Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Buck stops nowhere for Cup night chaos

Huge crowds assembled for the opening of the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Huge crowds assembled for the opening of the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Photo / Sarah Ivey

For months, Prime Minister John Key and his Rugby World Cup party planner Murray McCully have been tweeting the world, inviting all and sundry to cruise down to Party Central on September 9 and have a ball.

They promised the biggest fireworks display ever seen, local bands, a fleet of waka and all for free. Tickets? No worries bro, just bowl up at the gates and say Muzza invited me. It'll be sweet.

Now, like teenagers cleaning up the mess at their parents' house after that gathering for a few mates went feral, Muzza doesn't want to know. The minister who's been driving every one involved batty with his micro-managing of the project, says he was out of the room at the time. It's everyone else's fault. Auckland Transport (AT), he says, dropped the ball.

In fact, there's so much finger-pointing, that if the digits were loaded guns, there'd be bodies littering the corridors of power.

Mayor Len Brown is grumpy with AT, and with the bureaucrats that advised him only 50,000 people would turn up at downtown party central. The police are surprised at the size of the crowds. AT is pointing the finger at the train operators, Veolia. And so it goes on.

As far as the over-crowding along the waterfront was concerned, it is, in hindsight, weird the experts didn't expect the sort of crowd they got, and planned accordingly.

After all they'd hyped the show up, even encouraging CBD bosses to send workers home early to make way for the expected crowds. They'd widely promoted the extravaganza as free, which always appeals, and told everyone to leave their cars at home because of the zillions expected. Finally, the weather was unseasonably perfect.

If only someone had thought of the Domain, a natural amphitheatre where crowds can expand to fill the space available, and where more than 2000 people could view the live stage. Did no one remember the Christmas in the Park successes?

Funnelling 100,000 plus partygoers to the bottom of Queen St also guaranteed the collapse of Auckland's fragile train system. At its peak, the Britomart Station is built to handle 16,000 passengers an hour. On Friday, more than 60,000 trips were reportedly made - or attempted - on the network.

This was twice the number expected. The majority were people trying to get to and from Eden Park or to Party Central - or both.

If you want to be positive it was a valiant - if foolhardy - effort. But after 60 years of neglect, the combined magic of crossed fingers and prayer was not enough, and the rail system just gave up the ghost.

As I write this, it's not clear whether the collapse was triggered off by one of the ancient diesel engines conking out or some drunk pushing the emergency stop signal.

With reports of passengers being left onboard, without information or toilets, for more than hour, a dead engine sounds more feasible, with the button pushing and fire-extinguisher firing signs of passenger frustration.

Given the fragility of the system, it seems inept that no emergency routine was in place to quickly tow the dead train clear, so others could pass.

Of course, if an inner-city rail loop - first advocated many decades ago - had been in place, there would have been an alternative route to Eden Park.

An existing underground loop would also have been evidence that Auckland had a train and public transport system in place able to cope with the pressure of 60,000 passengers - hardly a huge number for a city of 1.5 million people.

On Saturday night's television, Mr McCully refused to apologise to the fans whose night was ruined by the rail chaos. It was a churlish, ungracious response.

As the Government's Pooh Bah in charge of the Government's cup project, he hasn't resisted a chance to milk every ounce of credit he can. Now it's time to take the credit/responsibility for the scenes on our TV screens of grumpy fans clambering up the sides of a railway cutting or striking out along the rail tracks in the dark to Eden Park.

If there's any good news in this, it's to remind Auckland voters of the urgent need for the Auckland rail upgrade, including the inner city tunnel. With an election campaign coming up as soon as the rugby players depart, Aucklanders now have the perfect issue. Central Government has to finally take Auckland public transport seriously.

- NZ Herald

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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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