Featured image: ÖBB Nightjet, image from Lucas via Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

This is a guest post by Paul Callister.

In March 2021 the government released the cabinet paper Leading the way: Establishing a Carbon Neutral Government Programme. The paper states that the government “must show leadership to reduce its own emissions, in order to demonstrate what is possible to other sectors in the New Zealand economy.” This is one part of the government’s follow-up to its declaration of a climate emergency in November 2020.

Throughout I have used the acronym CNGP for the Carbon Neutral Government Programme, which is a bit of a mouthful. 

The long-term work programme for public sector organisations has the following goals: 

  • measure, verify and report emissions annually 
  • set gross emissions reductions targets and longer-term reduction plans for the next decade
  • introduce a phased work programme to reduce organisations’ emissions, and 
  • offset after gross emissions reductions are made to achieve carbon neutrality

Two important areas of ‘phase one’ of the work programme focus on non-transport segments of government. These are: 

Fossil fuel boilers for heating – the aim is to phase out coal boilers, prioritising the largest and most active coal boilers by 2025, continuing to use the State Sector Decarbonisation (SSD) Fund to replace them with clean alternatives. 

Source: Gen Less

Office space – the government aims to implement an energy efficiency building rating standard over five years from January 2021 for all mandated property agencies who occupy single tenanted, co-tenanted or co-located government office accommodation over 2,000m2. 

But of more relevance to those interested in transport is the section on petrol and diesel cars. Here, the programme 

  1. requires mandated agencies to optimise their fleets with the aim of reducing the number of vehicles in the government fleet. 
  2. requires mandated agencies to purchase battery electric vehicles (BEVs), or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) if a BEV is not appropriate for the proposed use, unless their operational requirements or other circumstances require (following an approval process). 

The Ministerial group governing the CNGP requires reporting on an ongoing basis, with reports from agencies needing to include an operational plan for how the vehicle fleets would be reduced and electrified, and how the proposed CNGP organisations will measure emissions, how they will manage and report on them, set gross emissions reduction targets and have credible reduction plans in place by December 2023.

An important report is due next month (June 2021). This will be on how carbon neutrality for the CNGP organisations could be achieved by December 2025 following further work by officials on the opportunities, risks and constraints around offsetting. Offsetting is an option, but any offsets need to be New Zealand based.

Which organisations does this include?

The scope of organisations covered in this initiative is very wide. Most are ‘directed’ and some ‘encouraged’ to be involved.  Directed includes all the core public service, non-public service agencies including the police and defence force, New Zealand Blood Service and district health boards. Initially school boards were directed but there is on-going debate about this. Agencies encouraged include universities and the Reserve Bank. Excluded are SOEs, such as KiwiRail and companies that the government has a shareholding in such as Air New Zealand (52%). Through its operations, Air New Zealand is one of New Zealand’s highest greenhouse gas emitting enterprises.

What this means for Transport

Focussing on electrification of the car fleet, James Shaw announced (in May) there would be 422 new electric vehicles purchased, and charging infrastructure across the state sector would be established. As part of this there would be $5.1 million for the Department of Conservation to buy 148 electric vehicles and install charging infrastructure and $1.1 million to help Kāinga Ora buy 40 electric vehicles and install charging infrastructure. This was estimated to save 11,600 tonnes of carbon emissions over 10 years.

“Today’s announcement is a significant step towards our goal of carbon neutrality in the public sector within five years,” said James Shaw.

“The conversion of Government fleets also means more demand for electric vehicles, which will start flowing through into the second-hand market, making electric vehicles more accessible for everyone.”

Unfortunately on the same day there was a headline in Stuff stating Department of Conservation caught charging plug-in hybrid electric vehicle with diesel power.

As commentators such as Paul Winton have pointed out, electrification of the car fleet is only one part of decarbonising transport. Driving less and switching to public transport as well as biking and walking are more important. A significant number of Wellington’s public servants – and perhaps many in Auckland – will already head to work by bus or train. While policies to encourage wider walking, biking, catching trains and buses are not set out in the cabinet paper, changes that encourage this amongst the wider community will also help public servants with modeshift.

But surprisingly lacking in the body of the cabinet paper is the issue of aviation. Case studies are given in the appendix, for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, Auckland District Health Board, Massey University and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority.  This is where it becomes apparent that aviation needs its own workstream and reporting procedures.

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise

Auckland District Health Board (Including Auckland City Hospital, Greenlane Clinical Centre and community sites)

Massey University 

Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority

All these examples show emissions from air travel are significant and need to be reduced.

Then in April 2021, marking another important potential turning point in the fight against climate change, the Minister of Transport released the New Zealand Rail Plan.

While short on detail at the time, the overall thrust of the report was that the government wishes to turn around the long-term underinvestment in rail. The report set out the clear climate change benefits of modeshift to rail especially for freight. But it had little focus on improving regional passenger rail services. There seems to be a gap between the need to decarbonise the public sector and a whole of government understanding of how rail might support this.

