Kris was making: that rail is always or at least typically cheaper and better overall (rather than just on selected high volume freight routes and commuter lines). Rather, the National Rail page is just arguing that rail has advantages for space, safety etc. I’d take a look at anything making the overall point, if you believe rail is typically better and cheaper across the board.

          The National Rail page also argues rail emissions are lower. The UK is still making its mind up whether it will ban petrol / diesel vehicle sales from 2035 or do it sooner:

          If that happened here, and rail didn’t reciprocate then the emissions argument would apply the other way round.

          I haven’t seen anything really on network-wide plans to make New Zealand rail emissions free. I suspect it would be horrendously expensive to do it network-wide through electrification, and I haven’t seen anyone talking about the feasibility and economics of using hydrogen throughout the remainder of the rail network yet. So I’m not yet convinced that rail is necessarily going to be any better than roading for emissions in the longer-term, and outside of the existing electrified network it might be worse.

        2. MfE’s looking at marginal abatement costs of decarbonising each of the different modes. It’s early days for the analysis, but for rail and light vehicles, it seems that the abatement costs of electrification are negative, ie there are benefits.

          But Kris was talking more broadly, about “indirect costs like land usage, pollution, health costs, etc” – and I’d add social and development costs and benefits, too. No-one seems to be doing this more full analysis, and as we showed in “Gathering Momentum by Gathering Data”, some of the basic data isn’t available.

        3. It doesn’t matter what country it’s in Sherwood.
          Railway is steel on steel but roads are rubber on asphalt. It can inherently move more weight with less expended energy because of the lower friction coefficient.

        4. Starting from basics.
          Steel wheels on steel rails are more energy efficient then pneumatic tyres on tarmac irrespective of the propelling motive power source.
          Sure it will never be possible to migrate the vast majority of road transport to rail, but just migrating some, like the some Auckland commuter traffic has already acheived has resulted in considerable energy efficiency, (and spacial efficiency), over the road transport alternatives . Diesel hauled rail is by virtue of that lower friction more energy efficient over the same route then diesel hauled road haulage. Where high tonnages, and high volumes, are involved it is much more cost effective to electrify rail lines then road haulage.
          Rail will never be a total solution, but continuing enhancing rail haulage by track, and motive power supply upgrades, can contribute significantly towards our energy efficiency, thus emission reduction.
          This alone justifies a reversal of a previous path of a managed decline of rail, on the basis that road haulage could provide a “total” solution. Totality was always a false target.

        5. Don, yes I agree that rail tends to be economic where freight / passenger volumes are high, if that wasn’t clear. I also know that rail has lower emissions than road haulage if both are using diesel.

          But I was also talking about the costs of avoiding emissions altogether. I am unclear on how much more rail electrification will be economic. The price tag recently announced for the Papakura-Pukekohe project was expensive, and I imagine electrification will only be worth it on lines where the volumes are high. Hydrogen may provide a solution to decarbonise the rest of network but I don’t know if anyone is looking at that yet. The MfE work Heidi is talking about may make it clearer.

          Daniel, efficiency is a contributing factor, but it’s only one aspect of costs and overall favourability. If rail infrastructure costs are higher, then the volumes have to be high enough to recoup enough fuel costs to be competitive.

          Heidi, that’s interesting about the MfE. I take it that nothing has been published yet, but I will keep an eye out.

          Even accounting for the extra roading costs, I still think it is likely the comparison would vary on a case by case basis depending on factors such as the infrastructure costs and volumes.

        6. @Sherwood
          Contrary to what some of the zealots on here will try and advocate; electrification of railways only makes sense when it either sees very heavy freight traffic or regular passenger traffic (with track inclines a positive factor). Because electrifying lines is expensive and then maintaining that electrification is an added cost.

          With NZ; we have a legacy railway network (or at least; existing alignments) that reaches most of the nation. Most new construction that might be needed would just be short spurs from existing alignments. We just don’t make anywhere near as much usage of it as we could.
          The system is set-up to favour road haulage, even though it’s actually less efficient for many situations.

