New fangled concepts like peak oil

Yesterday Dr Cullen announced $121m in the current fiscal year to upgrade our rail network.  Note that his reasoning for this investment included:

Today we have to come to terms with a new set of circumstances – the emerging reality of Peak Oil and the impact rising fuel prices have on our economy. Rail’s energy efficiency has a new relevance and a new importance.

Did you notice the capital letters?  He must be talking about something important eh?  This is a pleasant improvement on four years ago:

Jeanette Fitzsimons: What does the Minister understand by the term “peak oil”, and when does he expect it to occur?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I have to confess that, for once, the member has floored me; I do not understand what is meant by the term “peak oil”.

I guess everyone get there in the end. So is now a good time to talk about the billions of dollars you plan to invest on motorways for private cars rather than on public transport Dr Cullen?

26 Comments Posted

  1. The concept of a vehicle that can run on roads or rails sounds good, but isn’t really practical. Running on rails doesn’t make it a train. You need to connect a group of vehicles together to make a train and gain the advantages, such as only one driver, reduced wind resistance, priority at intersections. This vehicle (as pictured) doesn’t have the hooks to allow it to be connected in a train.


  2. BP

    Putting cars on trains happens depending on the length of the trip and the nature of the destination. There’s a service on the East Coast of the US that puts cars on trains to get down to Florida and back, they use cars-on-trains to go under the English Channel too, don’t they? For a trip like that between Wellington and Auckland… or up the South Island it COULD make sense if the trains were equipped so that the cars could be driven on and off easily. This is easier when the cars have more standardization.

    Given that you can get a train up to 200 KPH without much difficulty (except here in NZ) the economics for the individual driver start to make more sense. Less time on the trip, less weary at the end of the trip, less wear and tear on the car. (Higher speeds alter the equation further but I am dubious of the cost-benefits of going much faster).


  3. Geologists seem to think we’ve got 10-15 years breathing space until the really massive oil shock – good to see there is some Government awareness developing though.

    I like these fantastic technologies that are being dreamed up, but how the heck are any of them going to be financed in a recessionary environment. If the Govt is broke, credit is impossible, and consumers are not spending; how does such a massive transformation occur?

    I suspect that we’ll just drive a lot less, and it’ll cost a lot more…

  4. Range is an issue, but not the game-stopper people make out. What you lose in range, you gain in the ability to charge the vehicle at home *most* of the time. Most journeys will not require an away-from-home re-charge.

    Secondly, we already have petrol station infrastructure. A battery swap unit appears to be no bigger than a car wash. Petrol stations could provide them.

    The issue I do see is chicken and egg. You’re going to need the infrastructre before you get big takeup, which is why Agassi is talking to governments.

    For me, range is not an issue. I don’t drive hundreds of kms per day into the wild. I don’t know anyone who does. These people will choose petrol cars until the infrastructure is widespread.

    I’m not discounting rail. It’s suits areas where congestion has become an issue.

    As for putting a car on a train, there is no point. Apart from anything else, the economics are wrong, which is why we don’t put cars on trains now.

  5. Agassi’s model will run into problems in NZ due to our lack of population density.

    If you are swaping the battery out you will need to use cheaper battery’s.
    cheaper equals less range. Which will cause problems in NZ once you get out of the city. In large countries like the US this problem is even more of a problem.

    Also cities like Auckland will still require rail transportation. Roads can’t handle congestion very well. As an example if BP leaves Stamford CT and takes the highway down to manhatten and I jump on a metro north train in Stamford CT. Who will arrive in mid town manhatten first. I can tell you that I’ll be waiting sometime for BP to arrive.

    As long as human beings are making the choices about which lane to be in etc you will get congestion on a highway.

  6. Trevor, Take that idea one step further and rail can mimick the ease and speed of loading/unloading currently enjoyed by curtain-sider trucks. Drive the cars onto special pallets, slide the pallets onto wagons, reverse the process at the other end. No need to rearrange wagons on the train at each destination. No need for the passengers or the train to wait while cars are driven on and off.

    The idea comes from the way NZ Post is able move airmail around each island without using aircraft. Letters and parcels are presorted into cages destined for each of the other mail sorting centres. Forklifts can unload and load a trifecta of B-trains in half an hour. B-train trailers can swapped from one rig to another in a few minutes. In fact it all happens during the driver’s compulsory break time. That allows mail from Invercargill, Queenstown and Christchurch to be “sorted” in Dunedin fast enough for overnight delivery. The alternative would be to send airmail by air. Much worse for the environment than sending it by road.

  7. Fewer accidents. Drivers could actually do something useful during the journey. Smoother ride. No need to refuel four times betwen Christchurch and Picton. Arrive at your destination with a full charge.

    Why would we need new tunnels? Cars fit into containers. Containers are already carried on trains. Therefore cars can fit on trains.