The 2021 Budget did provide more money for rail. But this was primarily to patch up the run down system and to support both freight services and urban rail.  Lacking were any firm announcements on supporting a transformative re-build of long distance passenger rail, including the rapid rail promoted by Greater Auckland in 2017.

Nor was there any mention in either the Rail Plan or the Budget of the possibility of re-introducing a night train between Auckland and Wellington.

Heidi O’Callahan and I have written about the benefits of bringing back a night train.

The Main Trunk Line joins Wellington, home of the public service and Auckland, by far our largest city. A significant number of people live along this rail corridor. According to Statistics New Zealand data fifty seven percent of New Zealand’s population lives along the route. (42% in Auckland and Wellington, 15% in between.)  It also spans five universities, home to many thousands of frequent flyers. For example, Massey University’s 3000+ staff flew an average of 18,000 km each in 2019.

In Europe, night trains were making a big comeback prior to Covid. As Europe emerges from the pandemic this growth is resuming. Showing government support, the French Prime Minister Jean Castex was on board the first overnight train from Paris to Nice on May 20th. Then on the 24th the first Nightjet train to Amsterdam left Vienna with the Austrian climate protection minister, Leonore Gewessler, a passenger.

The Nightjet operators stated:

This will enable our passengers to travel in a safe, relaxed and, above all, climate-friendly manner. Compared with an aeroplane, a single night train from Vienna to Amsterdam can save almost 100,000kg of CO2 emissions.

Source: ÖBB website

Along with buying electric cars, government support for a night train would assist the decarbonisation of the public sector. To help make the case for bringing back this service I have prepared a working paper.

The CNGP provides an opportunity to look at New Zealand’s inter-regional transport offerings with fresh eyes. A night train would help public servants travel around New Zealand with a much lower carbon footprint than driving or flying. It is important that this impetus is not lost: the aviation carbon footprints of each of the organisations must not be ignored as if they are inevitable. They are not. Initially, they can be radically reduced with investment in a night train. The night train can help build ridership and institutional capability in passenger rail, and be a useful step in building a low carbon regional transport system, that reconnects a nation-wide passenger rail network with regional buses. In time, this will enable the government organisations to bring down their transport emissions further.

And more importantly, if government takes these steps to lower their own transport emissions, they will be establishing a system that enables other people and organisations to follow suit. And this is exactly why leadership from government is important: it highlights – via scrutiny of their own carbon footprints – just what infrastructure the country needs. If in the process we can achieve a national public transport network, we will be bringing access, economic benefits, and safe, low carbon travel options to many New Zealanders.

That’s what investment in our wellbeing, our future and our economy looks like.

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89 comments

  1. Interesting. Couple of questions – on boilers and ministerial limos. What fuel would you propose for boilers if not oil or gas? Is solar-powered electricity a feasible source of power for a commercial-scale boiler? Just asking, because I don’t know.
    And the fleet of silver BMW ministerial 7 series limos: replace them with Teslas? Nissan Leafs? BMW i-3? or BMW 740Le xDrive Plug-In Hybrids – would a hybrid be allowed? The issue there to me is that if they just sell the existing ICE machines, someone else in NZ is just going to buy them and use them for the next 20 years or so. Is that really a reduction?

    1. Most boilers in government-owned facilities are there for central heating. Most of these could be replaced with heat pumps. In smaller scale applications like schools they could be air-to-air heat pumps (with the added benefit of being able to cool classrooms in Summer). In larger applications like hospitals and prisons it may make more sense to retain the existing central heating pipes and radiators, just use ground-source heat pumps to heat the water.

      The ministerial limos are a tiny fleet. Electrifying them will make next to no difference to the government’s emissions. It makes more sense to focus on the biggest emitters like the Police fleet, which is why it’s such a travesty that the Police signed a long term supply agreement with Skoda without any plan to transition to lower emitting vehicles.

      1. Skoda now have an electric SUV: ŠKODA ENYAQ IV. I wonder if the Police would consider some of those instead of an all ICE fleet? They have a “range of up to 500 kilometres”

        1. They might do in time, but getting supply of non-premium European EVs is going to be hard when the manufacturers are counting on those to meet EU fleet standards in their own markets. We’re going to be waiting a while for the local rollout of stuff like the ID3 and Cupra Born.

        2. Butwizzy Chinese electric cars are coming if international politics don’t get in the way.

      2. Skoda Superb’s emissions are 147+ and Commodore’s emissions were 221+, which I think is a good reduction for start. Skoda plan’s to start offering plug-in Superb in other countries. Also Skoda is a part of Volkswagen AG and has access to all VW’s technologies, which has electric vehicles. So, I think it is not that bad.

        1. Putting a 147+ vehicle into the fleet that is going to be there until 2041 is not a great outcome.

      3. I know we are talking about Govt but in a facility like a freezing works were there is a need for hot water and freezers a heat pump can produce hot and cold at the same time. However looking at the Gas usage in the various Govt premises we are going to need a lot more renewable electricity if we are going to replace it. But the use of gas for central heating is preferable to using it to generate electricity then using the electricity to run a heat pump.