        7. Outside the main lines, the challenge is getting enough customers to keep the costs per passenger and tonne of freight low. As I understand it Kiwirail has trouble covering even the signals and sleeper renewals etc on some routes.

          I don’t know all the reasons driving the freight customer and passenger choices, but I guess many people like to have the flexibility to start and finish their journeys where and when they want, and prefer to avoid the cost and time of transferring between the rail head and their ultimate destination.

        8. Sherwood,
          Air travellers universally change modes in undertaking their journeys Whilst in NZ trains may not yet be able to match road transport for speed, they are quite capable of surpassing road transport for comfort and any option you don’t have to drive yourself has advantages. I think there is substantial unrealized potential for provincial rail services out of Auckland/Hamilton and Christchurch as proven by the surviving services out of Wellington in spite of years of substantial underinvestment.
          Long haul passenger rail, I think there is a case for the daylight tourist market but long haul overnight? I do not think this yet would go near the best use of new rail investment resources.
          Track improvements and reinstatement, yard improvements, and rolling stock improvements, to get more freight from road to rail would be much more effective in reducing our emissions.

        9. Don, I’d support projects like that so long as they have a reasonable cost of abatement or otherwise stack up economically.

        10. The problem with looking at individual projects in isolation is that the approaches misses the network effect. When investment over decades has created a network of roads, but lack of investment over decades means other networks like rail don’t exist, you can’t expect individual comparisons to be valid. Which provides some context for:

          “I don’t know all the reasons driving the freight customer and passenger choices, but I guess many people like to have the flexibility to start and finish their journeys where and when they want, and prefer to avoid the cost and time of transferring between the rail head and their ultimate destination.”

          If you’re going to analyse the cost and benefit of each individual rail project, rather than decide to establish a network and then strategise as to what needs to be done first, you’d need to at least put in a figure for “contribution to re-establishing a network”.

        11. Kiwirail focus is on train loads of freight although the do carry individual containers or containers between major freight centers so there is still some network. The problem with this approach has being high lighted yet again with the log trains from Wairoa to Napier port having being cancelled because of over supply of logs in China because of the virus. From what I can make out only a couple of trains have run after the line was reopened at Christmas. Apparently some thought has being given to transporting containerised squash on the line as well. But given that the containers would need to be trucked from Gisborne to Wairoa maybe not.
          I understand cabinet is going to discuss help for forestry workers today. My suggestion, we still have the billion tree program the logging workers should transfer to tree planting until the situation sorts itself out.

        12. Heidi, I haven’t got a sense for how rail economics stack up on the busier lines. I think you know that a cost of abatement test would be easier for rail than a benefit-cost test. And as I’ve said before, I think the threshold should probably be a lot higher than the shadow price used in current assessments. Would no improvements on the NIMT or similar lines pass, even though Mike M was saying they’re basically out of capacity on parts of the
          existing line?

          I’ve never thought through a network effects argument. A quick initial thought though. I think Daniel was saying that the old tracks went just about everywhere. So, if all that is holding back rail is the current condition of the network and retrenchment of some of the spurs, how did the network lose its customers in the first place (from a time when the network condition was good and the spurs were operational)?

          I haven’t seen many numbers or thought through the scope for things like network effects or how the evolution of abatement costs and targets might alter the road vs rail balance. But my gut feel is that any rail investment would be better targeted at relieving any capacity constraints on high volume lines with proven demand, and that in the meantime regional rail should concentrate on doing what I understand it is has a competitive advantage on i.e. high volume point to point movement.

          Royce, what are you saying is the problem with Kiwirail’s current approach? Transferring the forestry workers to Billion Trees sounds like a good idea.

        13. Sherwood – Currently, the national rail network is under utilized and under funded and there is one rail operator who is only interested in freight and 3 scenic passenger train services and operates and maintains the above ground track infrastructure, signalling and train control.