  8. No they wouldn’t.

    You’d need to load and unload. You’d need new tunnels. You’d need more trains. You’d need trains leaving more frequently. You’d need double tracking. You’d need more destinations.

    Or we could just use the roads we already have…

  9. BP, but trains would travel much faster to the destination. Assuming, under a socialist order, all travel would be to predetermined destination.

  10. What’s would be the point? Do you put your car on a train now?

    The battery/range issue is solved. It simply requires a network of hot-swap stations, like service stations. The business model encourages the development of these stations.

  11. Why not both?

    Consider electric trails running relatively frequent services along the inter-city tracks with flat deck wagons which electric cars could be driven onto and locked down, then driven off at the destination. A bit like the ferry really. The icing on the cake would be recharging the car while it is on the wagon.


  12. Truth BP, I don’t think this happens without someone with pockets as deep as the government, and the assurance that the power the government has to either enable or prevent this from happening, is on the side of making it happen. I can imagine someone with pockets that deep visiting New Zealand… but my imagination is way more extensive than most people’s.

    Have to look into the Denmark arrangements. So far I have only skimmed.


  13. The best thing they could do is get out of the way, but I know there is no chance of that happening.

    So perhaps they could take some time out from lecturing us about lightbulbs, make a quick call to Denmark, and make a monumental difference.

    Won’t be holding my breath….

  14. You mean that those people who spend all that time in Parliament at our expense are actually supposed to DO something and take responsibility for doing it?

    Gawd… the things I never suspected about New Zealand!!! 🙂

    [ /sarcasm ]

    This is something that you’d agree to allow that government could/should have a role in at least getting started? I don’t know about the party but I surely won’t be opposing the idea.


  15. >> The software that runs his “autoOS” would be fun to write though…

    Indeed 🙂 Would love to have a go at that myself….

  16. >>So how do we get this system in NZ ? Who makes the initial investment?

    Why have a dog and bark yourself.

    We pay politicians to do a job. I suggest they get on with it. It might be too much expecting them to do anything smart, however.

    Perhaps they could just ask Denmark….

  17. Agassi’s model is fine. There are still details around access to charging in congested centers, battery durability and long distance trips which will be a bit difficult but that’s the nature of all major transitions. The software that runs his “autoOS” would be fun to write though… provided he can keep Microstuffed out of the system I’m happy 🙂

    I don’t know however, that this means anything at all respecting rail. Our congestion problems are NOT easy no matter what we use,,, basically the freight on the trucks is still slowed way down because there’s still a lot of cars on the road. The long-haul trucks are still less efficient than rail per ton-kilometer and almost certainly HAVE to be because of the way the two work.

    So how do we get this system in NZ ? Who makes the initial investment?



  18. “The good news is we’re evolving into something very familiar. The Better Place business model is one most of us already experience every day—with our mobile phones.

    Think of it like this: we pay mobile providers for minute-by-minute access to cell towers connected together in cellular networks. Truth is, we pay comparatively little—or next to nothing—for the phones themselves. After all, what you’re really buying is air time, not a box with buttons.

    The same model works for transportation. Just replace the phone with an electric car, replace the cell towers with battery recharge stations, and replace the cellular networks with an electric recharge grid. Now you’re buying miles, not minutes.”

    The problem is already solved. Simply implement it.

  19. “Why pay for an addictive, expensive and harmful substance like oil when you can simply pay for transportation as a sustainable service? Why produce pollution when you can bring your emissions to zero and produce economic advantage as the only by-product? The proposition sells itself.

    • Drivers pay to access a network of charging spots and conveniently located battery exchange stations powered by renewable energy.
    • Drivers pay for the miles they drive.
    • Cars are made much more affordable—even free in some markets—by the business model’s financial and environmental incentives to add drivers into the network. “

  20. >>If you can provide power to the vehicle from the guide rail, the electric car doesn’t need as large of a battery.

    The car doesn’t need a large battery in the same way a car isn’t sold with a lifetime supply of oil. Simply make the battery quickly swapable, and there is no problem.

    Israel and Denmark get it. We, as usual, don’t. No change there.

    Look up Better Place.

  21. Agree BP rail is an 18th century solution, that is completely limited in its uses.

    I do like the concept of personal transports which move along a guide rail for long distance travel and then you leave the network and drive the vehicle along the road. If you can provide power to the vehicle from the guide rail, the electric car doesn’t need as large of a battery.

    You can also charge the user for the electricity that they are drawing from the highway. A private company could own the highway and generate a profit from selling the electricity to the vehicles. Which would finally give us a free market solution to roading and would remove the government from controlling something which is always a great thing.

  22. Yet another backward-looking socialist with no clue.

    Peak oil is not a problem as far as transportation goes, unless you believe – wrongly – that cars require oil to run. They do not, therefore Peak Oil is irrelevant in terms of transportation.

    With demand dropping off, trucks become more, not less viable. Rail is the same 18th century solution it always was. Suitable for a few niche applications, but mostly useless.

Comments are closed.