        1. Not really. Burn the gas for heat gives you 100% efficiency. Burn it in a turbine at 60% efficiency * 300% heat pump = 180% overall. Renewable is better again, but you do need to factor in the lifetime of the plant as well.

        2. It depends on the efficiency of your power plant and the coefficient of performance of your heat pump. If the power plant has 50% thermal efficiency then using a heat pump with a COP of more than 2.0 is more efficient than burning gas directly.

        3. Okay got it now makes sense of why people are not backing the Govt 100 percent renewable electricity and the pumped hydro at Onslow. Sort of like electric cars powered by coal being less carbon intensive than ICE cars.

        4. “Sort of like electric cars powered by coal being less carbon intensive than ICE cars.”
          I guess it depends on the enormity of the problem, and this report from only four days ago suggests that any plans formulated so far may well be inadequate. I note that the C40 cities first recommendation is decarbonise the grid.
          NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) – There is about a 40 per cent chance that the global average temperature for at least one of the next five years will be 1.5 deg C higher than in pre-industrial times – and the odds are only going up.

    2. Electric boilers are feasible, they are energy intensive but our electricity grid is more sustainable than burning oil or gas. We will need to invest more into our generation capabilities (wind & solar primarily) to meet the increased demand from the boiler and fleet conversions.

      1. While it is possible to build an electric boiler, they cost upwards of 4 times the cost of gas to run. NZ no longer has any cheap options for electricity (coal, gas, hydro).
        Under most circumstances, for up to medium heat applications it is more economic to run a heat pump.
        Our marginal electricity supply is Indonesian coal at Huntly or diesel at Whirinaki. With the losses generating and transmitting electricty, it is better to be burning these fuels as a heat source, rather than running an electric boiler.

    3. The options are wood chips, wood pellets, and heat pumps. In the last 5 years or so high temperature heat pumps have become available that can heat water hot enough to run the existing radiator systems. If electricity is 20c/kWh and the heat pump is 300% efficient you are paying 6.7c/kWh for the heat which is close to the price of gas, so it comes down to the capital cost. Wood chips would be cheaper but there seems to be a supply and transport problem at the moment.

    4. Not sure on all the technical details but are Wood Pellet boilers also an option? We have a wood pellet fire at home, the pellets are essentially a waste product of the timber industry and burn cleaner and more efficiently than wood. I

      1. It takes a lot of diesel to transport the raw materials and the pellets, and their production is energy intensive. Once burnt, the ash then needs disposing of. They’re only economic in limited circumstances.

        1. the ash is great on the garden compost -our household pellet fire produces about a biscuit tin of ash in three months of use.

    5. We still have the problem with raw energy costs. Gas and electricity prices were so high over the summer (and I assume they still are) that plants were shutting down in the central north island. I heard anecdotally that some were seriously investigating installing new coal boilers to replace their natural gas burners even if they only got to use them for a couple of years. Due to the price of natural gas, and now we cant drill for more, it would be worth it on paper.
      If these prices for energy don’t come down over future years, then a lot of these plants will shut permanently, which would not look so good for social wellbeing, and welfare budgets.

      These chronic high raw energy prices are the realm of the government, it is their problem to solve through infrastructure. Building dry year energy storage, ramming through more wind projects to uprate our hydro, and incentivizing some solar for urban areas.

      1. Totally agree. The current price spike in electricity is partly due to not preparing for a dry spell, and partly due to not building new renewable supply over the past 5 years. It was assumed that the ETS + the voluntary 2025 target would be enough, but it wasn’t.

        The system is changing now and there are plenty of plans underway for new electricity supply.

        1. Agree. The market is not configured to solve the dry-year problem. Government needs to invest in grid-scale batteries.

        2. The political uncertainty created around the Bluff smelter caused the stall in construction of the Tauhara II geothermal plant. Thankfully its underway again.
          NZ needs more non hydro/wind generation in the north island, to counter and reduce the risks or dry years. It needs to produce the lowest cost electricity possible. If it can’t be coal or gas, then it means investing in Geothermal or Nuclear.
          Pumped storage or batteries aren’t a source of energy

        3. The problem has always been that it is not in the Gentailers interest to have too much power. The simple economics of demand and supply would mean they do less well. It has always been forseeable with climate change that there would be less precipitation and hence less hydro production. Instead of building more capacity, all the Gentailers distributed the super profits that they made in the last decade to shareholders. (When Genesis now claims to be “with you, for you” I reply with an equally as trite, “yeah right.”

          NZ’s energy problem may have just become worse. Is the 14% of capacity that was due to become available from the closure of Tiwai now inevitable? Recently a number of Chinese aluminium operations have closed to reduce emissions. As a consequence aluminium prices are at the highest level that they have been since 2018 (briefly) and before that in 2011. Rio Tinto must be laughing all the way to the bank with the lower power and lines charges that they recently negotiated. At these price levels closure may be the last thing on their mind.