          In essence, the national rail network is a ‘closed’ network that is use by one rail operator. Its like, one national road transport operator predominantly operating a freight trucking operation with selected scenic bus services on a ‘closed’ national road network across all 16 regions in NZ. That is not cost effective.

          To get greater utilization of the national rail network, it needs to be an ‘open’ network like the national state highway and regional road networks are. By having an ‘open’ rail network this allows the re-introduction of regional and inter-regional passenger train services to all 14 region, allow other regional, inter-regional and/or long distance rail operator/s to operate regional, inter-regional and/or long distance freight and/or passenger train services like the Antipodes Explorer, re-introduction of overnight train services, etc to increase train movements and frequencies which gives a better return on investment when indirect costs of pollution, land usage, environment, health, social, ongoing maintenance, etc are factored in compared to roads which are not cost effective when indirect costs of pollution, land usage, environment, health, social, ongoing maintenance, etc are factored in.

          The planet is warming every hour of everyday and we need to take off our neoliberal economic ‘here and now’ tinted glasses and start using sustainable environmentally friendly economics and analyses which has the best sustainable environmentally friendly cost benefits in relation to investment – rail or road.

        14. Kris – Interestingly both Germany and Switzerland have a similar model to what Kiwirail is at the moment, a government owned train and track operator. Both have very successful rail networks.

          On the face of it I would have agreed with your model (although I’d have one agency for transport rather than separate road and rail). However, that model is similar to what it used in Britain, which has certainly had issues.

          I’m starting to think a single government owned Kiwirail is the right approach, but with better direction and funding from the government.

        15. Kris and the previous operator Toll was also only interested in freight and they thought the passenger network was a burden to their overall profit margan and we lost a lot of Passenger services . i.e The Southerner , the Hawkes Bay service to Wellington 3 out of the 4 North island services which now is basically a 1/2 service , the Rotorua service and the previous H2A service which was born to fail when itran the wrong way around .

          And to those out there that they need a lie flat seat to sleep in how often have you fallen asleep in your Armchair in front of the Television ????? .

        16. Kris, you said that rail should be an open access network. Are you saying open access will bump up passenger and freight volumes? I’d be interested to know how that works.

          You also said “The planet is warming every hour of everyday”. I agree and we should take concerted action over it.

          But I’m concerned about invoking a climate justification in favour of rail for any investments which have a cost of abatement well above the going rate for sequestration, while road transport may itself become emissions free over time and while there is not yet any clear cost effective pathway for regional rail to do the same.

          You may not think that the cost of abatement is important. But if we start using climate as a justification for every investment achieving negligible emissions reductions, the bill for achieving and maintaining Net Zero will blow out. We would then risk the whole climate mitigation project falling apart, or at least getting delayed a lot with much greater cost and risk.

          You also said rail investments have better returns than road investments, but you’re not providing any facts or figures to substantiate that.

          I’m not sure its roading vs rail. Rather its whether we do each individual project on its own merits.

          But, if your point is about general funding levels, there’s an unfunded backlog of roading projects with high benefit-cost ratios (and I don’t agree with it being bypassed). Is there any similar list for rail?

          I’d also say that a lot of the car impacts will go if they become emissions free, regional rail also has emissions, rural land is cheap, roading use is high enough that it covers its own maintenance unlike much rail, and I’m unclear why we should pay a lot for any social benefits of rail where it is not used much.

          You also say we should “start using sustainable environmentally friendly economics and analyses” but apart from incorporating the full costs (e.g. with a proper shadow price for carbon) what would you do differently?

          And outside the main trunk lines, would any such changes really mean that regional rail is going to stack up better, particularly if it doesn’t become emissions free and road haulage does?

        17. ‘And to those out there that they need a lie flat seat to sleep in how often have you fallen asleep in your Armchair in front of the Television ????? .’

