Trains are cheaper than helicopters

Recently Steven Joyce, our Minister of Trucking Transport, claimed it would cost less to fly somebody by helicopter from Hamilton to Auckland than it would to subsidize a commuter rail service between the two cities.

Luckily, Hamilton City Councillors quickly responded, pointing out that the actual cost of subsidizing a commuter rail service is hundreds of times lower than the $15,000/trip Joyce claimed.

However, it’s no surprise to find the government spreading this kind of misinformation about a passenger rail service. Earlier this year, David Bennett, the National MP for Hamilton East also claimed a diesel train service would be less fuel efficient than people driving in individual motor cars to Auckland.  However (based on Kiwirail’s figures for fuel consumption for a Silver Fern)  a rail service would be around 4  to 5 times more fuel efficient than if the passengers made the trip by car.

While it’s great to see the government investing a lot into making Kiwirail a more viable freight business, the government’s actions and Joyce’s responses to my Questions in the House have made it pretty clear that they are really not interested in improving passenger rail services in NZ.

Even though the electrification project in Auckland was about to go out to tender when National came into government Joyce still delayed it by 15 months, according to Mike Lee, while trying to decide whether or not to fund the purchase of the electric trains. Since then, the government has allowed virtually no money for future improvements to passenger rail in their transport budgets.

That’s why Keith and I have launched the Fast-Track the CBD Rail Loop campaign for Auckland – to get this crucial project built quickly. The CBD Rail Loop is needed (among other reasons) to increase the number of trains that can travel through Britomart per hour – which will mean we can run more commuter services from Waikato in future. You can show your support by signing our online petition.

It’s also great to see the residents of the Waikato are fighting back to get commuter rail between Auckland and Hamilton. The Campaign for Better Transport are holding a meeting in Tuakau next Monday night, 7.30 to 9 pm at the Tuakau Town Hall. I’ll be speaking so, if you’re in the area, come along and join me!

24 thoughts on “Trains are cheaper than helicopters

  1. Wrong Gareth – $2.8m per year is not “hundreds of times cheaper” that $7.2 million.

    A regular train is a great idea, as long as it doesn’t need to be subsidised.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5 (-4)

  2. You wrote “claimed it would cost more to fly somebody by helicopter from Hamilton to Auckland than it would to subsidize a commuter rail service between the two cities.”

    Don’t you mean less?

    [Gareth: Oops, my bad. Fixed now.]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 (0)

  3. And I would like to see a high speed rail service between Auckland and Hamilton. But the cost would be high but so would the long term benefits.

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  4. @photoNZ – how come you think we shouldn’t subsidize rail trips but you’re happy for the government to subsidize your every trip to work?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2 (+6)

  5. @photonz – the fact is the track is sitting there, the carriages are sitting there, the demand is there – lets trial a commuter service.

    It’s smart and affordable.

    It’s been estimated that every car that is taken off Auckland’s congested roads saves the economy $24,000 a year – this common sense and popular idea would deliver significantly more benefits than costs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2 (+9)

  6. The problem was that the Kiwi Rail proposal actually involved some wasteful activities.

    Chief among these activities was a proposal to run trains empty from Westfield Yard (in Auckland) through to Hamilton every morning to form the service, and then empty from Hamilton through to Westfield Yard every evening after the service – apparently it was because the toilets needed to be cleaned out and that could not be done in Hamilton (although that could be done during the seven hours each day that the train will be at Westfield Yard).

    Another problem is that Kiwi Rail is proposing to charge commercial siding rates to Tranz Scenic for this run when in fact Kiwi Rail is a 100% owner of Tranz Scenic. Basically, Kiwi Rail wants to dip its hands twice into the pot; in the first case expecting Tranz Scenic to make a profit and in the second case charging Tranz Scenic commercial rates for siding use.

    I support the proposed service, and I am actually confident that it doesn’t even need a subsidy. In 1991, the Capital Connection started with two sixty year old carriages and has not needed a cent of subsidies – it has been profitable from day one. Given that the Capital Connection is a carriage train and that the proposed Waikato Connection uses a railcar, the expenses will be much lower.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0 (+10)

  7. Gareth says “It’s been estimated that every car that is taken off Auckland’s congested roads saves the economy $24,000 a year”

    I think you might want to check your figures – that’s $500 per week per car, which is probably more than every cent of income tax that comes from Auckland.

    “this common sense and popular idea would deliver significantly more benefits than costs.”

    Get some decent analysis and show that, and people will support it.