  2. Thanks Paul. Interesting. So the reports coming out in June are quite important, then.

    If there’s been no guidance on how to reduce the aviation emissions, has it been up to the officials of each organisation to figure it out for themselves? It’s highly likely they’ll simply palm it off as impossible to reduce which is clearly not true.

    It’s good, though, that these reports are due so soon so they can be critiqued. Any indication if they’ll all be made public in time to give input?

  3. Taking the night train from Moscow to St Petersburg was a highlight and event in itself during my OE. It would be great if this concept could come back to NZ but be seen as business as usual rather than an event in it self. We travelled in a cabin much like the one shown above here, but I wonder if the whole thing could be more efficient if the accommodation element of it looked more like a capsule hotel and less like the Orient Express. You could fit a lot more people per carriage that way.

    1. When I was at Uni many years ago, the NZR night train was the perfect way on a Friday night to get from Auckland down, or from Wellington up to the ski fields at Ruapehu. The night train would leave at 7pm or so, after lectures for the day, and we’d get out at National Park at midnight, ready for a days skiing the next morning. Caught the mountain goat truck thing up and down the mountain. Then on Sunday night you could stay up drinking till midnight, catch the train for the opposite trip, and arrive back in the city on Monday ready for another week of lectures. No need to have an SUV.

      The night trains were brilliant for those length of trips – but I have to say, doing the whole Auckland to Wellington trip by train is exhaustingly long. Fun to do it once or twice, but it is soooo slow that the novelty wears off. Best part, of course, is the end, zipping along the Kapiti Coast at sunset while below you thousands of cars are stuck in traffic returning every Sunday night.

      1. We need to get away from the idea that an Auckland to Wellington service is for trips from Auckland to Wellington. It also serves every town in between and some of those towns really need the link.

        Te Kuiti, Taumaranui, National Park, Ohakune, Waiouru, and Taihape are quite all isolated for residents who can’t/won’t drive. Long distance trains will be a key link for education and healthcare opportunities for those residents. It would also allow residents to work remotely while touching base in Hamilton or Palmerston North once a week.

        Intercity trains are also great for Auckland/Wellington to central Plateau for recreation (as you mentioned) as well as trips in the 1-6 hour range in between, which would Auckland as far south as Taihape, Wellington as far north as Te Kuiti and Hamilton to Palmerston North.

    2. Translex,
      not all sections of night trains look like this. The majority of the seats are more comfortable versions of train recliner seats. The cost is lower.
      Then there are the sleeper carriages with different configurations and different levels of cost.
      We travelled from Vienna to Milan in a two person sleeper and the cost was the equivalent of a hotel room plus the train ticket even though we booked early. There was only just enough space in our cabin for two bunks and our luggage.
      My wife loved the experience. I am embarassed to say that I didn’t sleep because I had read that robberies were frequent. I only realised as I disembarked that these were only likely in the open cabins.

  4. Actually – one of your statements staggers me – I can hardly believe it could be true: “Massey University’s 3000+ staff flew an average of 18,000 km each in 2019”. That’s an extra-ordinary amount of air miles for a university that used to be an agricultural college. As it is 18,336 km from Auckland to London, it implies that every second staff member took one return flight per year. Or that all staff, both academic and general staff, took 14 return trips from Auckland to Wellington (645km) or 17 return trips from Auckland to Palmerston North, annually. Certainly glad that those totals will have come down to zero during Covid.

    Or that wherever you got those figures from is wrong. It just doesn’t seem feasible. Most university staff simply don’t get to travel that much, and leave to study abroad is highly fought for and seldom achieved, once every 5 years or so: attending a conference in Australia is more likely.

    1. “it implies that every second staff member took one return flight per year”
      That is very feasible. At least one, decently likely more conferences overseas per year for most of the the academic staff and PHD students. Plus maybe visits to the experiments they’ve been working on or with that are based overseas more often than that.
      All of your colleagues you compete with are based all over the world, and there are inherent advantages to being in person giving speeches / presentations, rubbing shoulders etc.
      You could axe a lot of that, but because travel within Europe and America could be relatively low carbon they would grow their advantage over NZ scientists, and it would negatively impact our science / opportunities for our scientists.
      Not saying we shouldn’t or should, but there is a real good reason that these institutions spend so much money flying people places, they’re extremely tight with the budgets in most other areas, but this is not one of them.

      1. Good point about the PhD students. They would typically do 1 or 2 overseas trips in their 4 years of study. They are counting in the numerator but not in the denominator here.

      2. As an ex Massey PhD student and employee I likewise find these numbers hard to crunch. Virtually no one on the Auckland campus travelled at the University’s expense. I have a feeling you might be including foreign or South Island students in your maths without realising it.