          Never, and the odd time I have dozed in a seat such as a long haul flight it’s been a rubbish sleep. There are plenty of us who don’t sleep unless they are lying down.

        18. Sherwood, a significant reason for the demise of passenger rail in New Zealand was the decision not to invest in new rolling stock as various older-generation trains became life-expired. The easy answer was to let services run down then close them – particularly in the provinces. Certainly new rolling stock would have required capital subsidy until / unless usage grew sufficiently to cover this, but in most cases this was not put to the test. The last new long-distance passenger rail vehicles purchased in NZ were the Silver Star carriages and the 3 Silver Fern railcars back in the early 1970s.
          Meanwhile, capital transport funding was increasingly being directed to improving roads, in anticipation that only-private-cars and not-public-transport were what everybody would want. In many ways this became self-fulfilling on account of the deliberate policy-settings.

          What I think has become evident more recently is that demand for good public transport never actually died, but was heavily suppressed. Other countries including those with NZ-sized population densities (eg Norway), prioritized retaining their rail services and have continued to provide a valued service right up to today.

          However to get services re-introduced after they have been allowed to die so long ago and people have got used to managing without them, is a real challenge. Only the government has the resources to do this properly, and it must decide that this is what it wants to prioritize if it is to happen. When the privatized railway was taken back into state ownership there was an opportunity to get started on this, but 9 years of a National Government antipathetic to rail meant zero progress in this regard.

          But now things have changed and the political appetite for passenger rail is better than it has been for a long time. I suggest that climate-change objectives are only one of several compelling reasons for doing something about this. Another is the appalling lack of safety on road-transport which has plagued us for far too long, and also the general undesirability of excessive car-dependency which New Zealand is infamous for. Then there is the objective of stimulating local economies in the provinces which passenger rail services seem to be particularly effective at doing. If the latent demand for passenger rail is still there in spite of decades of suppression, it behoves policy-makers to provide for this just as they provided for the nascent motoring-minority back in the early days. Funding is needed not just for trains but for better infrastructure, re-built stations and integration of services into the community fabric. This takes buy-in and funding from local and regional authorities whose areas will benefit, as well as from government, but government needs to set the ball rolling. Private companies alone are unlikely to be able to meet the scale of what is required, and the pay-off is ultimately to the whole of society. The restoration of an important social good that should never have been lost in the first place, particularly in a first-world country.

        19. “The last new long-distance passenger rail vehicles purchased in NZ were the Silver Star carriages and the 3 Silver Fern railcars back in the early 1970s.”. . . .

          . . . .Until the AK-cars in 2011

        20. Yes, I think many of our population have had a desire for regional rail throughout our car dependent history; having a choice is a nice thing. Voicing it was steadily growing, but I think there’s been a step change this year with Covid. Obviously it’s affected us differently, but the need to speak up to create the change we need seems to be occurring to more people.

          Those 18 Councils along the main trunk line, for example, calling for the Northern Explorer to restart, might not have all submitted for it to be retained if they’d been asked last year. Now, they might go on to demand more: a more reliable service, with track, vehicle and alignment improvements that speed the journey up, more stops to provide more connections and serve more areas, better stations, and coordination with the bus network.

  22. For anyone interested. The Silver Star was marooned at AG Price in Thames when the track between Thames and Waitoa was taken up in May 1995. The carriages were sold for conversion into accommodation in 2016.

    As I live in Thames it would be great if the Pokeno, Paeroa branch could be completed, as Shane Jones has suggested.

      1. Unless my ageing memory is playing tricks, a number of the Silver
        Star carriages resided at New Lynn Station for quite a while. I know
        they had problems with asbestos in them, too.

  23. I know this might be out of left-field for some people, but I think that the rail tourism potential for the central North Island isn’t restricted to merely skiing on Ruapehu.
    Regular and reliable rail services could also be a great way to get away from the big smoke for the weekend or a few days to hiking tracks not only in the National park but in the Tongariro forest park and the Kaimanawa ranges. Or maybe to get to spots for angling or even to hunting lodges (if people set them up). The rail corridor passes through several places that would be great for basing those sorts of activities like Owhango and Raurimu.

