Short Haul Planes to Trains

20 JUL 2022
Europe is doubling down on trains to connect the continent - a return to the grand days of the Orient Express... without the death and mayhem.

CNN reports that - Europe wants a high-speed rail network to replace airplanes - because try as they like it is going to be hard to make carbon free air transportation work for flights longer than a few tens of kilometres for small light aircraft. And even now it makes more sense to take a point to point train from the centre of one city to the centre of another - more convenient and faster when you take into account entire travel time.

Like something out of Jeremy Clarkson's Grand Tour imagine a plane ride racing a train ride. To catch a plane you drive (or hopefully train) to the airport, check in an hour before the flight, go through customs, or at least a security check, and then wait to board the plane. You queue to get onto the plane, then shuffle to your seat and squeeze into a middle or window seat - unless it's a narrow body 737 perhaps. Then you get pushed back, slowly taxi to the runway (easily 10 minutes), and then takeoff. Your flight time might be only an hour but you're already 2.5 hours on the clock by the time you land. Then further taxi to the terminal, disembark, and go to baggage pickup. You then queue for a taxi, or find a hire car / train or bus... and then you have whatever journey time into the city centre.

On a train? Likely the main terminal is part of the local metro network already - so take the train to the city. Then onto the platform and get onto your train. You might have to wait 15 minutes or so but if you time it right there should be minimal wait time as train schedules are so accurate. Then your journey time on a 2 plus 2 carriage, where you can walk to a dining car, or turn the seats around for a group of four meeting around a table. (Admittedly I'm channelling my Asia experience here but still...) You can do some useful work. Then pull into the central train station and you are already in the city for your meeting. Or if you need to travel catch the metro.

A lot less fuss, more flexibility - especially if trains leave the station once an hour or so - and a more comfortable ride. But even more - the entire travel is electrically powered... so can use renewable energy... or perhaps CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage). So not only is it better - it is cleaner by far.

Now there will be alternatives to fossil fuel for planes - I'll link back once I find a relevant article - but you will never remove the inconvenience of plane travel. Perhaps one day there will be electric VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) Jetson type helicopter/drone vehicles for that last 10 kilometre connection. But the short haul flight in Europe is doomed.

Why then is New Zealand not embracing this? Although it is a big ask to expect high speed trains in New Zealand - it is a very real possibility that the Auckland / Hamilton / Tauranga region could be linked with trains running every 20 minutes - or even 10 minutes through Hamilton originating from further afield.

Te Huia is a start - and more resources and a published 'train map' of future intentions should be presented. And regional rail from Wellington to Palmerston North or to Taranaki is possible too. Christchurch should be linked with twice daily trains from Picton through on to Dunedin.

Initially these might be diesel-electric - but transitioned to battery-electric with sections of the track electrified for charging the batteries as the trains run.

Like many government funded initiatives, if there is a progressive roll-out then enterprise has the time to plan to take advantage to provide construction and other services. Capacity building reduces the capital cost and provides good high paying jobs... while improving the environment. And when it comes to the cry of "why subsidise rail?" consider how much money government subsidises Air New Zealand which leaves no long-term infrastructure, nor improves our climate credentials.

If Europe can cut short haul flights by promoting rail - the least that New Zealand should do is support and extend the limited passenger rail network that we have in place - with plans and an intention to grow this network. And before people say "But New Zealand is not Europe," consider that Norway is a small mountainous country with a widespread population... and they have a robust inter-city train network... just as New Zealand once had.

So as I plan a trip to Picton, I unfortunately can't catch a train... but I dearly wish I could. After all I could take a 10 minute walk to the train stations at either end. How convenient would that be!
By Hab3