    2. Hi Average Human, I work at Massey and advise on our carbon action plan. All travel is booked through a single agent so we have a record of every trip. The distance flown in 2018 was 2439 km per FTE domestic (= 3 return Palmy-Auckland flights); 15242 km international economy (=3.5 return Auckland-Sydney flights) and 624 km international business/1st class. It is incredible isn’t it. I’ve checked some other universities in Australia and they are similar.

      The distance flown per staff member has increased 44% since 2004. During this time it became common for people to fly to the US or Europe for just one or two conferences.

      But since Covid it has become apparent that much of this travel was not really needed, and is even disadvantageous to some people, so Massey (and most other universities) are looking to reduce it.

    3. Massey also has their School of Aviation which would be a large part of those aviation emissions numbers (20-40L/h aircraft).
      Massey also has multiple campuses that are geographically spread out so will naturally need to travel more than the other Universities.

  5. I laugh when I read anything about electric cars and James Shaw or the greens (also Labour). They both campaigned to save the 60 fully electric and sustainable trolley bus network in Wellington in the 2017 election. As soon as they got into govt they did nothing and the trolley bus network was torn out. Seems like talk is cheap with greens and Labour with respect to promoting electric vehicles.

    On a side note, the electric trolley buses were build by Kiwi’s, not slaves in China.

    1. The government don’t own or operate the wires in Wellington so it doesnt make one jot of difference whether the Greens are in government.

    2. The motors and drive trains in the trolley buses were nearing the end of their lives as were the wires so a significant upgrade was going to be needed any. There is every chance new trolley buses would have been build with slave labour.

      The advances in electric buses in the last few years is making the decision to get rid of the wires and associated maintenance look more sensible by the day.

      1. QWERTYOPS, as bad luck would have it, the last-chance for the govt to intervene and block the trolleybus-abandonment co-incided almost exactly with the date in October 2017 when Winston Peters of New Zealand First announced what government we were going to have. Phil Twyford as the new Minister of Transport had barely got his feet under the table and was not prepared for the fight that would be required to overturn the Regional Council’s decision and compensate the contractors who had already been engaged to rip the trolleybus system out. Several weeks later, he was certainly prepared to intervene with KiwiRail and block them from scrapping the NIMT electric locos, so it could just have been a matter of unfortunate timing for the trolleybuses. Had Winston Peters made up his mind sooner, then who knows – things may have turned out differently, but up to that point the country still didn’t know what government it was going to get. Had Winston ushered in another term of National government then the trolleybuses would have stood even less chance. I don’t think it is fair to blame Labour and Greens for not saving them.

        Jezza, I don’t know where you got the idea that “motors and drive trains in the trolley buses were nearing the end of their lives as were the wires”. The traction motors (recovered from the old Volvo trolleybuses) motors were in good order, but latterly were suffering because of the regime imposed on them by the Brazilian control systems (the opportunity to opt for a superior New Zealand-designed system was turned down). The wires were well-maintained and in good condition. The chief excuse for getting rid of the system was the need to renew the rectifier substations and underground cabling, but even this was independently assessed as being fixable without the costly full-renewal that was claimed necessary. The decision was at least in-part, ideological.

        Regarding the rollout of battery buses which has yet to happen at scale in New Zealand, a significant cost is turning out to be the equipment and power-supply necessary to charge whole fleets of buses at the same time and in the same place. The costs of this and the cost of the batteries themselves, when offset against the savings from getting rid of the trolleybuses, may make that decision appear less-convincingly “sensible”. Interestingly, countries with far better track-records in public transport than ours, are still operating and investing in their trolleybus networks (e.g. Switzerland).

        1. KiwiRail: directly government owned and funded. Relatively easy to intervene in.
          Wellington City buses: late changes would’ve involved ripping up PTOM contracts and cancelling hundreds of new buses then on order or under construction. Lots of $$$$$ in compensation before you even start dealing with the knackered run down trolley bus power supply that was at increasing risk of major failure the longer it was kept running.

        2. GK, there weren’t “hundreds of new buses then on order”. A small handful of battery buses and a promise for lots more which has yet to eventuate. All hopes were on a successful conversion of the trolleybuses to “Wrightspeed” – a concept which flopped, and this led to a panicked acquisition of second-hand diesel buses ex-Auckland (to replace our 100% electric trolleybuses!). A few Greater Wellington Regional councillors lost their seats spectacularly after that (or resigned in anticipation).
          This whole sorry process could and should have been stopped, but for reasons I outlined above, it wasn’t.

      2. These double articulated trollies are beasts. Could seriously be a way forward under the “advanced busway”. I fail to see how a heap of these running at really high frequency would be lower capacity than a light rail system. Bus bunching, who cares, when they’re running at 30 second frequencies 3 of them running in a row is like a longer LRV.
        https://youtu.be/76ItMsIDPFU
        No need for nasty batteries too.