    In Switzerland and other European nations; it’s not unusual at all for people to take the train to get away into the hinterland for those sorts of activities.

    1. I’m hoping we’re going to see some regions getting their act together with sustainable local tourism, Daniel. I’ve been hearing that the Hawkes Bay is doing good things with cycle tourism. Supported by good inter-regional transport, I think there’s a lot of untapped potential.

      This would be a good focus for a government that was interested in its people’s well-being, in regional development, and that believed climate change was this generation’s nuclear-free moment. :/

    2. Daniel Eyre – I agree with you, There is a need to re-established the national regional passenger network for locals and tourists alike to the 14 regions the national rail network covers.

    3. Yes there is already hiking, cycle, scenic things you can do via the luxury model Northern Explorer in a limited way. Also they sent a promotional email a few weeks back with a few expensive package deals. Hotel night at the Chateau, meal deal and ride up the mountain chair lift etc:

      PS also noticed that has shuttles that time with Intercity and/or the train timetable.

      Was looking the other month at cycling & kayak tours of the Whanganui River which I think you can connect from Ohakune.

        1. Rather than exclusively top-of-the-range and geared towards big-spending overseas tourists, there should be this sort of thing available for most of the population (and tourism market).

        2. Daniel Eyre – That is why NZ needs to re-established regional and inter-regional ‘commuter’ passenger rail services across all 14 regions for locals and tourists alike to stimulate local and regional tourism.

  24. So what? The Dutch own more cars than the British per capita. Doesn’t stop them using bicycles and public transport a lot more per capita.

    This may come as a shock, but owning a car and using a car are different things.

  25. Whilst Kiwirail has control over the track infrastructure, signalling and train control and operates as the rail operator, any overnight train services between Auckland and Wellington will not happen and the same applies to re-introducing the national regional passenger rail network. Kiwirail is about being predominantly freight and the current 3 scenic passenger train services.

    Whilst I am not a overnight train person, I was impress with the Spirit of Queensland services between Brisbane and Cairns offering Railbed (lay flat bed) seating and ‘premium economy’ style of seating.

    To re-introduce Auckland/Wellington overnight train service and national regional passenger train services, the above ground track infrastructure, signalling and train control needs to taken out of Kiwirail and be a separate state entity under the Ministry of Transport to operate the national rail network as a non-profit making ‘open’ access network.

    If there was a rail operator, with it is domestic or international , wanting to operate an Auckland to Wellington overnight train service, the service should be limited stop service being Auckland, Papakura , Hamilton, National Park (for crew change), Palmerston North, Paraparaumu and Wellington offering premium aircraft style ‘ lay flat bed’ seating in 3-1 configuration and ‘premium economy’ style upright seating in 2-2 configuration. The train set would feature 2 premium seating carriages, cafe carriage, luggage carriage and 3 premium economy carriages.

  26. Lots of good debate above, and I agree that an Auckland-Wellington sleeper is an excellent idea in principle, and that the route as it is is perfectly fine for that type of service.

    But with one major caveat, which I haven’t seen mentioned so far. In the middle of the night the central section of the NIMT is a very busy place: when I was familiar with it a few years ago, there were trains crossing at practically every loop. When it works fine it works fine, but single-track railways often don’t work fine, for all sorts of reasons – and the busier they are, the less resilient.

    That’s one of the reasons Tranz Rail withdrew The Northerner in 2004 – apart from any patronage/service issues, it was taking up limited capacity on the NIMT at a crucial time. That meant any perturbations were amplified, meaning that the passenger service was not as reliable as it should be, and freight trains were also disrupted: then as now, outside Auckland and Wellington it’s a freight railway out there.

    This is not a simple issue to fix (particularly with the added complication of ferry connections), but the other users of the railway cannot be ignored.