    But a small suggestion – get someone different to the person who worked out your costs of costs $500 a week for every car in Auckland.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5 (-3)

  8. “which is probably more than every cent of income tax that comes from Auckland”

    he didn’t say cost to taxpayers he said to the economy. The figure likely includes thousands of wasted hours spent sitting in traffic, thousands of litres of wasted fuel and the emissions thereof from traffic crawling along at slow speeds, health costs from exhaust pollution and other such “externalities”. I’d say the estimate is more accurate than you think. (of course the figure would drop with each car you removed)…

    what value should we place on kids getting to spend an extra hour with their working parents in the evenings, do you think?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2 (+5)

  9. nomopilot says “The figure likely includes thousands of wasted hours spent sitting in traffic, thousands of litres of wasted fuel and the emissions thereof from traffic crawling along at slow speed…”

    The figure is for just ONE car. So the the addition of ONE car adds thousands of wasted hours and thousands of litres of pertol?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1 (+1)

  10. Everytime I hear kiwis saying that rail or buses are a less desireable option.. it makes me think that they need to get out, into the world. Most o/s countries use rail as the most efficient way to move people & freight..(London underground, Sydney system etc..) been there & seen that.. those who advocate the road option are just showing their uncaring & ‘to hell with the environment’ attitude !! CO2 from every tail-pipe is a green-house gas…
    Kia-ora

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1 (+2)

  11. Zedd – London has ten times the population at tens times the density.

    Moving people by rail in Auckland would not be anything like as efficient as London (or Sydney with four times the population at twice the density).

    I’m not saying it’s a bad idea – just the efficiency for costs involved would never be comparable to somewhere like London.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1 (0)

  12. @ photonz. Figures on Auckland’s low population density are often dodgy and frequently come from sources that (no doubt coincidentally) own a whole lot of the land on the fringes of Auckland they would like to develop.

    Whether our population density is seen as low or medium really depends on whether people are including all of Franklin and Rodney in their calculations. These are technically part of the Auckland region but not actually (for the most part) urban areas . A lot of those figures you see for overseas cities only measure the density of the actual city – not the whole surrounding region. If you look at the bits of Auckland region that are actually urban then the density suddenly seems much higher, comparable to the urban area of a lot of Australian cities. Jarbury has a very interesting blog about this here – http://transportblog.co.nz/?s=density&submit.x=0&submit.y=0&submit=Search

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1 (0)

  13. Lucy, don’t forget that historically we have also had that problem. In around the 1920s, the Auckland Urban Area had a western boundary just past New Lynn, a southern boundary in Mangere and just past Otahuhu, and a northern boundary in what is now Glenfield and Milford – an area which included a lot of rural countryside. That was expanded in the early 1950s to include virtually all of what is now metropolitan Auckland (Albany to Papakura).

    Of course, it isn’t population density that counts, it is trip density. If you have a hundred people going from point to point during peak, then public transport simply will not work. If you have ten thousand people going from point to point during peak, then public transport will work.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0 (+1)

  14. As soon as you see someone say that Auckland has a low density, you know you can stop paying attention to what they are saying, because they don’t know what they’re talking about…

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  15. As soon as you see someone say that Auckland has a low density, you know you can stop paying attention to what they are saying, because they don’t know what they’re talking about…

    I don’t think it is a case of people not knowing what they are talking about, but people who have been led to a conclusion drilled in over the years. It is the same reason why people claim that Los Angeles is a low density centre when in fact it has the highest population density in the United States. It is also like those who claim that 50,000 were forced from their homes when Spaghetti Junction was built, in spite of the fact that to get to 50,000, you would need to include the populations of the CBD, Freemans Bay, Parnell, Newton, Ponsonby and Grey Lynn (and even then I think you needed to add in a bit more).

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  16. At Johnston – yes, I think Northern busway is good example of this. A lot of the people it carries come from North Shore and Rodney (which don’t have particularly high population densities) – but the service is really effective as it carries many thousands/day.

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  17. @ Photonz1

    “The figure is for just ONE car. So the the addition of ONE car adds thousands of wasted hours and thousands of litres of pertol?”

    Yes, because the addition of one more car into a congested route slows down every other car using that route. So for a person driving up from the Waikato onto the Southern Motorway that’s thousands of drivers affected. In economics terms it’s called a negative externality, people usually don’t consider it because they don’t have to pay for it personally becuase it just affects other people. The effect is very small for each individual affected, but if you add it all up the outcomes are huge.