        1. Jack. Zurich has some pretty impressive trams also. Have a look at the Youtubes of those. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DS3UBW9Kx9I

          You may be right that the capacity of the bi-articulated bendy-buses may be comparable with the 5-section trams. But either of these modes will remain limited in capacity, speed and frequency if it has to share streets with traffic and is unprotected from pedestrians.
          You will not see these running at the 30-second frequencies you suggest anywhere other than on fully-segregated systems, e.g. Bogota’s “TransMilenio” BRT. When buses such as these bunch-up they create a “wall” of buses which is unacceptable in the street. And high-frequency, fully-segregated bus systems such as TransMilenio tend to encroach on the task that is better-accomplished by a metro rail service. Bogota is finding that its BRT system is maxed-out and there is pressure to start building rail.

  6. The CNGP is a little bit like “Predator Free 2050”. It’s an ambitious headline goal which, on closer examination, starts to become less and less what it seems, but it still valuable for what it does and for what it kicks into motion.

    The good will come from reducing and switching their transport and heating. I suspect some entities have become too used to buying cheap fleets under the whole-of-government purchase plan (seem to remember they get 40% off the sticker price on some models) and replacing them every three years. There is scope to move to a shared EV model as has been done in Christchurch with Yoogo.

    The risk is that there will be too much reliance on offsets which continue to be controversial and hardly worthwhile – essentially the government would be putting money directly into tree planting which is counterproductive when there is already a system for that.

  7. I think night train is also a great value. I would have preferred a night train to Wellington over the plane if one was available.

  8. Converting from coal boilers to gas was an easy first step but we seem to have thrown that one away. The Government doesn’t want the gas industry to have a future so there is no point spending money of gas equipment now. The best way forward seems to be to persist with burning coal until some other option becomes economic at some future time.

  9. The central North island electrified section is a real orphan makes it hard to come up with a coherent plan for freight and passenger trains on the main trunk. Not to mention different voltages in Auckland and Wellington. Pity they never did the job properly in the first place. Electrification to Pukekohe will take at least till 2023 how long to Hamilton. I have thought of running EMU’s between Hamilton and Palmers ton North connecting to Te Huia and the capital connector but it would only make an already slow service even slower.
    Anyway change needs to come from the top introduce a Parliamentary special and make it compulsory for MP’s and government officials to use it between Auckland and Wellington and shout the everyday punters in the restaurant carriage.

    1. I agree it would make sense to complete the Te Rapa-Pukehoke electrification. Considering the 7 km from Paraparaumu to Waikanae was double-tracked AND electrified for $90m, and the Waikato section is rural, surely this would make sense. In the meantime, KiwiRail’s official line is that swapping locos at Palmy and Te Rapa would take too long ?!?!

      1. Many of the European night trains have to change locos at borders due to legal and technical issues for each country. In some cases two trains join up along the way to become one. For example the new Vienna to Amsterdam joins up with another train starting at Innesbruck.

  10. As a person who struggles to sleep in a chair, one thing I’ve never been quite sure of is whether our loading gauge is wide enough for a proper sleeper train (ie one with compartments, bed/bunks, and a corridor not just a passenger train with slightly reclining seats). Everywhere I’ve used an overnight train has been a standard gauge railway, where the carriages are just that bit wider. Standard gauge railways can have trains up to 3.5m wide, while ours are limited to about 2.8m.

    My understanding is that the last attempt at a North Island sleeper train was just seats, and that contributed to its decline.

    1. The Silver Star had full sleepers. When it was withdrawn from service some of the carriages went to Thailand where they are used on their sleeper services. Others are being used on various railways around the world.

      1. The Caledonian sleepers built by CAF cost £200 million for 75 cars (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Rail_Mark_5_(CAF)) . Sleeper trains are low capacity compared to normal day cars and are expensive to buy and operate ( in per person capacity terms ) . I’m not sure that they are in reality a realistic option for NZ. Most of the new start up night trains in Europe are using existing rolling stock that was being taken out of service due to low demand only a few years ago.

    2. Track gauge makes very little difference to loading gauge. All the S series cars in NZ – in Auckland, Wellington, and now on Te Huia – were built by British Rail for standard gauge, and run here, on different bogies, quite happily (and the same stock was also built to run on Irish broad gauge).

      Stock built for Cape gauge and standard gauge run together in KiwiRail’s Scenic trains, and any difference in dimensions is unnoticeable.

      1. HI Mike – the issue for me is not so much the width of the track, but the quality of the track. I suspect that the main reason our trains wiggle and jiggle about (outside the metro area) is that the lines are in such poor condition / sleepers need replacing / rails are badly work or not in a smooth curve. I’m thinking about the last time I took a passenger train to Hawkes Bay from Wellington – the difference in quality between tracks and subsequent speed was very obvious. The line to HB is normally freight only, and those wagons don’t complain when there are bumps along the way. Speeds are down to 20kmh for quite some lengths of track. The local Metrolink lines here in Wellington are silky smooth by comparison.

    3. As a person who struggles to stay awake in a chair even during daytime, I had no trouble sleeping on the old Northerner night train. Claims of how rough and unpleasant it was are exaggerated. Travelling long-distance by car can be a worse ordeal but for some reason it is not fashionable to disparage that.

