Car wreck brought a special romance with trains

By Mathew Dearnaley

Regular train passenger Nik Kennedy. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Regular train passenger Nik Kennedy. Photo / Brett Phibbs

It took a car wreck to turn Nik Kennedy into a diehard rail commuter, in the dark days before Britomart, but now he wouldn't turn back the clock.

"I've been catching trains since 2002 - I had a car crash then and didn't have the money for another car, so it was of necessity," admits the 42-year-old IT worker from Sunnyvale in West Auckland.

"I was like most Aucklanders who drive cars because they think they are quick and easy."

Having stuck with trains through thick and thin, he now uses a new family car - usually driven by his wife - only under sufferance for occasional commuting. "It's frustrating crawling along the Northwestern Motorway at 2km/h in heavy traffic. "I only wish I could get more Aucklanders to get on the train."

Mr Kennedy acknowledges it took a strong constitution to tough it out on rail in the early days when the service was "crap" and many rundown and unlit old stations looked too threatening to get off at.

But Britomart's opening in 2003 led the way for station upgrades throughout the network, such as the $160 million New Lynn trench development, making them safer and providing shelter on the few occasions when he says services run late now - compared with frequent delays when much of the western line was a single set of tracks, and trains faced long waits for others to pass the other way.

"The refurbished trains don't seem to break down as much either, and we no longer have to sit on vomit and wee - I can't remember the last time I sat on a stinky train."

Like the many rail newbies who have since joined him on his morning train rides to work at the waterfront, Mr Kennedy is looking forward to a much more direct route when a 3.4km tunnel from Mt Eden to Britomart will mean no longer having to loop through Newmarket.

Another pre-Britomart rail user, former Papakura Mayor David Hawkins, said the service improved "a million times" after the new transport centre replaced the old city terminus in the Strand, although he has since moved to the Auckland isthmus and no longer catches trains to work.

He recalls standing in the rain at an unsheltered Papakura railway station early one morning in about 2002 when an announcement came over a loudspeaker telling them the 6.15am train from Pukekohe had been cancelled "because the staff had slept in".

"We were all cold and miserable but it's a different world what's at Papakura now - obviously a lot of money and energy has gone into the service and that's why people are using it."

- NZ Herald

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