    1. That is why the above ground track infrastructure (tunnels, bridges, etc), signalling and train control needs to be taken away from Kiwirail and be a separate ‘open access’ non profit state entity under the Ministry of Transport and be treated as a strategic ‘steel’ road asset like the current state highway and regional road networks are.

      By doing this, the NIMT and SIMT and major regional lines can have some serious upgrades by knocking out the kinks, double tracking and/or more passing loops to increase train movements and frequencies.

      1. The current track infrastructure is govt owned and operated, if the govt saw a benefit in making the changes as you suggest then they would have already done so. As for opening up the network I doubt anyone else is going to come into NZ and operate rail services to compete with Kiwirail? We are a small country, far far away from anywhere else, people keep on forgetting that.

        1. The ground below track is own by the government and the above ground track is owned by Kiwirail Holdings Ltd and being an SOE, it has to make a profit for its share holder.

          Currently, the national rail network is under utilized costing Kiwirail Holdings Ltd money.

          NZ is not a small country, it is similar size to Japan and Italy and slightly bigger than the UK excluding Northern Ireland. Yes, at present, NZ has 5 million compared to Japan, Italy and UK, but with planet warming, NZ population will increase.

          How do you know that there be no interest if the rail network is opened up? There is interest by international rail operators to operate in NZ and Owens and Mainfreight has express in operating their own rail freight services and Pacific National has in the past looked at operating in NZ if the national rail network is owned up.

    2. Nice post Mike (sounds just like why they stopped the Tokyo-Sapporo night trains after the Hokkaido Shinkansen was introduced). The clear thing is that as Kris has said below, there needs to be an awful lot of infrastructure improvement done.

      I spoke with a buddy the other day with Kiwirail links and he said they are grateful for the $2B funding but in reality they probably need $9B to do all the stuff they want to do if we want to have a high quality rail network like in many European and Asian nations. $2B is just to scrape up to acceptable status. That’s how far rail has fallen and is behind in this country.

      1. What I have been told the figure is about $10 billion to upgrade the whole network to allow increase freight and passenger train movements across all 14 regions.

    3. Having said that, in the night trains favour, speed is not that important, though of course reliability on still getting to your destination on time obviously is.

  27. I have a couple of issues I’d like to raise. They’re not strictly on topic though…

    Firstly, I’d love to take a train from Christchurch to Dunedin. I understand that historically there was such a rail link so one would have to assume that that route still exists. However it seems to have been long abandoned which is a shame. Anyone got any thoughts on this?

    The second issue has to do with local commuter rail in Auckland. Recently I found myself in the CBD on a Sunday night. I knew that PT operated until midnight and so leisurely wandered around town. We ended up at Britomart about 10ish and were surprised to discover that the last train for the day was just about to depart. I fail to understand the timetable discrepancy between buses and HR. Surely, end times for both mediums should be similar? Further, what’s the point of travelling between hubs if one of the services shuts down earlier than the other?

    I have a similar issue with buses via the airport. If your plane arrives either too late in the day or too early in the day, either there are no bus services or no train services or potentially both.

  28. The Green Party’s Policy on Transport announced today includes a Night Train between Auckland and Wellington – daily, in each direction.

  29. This I hopefully will happen again , over the years from 1974 all bar 1 trip that I did to Wellington and back was a daylight trip and that was the Siliverfern the 1st was the Siliverstar and the rest were the overnighters where the only sleeping was done in the seats [and they were comfy] , so hopefully if they do bring them back there is a choice , what they have on say Amtrack in the US .

  30. I like the overnight sleeper train proposal. Yet new ideas are also necessary for its success. How about adding a couple of special carriages designed to take cars along with some basic facilities at the stations to allow easy roll on/off? As a passenger I may prefer to bring along my car to the capital overnight, get my business done, and then return overnight with my car. Instead of paying the airline some $500 plus rental car, I am quite happy to pay say a bit less for the round trip with my car and spend two nights on the train.

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