      1. The Northerner journey is generally being compared with flying not driving, which is why the commentary is so disparaging.

        If it is going to be a competitive option then the sleep needs to be comfortable for a much wider group that just those who fall asleep in the chair at home.

  11. This is not popular to say: people who’re talking about how an AKL-WGT night train as if it were a panacea in itself clearly never took the actual Northerner back in the day. Uncomfortable, impossible to sleep, almost as expensive as a plane ticket the same distance. As we’re finding out with Te Huia, quality rail travel is necessary; a trash train-for-the-sake-of-a-train will just put us back even further.

    1. I don’t think anyone is suggesting a return to the Northerner as it was, the picture in the post above is a bit of a giveaway that something a bit better is being suggested.

    2. I did it once when I was young and stupid. They should have had the Red Cross waiting to meet us at Wellington with tea and blankets. If it had been daytime I would have gotten off and hired a car.

  12. I love the idea of night trains generally, but it doesn’t make sense for public servant travel as a substitute for flying.

    There are huge differences between flying to Welly for a 10am meeting and being home by dinner, and leaving on a Monday night for a Tuesday meeting and coming back by Wednesday morning tea. It’s impractical from an “hours worked” stance (depending how you measure and pay such things), and terrible from a personal perspective (it assumes you don’t have caregiving responsibilities or any other commitments outside the 9-5).

    Mind you, most travel for work is completely unnecessary and could be stopped right away, as we learned over the last year. It’s become a cultural norm that should be considered for elimination before we even worry about reducing carbon.

    1. With the UN saying there’s now a 40% chance that we will reach the 1.5 degree temperature rise in the next FIVE years, we’re going to have to reconsider what we think “makes sense”.

      Yes to reducing all the unnecessary travel for work and reducing public servants’ carbon footprint that way. And there’ll probably be some flying that can’t be avoided.

      But we’re talking about reducing the burden. There’ll be some travel that this works well for. And if the choice is between having a few nights away from the kids each year, in order to improve their future prospects, I think that’ll makes sense to many parents. Especially if they also manage to take the kids with them sometimes, with a bit of forward planning.

    2. So an Auckland MP wakes up at 4 am drives to Auckland Airport car park parks car catches shuttle to domestic terminal flight to Wellington then catch a cab to Parliament works all day cab to flat.
      Alternatively get dropped at closest rail station train to long distance station for a 8 pm train then have a couple of informal meetings with other MP’s and officials on the train in bed by 11 pm arrive Wellington at 8 pm walk to Parliament breakfast at Bellamies Public transport to flat at night.

      1. I used the Silver Star service southwards a good many times when it was operating. An easy trip to Auckland Station in the evening arriving refreshed right into the city in Wellington in the morning for a brisk walk along Lambton Quay to the office. Loved it.
        But I always came home by air to enjoy an evening at home.

  13. As you point out, a night train and regional rail can significantly reduce carbon emissions, including for government agencies. I find that I use my car more often when I need to go further afield than in the city. However, it’s quite difficult convincing KiwiRail and the Government to go with anything far beyond the status quo in rail. Recently some regional councilors pushed Environment Canterbury to speed up business plans for regional rail. The chair of the Regional Transport Committee, Peter Scott, gave this reply:
    “I think we can’t wish what we want here. I think in terms of the process we’re going through with the staff that has us in a really tidy position in terms of a rail project. If you talk to KiwiRail they’re a long way from providing anything for us in terms of rolling stock. Although we might wish rail, it’s not going to be here any time soon. We need to be in Wellington and we need to push really hard in terms of that as a national link. I think we do more good having our South Island RTC chairs meeting and our joined-up approach with Southland, Otago, and West Coast in terms of these things for the South Island than we do anything else.”
    I think it is disappointing that Environment Canterbury does not take more of a lead, but it seems that the regional council considers KiwiRail and the government maybe looking at passenger rail in the distant future, but not now. That delay in transforming the transport system is quite frustrating.

    1. It might not be KiwiRail. In an April 2021 radio interview, Greg Pollock, CEO of Transdev NZ, discussed Transdev’s interest in running a night train. Transdev already run night trains in Europe. As part of that interview Pollock was asked how quickly it could be running. He suggested that it could be operating within two to four years.

    2. Its not just rail though long distance buses are equally as good for reducing carbon. Especially if they can get rid of that damn annoying yield management that makes any spontaneous travel completely uneconomic. Most people wouldn’t know a week or two ahead of time that they will need to travel on a particular day. They look up the cost the night before and say stuff that and take their car. I wonder if it could be made illegal for buses and planes at least domestic ones anyway. Travelling overseas is more planned.

      1. Worth thinking about when they finally decide to start thinking about buses at all, eh? I’ve heard arguments for and against dynamic pricing and don’t know the answer. But I know for me personally I’d find fixed prices way easier.

        1. If you use InterCity buses regularly for relatively short distances – which I do – the way to go is a Flexipass which is a set price based on scheduled hours of travel. That way you also avoid the booking fee.

