I’ve been a rail fan as long as I can remember.
When I was a young boy I used to stay at my nana’s house that backed onto the railway yard in Marton. Back in the 1980’s Marton station was a very busy place. As it was a junction, there was always something going on.
Holidays spent in the Hawkes Bay would have me swimming in the Esk River, reading my grandfathers New Zealand Railway Observers cover to cover, over and over and watching trains working their way through the Esk Valley.
As I got older I would cover hundreds of kilometres on my trusty Morrison Sidewinder push bike following the North Island Main Trunk and the Marton – New Plymouth Line. When I got my first car, hundreds of kilometres became thousands as I chased trains across the North Island.
Study, work, family. All these things put rail fanning on the back burner but when I got the chance I would still head out the door to chase New Zealand’s aging GE and EMD locomotives across the countryside. I loved it.
I had some great times and being a rail fan was good fun. But something’s changed...
I don’t know if it’s an age thing but chasing trains just doesn’t do it for me anymore. I would spend hours following local lines looking for a train but now, I don’t even bother looking. Even if I see a train on my daily travels, its ‘oh look’, but the fun has gone.
I’ve thought about how I’ve reached this point. I can tell you now, it’s not because I’m bored of the locomotives, the wagons or carriages. I’m not sick of looking at stations, yards, loops, sidings, bridges, tunnels or crossings. Nor is it the railway staff. I can’t remember ever having a bad experience with the men and women that run our railway.
The answer is politics. Politics have ruined it for me.
Two recent news stories were what did it for me. The first was Kiwirail announcing that they are seriously looking at retiring the EF class electric locomotives and removing the overhead between Palmerston North and Hamilton. Being a North Island lad I’ve grown up with the EF’s and seeing them retire would be like losing a little bit of my childhood.
The Minister of Transport gave the same cop out answer that all government ministers seem to use today - “It’s an operational matter for the organisation” and “No final decision has been made”. What a load of crap!
It’s obvious that the Government is telling the Kiwirail board which is made up of National Party appointees what they want and the board in turn gives the orders to Kiwirail.
As a state owned enterprise, it is in the Governments best interests to support Kiwirail but instead they work against New Zealand’s rail transport provider. As an example look at the introduction of High Productivity Motor Vehicles (HPMV’s) to our roading network. This is a direct attack on the main selling point for rail – the ability to haul a large amount of freight long distances cheaply. Also, I’m no accountant but I’m pretty sure that the road user charges the owners of these vehicles pay wouldn’t cover the additional damage they do to our roads.
The National government responds that they support rail and have invested $4.6 billion in the rail network. I’m sorry; who flogged it off to their mates in the early 1990’s who then stripped it to the bare bones and left a broken system. Yes the New Zealand taxpayer has had to pay $4.6 billion to fix a rail network your mates deliberately wrecked to get rich off.
At the end of the day, the current government has given Kiwirail unrealistic goals to achieve, actively works to help the competition and then expresses its ‘disappointment’ when Kiwirail doesn’t get there. At least give them a chance.
The second news story was of the Chinese workers brought to New Zealand to remove asbestos from the DL locomotives that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
Turns out these poor guys are working for $3 an hour. Kiwirail staff are even bringing them food. Now the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has investigated and found no issues. Even the Minister of Employment Relations has come out and said he was “very happy with the circumstances” and that the “allegations had been disproved”. He was happy to say this even though MBIE has admitted that the Chinese locomotive company CNR and the Chinese workers would not provide wage information to them. Remember also that it was this government that introduced legislation that allowed zero hour contracts and the removal of tea breaks.
And that’s why I’m disillusioned. Politics have wrecked rail fanning for me.