Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: City rail semantics a trifle loopy

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Changing name to link is not going to satisfy the political naysayers to Auckland's plan for the CBD.

Chicago's 19th-century elevated railroad is called The Loop, even though it's rectangular. Photo / AP
Chicago's 19th-century elevated railroad is called The Loop, even though it's rectangular. Photo / AP

If you score the empty end of the Christmas cracker tomorrow, here's a substitute riddle to liven up the festivities. "Is the proposed central Auckland rail tunnel a link or a loop?"

I've always preferred "loop" myself, but in recent weeks have been getting stick from purists who claim that "link" is more accurate and that I and my Herald colleagues should desist. They argue I'm letting the side down, that opponents would embrace the scheme if they only realised it was more than a mere loop - running round and round the CBD.

Now I'm not going to die on the ramparts defending a four-letter word. Like Shakespeare's Juliet, I'm rather in her "rose by any other name would smell as sweet" camp. But my business is words, and I'd rather like to retain the luxury of using either in this context, without the pedants lashing me with an energy better directed, surely, at our shared foes in central government.

Not so long ago, loop was in. In the run-up to the first super city mayoral election, John Banks was every bit as much a supporter as the eventual winner, Len Brown.

Writing in the Herald in October 2009, Mr Banks declared that "enhancing access through a CBD rail loop is critical to the central area's contribution to lifting the entire region's [and therefore the country's] economic performance". He added that "this rail loop is more than a rail link. It is a transformational economic development project at the centre of the new Super City".

In July 2010, the Greens launched a "Fast-Track the CBD Rail Loop" campaign, with speakers including Len Brown, Mayor of Manukau City, Christine Rose, chair of the Auckland Regional Council transport committee, Alex Swney, CEO of Heart of the City and Gareth Hughes, Green MP. A website "IntheLoop" popped up selling T-shirts.

Over the course of 2011, Mr Brown's first year in office, the planned tunnel became officially, first the CBD Rail Link and then later, the City Rail Link. Which pleased then transport blogger Josh Arbury, who later came in from the cold to become Auckland Council's principal transport planner.

Just on a year ago he blogged: "I am glad that the City Rail Link name for the Britomart to Mt Eden Tunnel has replaced previous names for the project like the CBD Rail Tunnel, the CBD Rail Link and (my least favourite) the CBD Loop. Calling this project a City Rail Link emphasises the fact that its benefits are not just felt in the city centre, but across the whole of Auckland ... this is important, because we are consistently seeing this project being attacked on the basis that it will only provide a benefit to those working in the CBD."

Last week, I received a similar complaint, saying my "calling it a loop makes people think it's a city centre loop, with a small CBD-biased catchment and low levels of potential ridership, not a critical link to open up Britomart and increase the capacity of the train system overall".

If I thought changing the name would persuade the naysayers to change their minds, I'd happily abandon the offending word. But it wouldn't, and anyway, gaining popular support is not the issue. A poll last month says 64 per cent of Aucklanders support the loop/link. It's the Prime Minister and his Transport Minister who need convincing, and somehow I don't think it's the name that's holding them back.

Loop, in a rail context, has a meaning much more expansive than the narrow definition of "noose" that opponents have got themselves hung up on.

Across the Tasman in Victoria, the Melbourne Underground Rail Loop Act 1970 set in train a process to link up existing train services via a downtown loop. Practically all metropolitan trains run through the loop, but no train service actually runs around the loop.

Then there's Chicago's famous late-19th century The Loop - a 3.2km elevated railroad which is not round but rectangular. It was built to provide a linkage between three existing, but stand-alone, elevated railway lines. In time, the surrounding area became known as The Loop, home to many of Chicago's tallest buildings and finest cultural institutions.

Some trains do a full circuit of The Loop, others use just parts of it. Both in Melbourne and Chicago, it isn't compulsory for trains to circumnavigate a loop, just because it's called one.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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