        2. Paulc — How does that work? Aren’t buses usually fully booked?

          If you have to book weeks or even months in advance, that pretty much rules taking the bus out.

          You get layers of problems you just don’t have when you travel by car. You can’t adapt your trip around bad weather. You are always kind of on the clock because being half an hour late balloons from a non-issue to a huge problem. Have you ever travelled with a family? If you miss a bus then what?

      2. When I was a kid there was a service out of Auckland in the evenings called the Limited. Years later I talked to a guard in the cafe on the Northerner who told me when the carriages were full they would just shunt another carriage on and sell seats on that. He told me he sold 800 pillows one night for that train. Might have been a tall story. But the point he was making was requiring advanced purchase for the Northerner tickets was killing it.

        1. In the 1970’s NZR were notorious for double booking seats on their trains. No computers of course but it was probably semi deliberate. The guards had to sort it out. Its my belief that yield management has to go if we are to revive long distance bus and train travel even if we run into capacity problems. Backup buses or extra carriages was how it was done. And on board ticket sales although the use of a card should be cheaper. I wonder what happens if Te Huia gets to full.

        2. There seem to be some misconceptions here.

          “requiring advanced purchase for the Northerner tickets was killing it” – it wasn’t, because there was no such requirement. If you just turned up you could travel (subject to space being available, of course).

          “[double booking of seats] was probably semi deliberate” – highly unlikely. In the days of paper and phones the booking setup was complicated enough without such “semi deliberate” (whatever that means) disruption of the system. Without modern systematic checks, errors inevitably happened, but that’s what they were – errors.

          There was spare rolling stock available then, but no-one nowadays is going to fund spare long-distance stock that will spend much of its life doing nothing, or the crews and locos hanging around on the off chance that such shunting would be required – and backup buses for long-distance passengers expecting to travel by train would be a sure way of ensuring that those passengers didn’t take that risk again.

        3. Well they did try and cater for demand not go off in a huff and double the price. If demand was high enough buses were replaced with trains. We should be trying to expand low carbon transport rather than ration it. The best way for a monopoly to keep the price up is to scrap wagons and sell off carriages to heritage operators. Even if the monopoly requires a taxpayer subsidy. And its all in the name of looking like it a commercial operation when it clearly isn’t.

        4. “The best way for a monopoly to keep the price up is to scrap wagons and sell off carriages to heritage operators” – debateable, but irrelevant since rail has no monopoly on land transport provision; and pricing is determined largely by demand rather than by the costs of operation.

  14. The trolleybuses themselves, including motors a drive trains, were good for at least another five years – it was the substations that were the primary reason for the closure, with their owner saying that continued operation would have been unsafe.

    And there’s at least as great a likelihood of slave labour being used for the construction of battery buses (mainly from China) as there is for trolleybuses (mainly from Europe).

    1. On a related note – the new Hillside train “assembly” works announced recently, that Simon Bridges had a fit about. I wonder if anyone has some more accurate info about the details: as far as I understand, Labour are only talking about “assembling” the train carriages/decks etc – not actually building them from scratch. So presumably that means that things like the bogies will get imported from China fully built up, and then we will run it like a giant Airfix model, sticking together the decks, the bogies, the canopy (if any). Presumably that will make more sense to assemble them here so that it doesn’t take up as much room as would a big empty carriage shipped from China? So, less China slaves, and more Kiwi semi-skilled labourers?

  15. Fiddling while Rome burns.

    Investment in development to reduce excess is just crackers. The investment needs to be in innovation to reduce the demand for waste.

    Govt staff should work from home then the buildings with boilers are redundant, as are the limos. The bigger one’s home the less excuse one has for flying to some other city.

    The same principle should apply throughout.

  16. The night train challenge is overcoming the economics. As things stand, the fare for a sleeper train would be around $700-1000 from Auckland to Wellington, due to the combination of KiwiRail’s passenger business structure* and the lower number of people you can fit inside a sleeper carriage compared to a seating carriage.

    Even the current seating-only trains have high fares to make them pay their way, thus they target tourists, not domestic travellers.

    * Until 2004 the passenger business owned its own locomotives and employed its own train drivers. In 2004 Toll Rail transferred all locomotives and drivers to the freight business and required the passenger business to then hire locomotives and drivers at commercial rates from the freight business. This was done to generate a profit for the freight business before the passenger business makes its own profit. Fares effectively doubled-to-tripled. In the case of the Capital Connection, which had to continue to offer metro level fares, the train simple went from profitable to loss making, with the company then going cap-in-hand to councils for $$$.

    KiwiRail continues with this model, the result of which is no new passenger trains are viable unless they have a high tourism base. It’s also why Te Huia is the world’s most expensive commuter train ($70,000 a day). Te Huia takes taxpayer and ratepayer dollars and not only pays for its running costs, but generates a profit for the freight business who own the locomotives and employ the drivers. Te Huia is unlikely to be funded at such a level by a future National government.

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