Why Bennett is Wrong on Waikato Rail

Long time CBT member Barry Palmer responds to David Bennett MP’s baseless anti-rail viewpoint.

David Bennett MP, Hamilton West, has not considered all aspects of a Hamilton to Auckland Rail Service.

When he advocates electric cars to the exclusion of rail he completely ignores those that will be unable to afford them and those who cannot drive. At least he seems to concede the age of oil is coming to an end.

He overlooks the availability of the train’s on board refreshment and toilet facilities that eliminate stops that car commuters inevitably make.

He fails to grasp that trains permit business commuters to start and finish their working day while commuting, saving up to four hours otherwise lost.

He doesn’t take into account that while cars can manage a legal top speed of 100 kph, the present railcars with a top speed of 120 kph can easily manage 100 kph for much more of the journey if that is required due to fewer speed restrictions, less congestion and gentler gradients.

In 50 years’ time he claims electric cars will be the most efficient form of transport, but seems unaware that our narrow gauge rail, with a fraction of the investment his government is making in parallel roads, can reach 160 kph for passenger and freight trains, something road transport will never achieve. City centre to centre it will also outperform air travel.

Does he appreciate that future electrified railcars do not have to carry a heavy load of batteries while electric cars will need to for their source of energy, nor will they have to delay to recharge, as cars will. Their steel wheel on steel rail has 1/10 the rolling friction of rubber on tarmac. Overall the energy consumed per passenger-kilometre will be less than a third that of an electric car.

How can he offer the illogical argument against rail that trains are 19th Century technology when cars also have their origin embedded in the same century? Surely the time of the invention of a technology is irrelevant to its modern 21st century development, which in the case of a train has outpaced and will outpace the car.

He should know that within his stated 50-year time span of development that an eight-car train carrying 600 passengers at a frequency of 12 trains per hour could replace the capacity of 4 lanes of motorway per direction eliminating the need for any more motorway widening. If this is not enough capacity merely double the length of train and get the equivalent of 8 lanes of motorway.

Or perhaps freight is the main concern? One freight train can accommodate enough containers to remove 100 truck loads. Want more capacity? Then double the train length or add another train. Deliver the load in half the time.

During this 50-year period Britomart will hopefully sooner rather than later become a through station increasing its train capacity by three or four times.

The rail line from Hamilton to Auckland can shift far more passengers and freight than any four-lane expressway ever will. Electrify it and its capacity will increase while its energy consumption will decrease.

Can he comprehend how far we are behind Australia? As an example, Ballarat, with a population of 88,000 (Hamilton 120,000) has 15 train services to Melbourne each day over a route of 106 km.

Is he a capable of visualizing a future for Hamilton that embraces a Hamilton-centred congestion-free rail system that extends to Tauranga, Rotorua, Cambridge and Otorohanga as well? Hamilton already has its underground station ready for development.

The previous rail service was Auckland based, totally inconvenient for Hamiltonians and during a different era under different circumstances.

A local poll indicates 85% in favour of a rail service while 1% representing 900 (10 railcar trips) would use it on a daily basis once the service was fully developed.

Finally does he know the Palmerston North-Wellington train is now operating without a subsidy? The Waikato train can achieve this too with local support.

I invite him to address each of the points I have made.

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