    “Moving people by rail in Auckland would not be anything like as efficient as London (or Sydney with four times the population at twice the density).”

    Actually Auckland’s urban density (i.e. just the city itself, excluding the unpopulated rural parts of Rodney, the Waitakere Ranges etc that are part of the region) is just under that of Sydney but more dense than any other Australian capital. Furthermore the density of London’s home counties (where about half of Londoners live) is actually less than either Sydney or Auckland! All this goes to show it that density actually has little to do with transport, it really just comes down to transport policy and what sorts of infrastructure governments decide to build. The density argument is just one of those truisms that get bandied about so much people take it as gospel without ever actually looking to see if it is true or not.

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  18. Nick R – you’re population density comments are wrong.

    Population Densities = people per sq km
    Auckland – 1200
    Sydney 2000
    Melbourne 1550
    London 12,000

    Then you compare the density of rural areas OUTSIDE London with inner Auckland and Sydney, to try to make London sound like it’s got a lower density.

    Then you say “density actually has little to do with transport”

    Rubbish. Low density where I live means –
    – there are less people to use buses
    – so frequency is pretty low
    – so even fewer people use them.

    Even if they ran buses regularly, and free, they would still be largely empty, just like they are now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1 (-1)

  19. Photonz, there are some problems with your comment.

    Firstly, the population density argument. According to a Demographia study, Auckland has a population of 2200 people per square kilometre. This compares with 2000 for Sydney, 1900 for Wellington and Christchurch, 1200 for Perth and 900 for Brisbane. It also compares to 5100 for London, 2500 for Los Angeles and 1800 for New York. This means that Auckland is a reasonably dense city by “New World” standards.

    Secondly, low population density does not mean that public transport usage will be woefully low, it all comes down to trip density. Brisbane, for instance, has a population density of 900 people per square kilometre, yet they have a rail system that carries over sixty million passengers per year, and their buses manage to carry a further 140 million. Perth is in a similar situation.

    For that matter, Auckland has a higher population density now than it did fifty years ago when public transport usage was much higher.

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  20. john-ston – the figures I have are completely different to yours.

    In fact look at something like your New York figures (1800), where a large part of the population lives in multi-storey apartments.

    And you say that NY has a LOWER population density than Christchurch (1900), where there are almost no multi storey apartments, and almost everyone lives in a fully detached house with a section.

    It’s pretty clear your figures are wrong.

    Your New York figure of 1800 people per sq km is completely different (less than 7%) to wiki (27,000)

    Your Christchurch figure of 1900 people per sq km is completely different to wiki (600)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 (0)

  21. In fact look at something like your New York figures (1800), where a large part of the population lives in multi-storey apartments.

    Photonz, have you considered that there might be more to New York than the images that the media have provided you? Modern suburbia began in New York, and less than half the population of New York actually lives in the five boroughs where apartment living would be popular. The other two counties on Long Island, and the counties in New Jersey and heading up to Connecticut are all suburbia. Wikipedia gives a density of 2100 people per square kilometre for Urban New York, with Metropolitan New York having a population density of 1100 people per square kilometre.

    Your Christchurch figure of 1900 people per sq km is completely different to wiki (600)

    Wikipedia’s figure for Christchurch is for the Territorial Local Authority, and that includes Banks Peninsula! I don’t know what you think, but I wouldn’t consider Banks Peninsula to be part of Christchurch as an urban area.

    The same article gives a density of 2200 people per square kilometre for the Metropolitan Area.

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  22. johnston – ok – you win. Lets use your figures.

    Christchurch where everyone lives in detached houses each on their own section is TWICE as densely populated as New York. Those poor Cantabrians.

    None of which changes my original asertion that –
    a/ Auckland will never get the sort of public transport efficeincies of London, with ten times the population and density.
    b/ that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:46 PM

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  23. Auckland will never get the sort of public transport efficeincies of London, with ten times the population and density.

    Photonz, given the crowding on the London public transport system (there was a study conducted in last year which showed that crowding is becoming a big problem there), I am happy to agree. However, that doesn’t mean that we cannot improve – Brisbane has half the density of Auckland and over three times the public transport use (two if you allow for its slightly higher population).

    Christchurch where everyone lives in detached houses each on their own section is TWICE as densely populated as New York. Those poor Cantabrians.

    Remember that much of the inner city got infilled in the last twenty years (somewhat like Auckland). None of the American cities have gone through that infill stage, so their suburbia is largely intact). Also, when you compare apples with apples (that is urban density with urban density), the two cities come out about equal.

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