For a city striving to be "world class", forcing the Wellington inter-city rail service out of the Britomart rail palace, to a jerry-built shipping container "kiosk", 1.4km away in the wastelands of the old Beach Rd shunting yards, is bizarre.
Instead of tourists going wow, as they gather in the modern cathedral-proportioned underground concourse at the bottom of Queen St, their first or last memories of Auckland will be a tarted up brownfields site, with tickets being sold out of an old shipping container.
Auckland Transport, which runs the Britomart terminus, denies it told KiwiRail to go, while KiwiRail says with the disruptions coming up with the start of the underground rail extension up Albert St, it had little choice. Capacity was going to be reduced, and, it seems, local rail had priority.
KiwiRail's head of customer engagement and scenic journeys, Gavin Rutherford, says he's been to the new site "a couple of times" and rejects it's like Siberia. However, in a press statement he does concede "customer service and safety of our passengers and staff is important to us so a shuttle will be available to take people who arrive at the Strand [the new destination] in the evening back into town."
When the change-over begins on December 21, he's also offering a coach from Britomart for those who have not caught up with the change. And the bewildered. Reading KiwiRail's online instructions to would-be travellers on how best to catch the Northern Explorer, it seems clear this was a decision made by Wellingtonians with little knowledge of Auckland.
The new station, we're told, is "a short walk from Britomart", and "located at the heart of Auckland's CBD and only a stone's throw from the districts of Parnell and Newtown." Auckland doesn't even have a Newtown, and Newton is not near. Admitting there are no train or bus services to Siberia, it offers alternative walking routes taking 19 minutes or 23 minutes from Britomart. Then to add to the confusion it suggests the alternative of catching a local train to Papakura Station and picking up the Northern Explorer there!
It's as though KiwiRail has a death wish. In 1930, the abandonment of the Queen St rail station -- on the exact site of the recently built Britomart station -- for the Beach Rd site near the new KiwiRail station, marked the near death of commuter rail in Auckland for the rest of the century.
To be fair, the Beach Rd edifice, now cheap student accommodation -- was designed as the centrepiece of a rail network -- possibly electrified -- joining the northwest line underground from Morningside, via the town hall. The Depression killed that.
Now Britomart is the focal point of an integrated transport network, with ferries, trains and buses, including the airport shuttle, all linking up at the bottom of town. It's the closest Auckland has got to an integrated public transport system. Ejecting the one inter-city rail link we have into the boondocks is just perverse.
Ten years ago, public outcry saved this Auckland-Wellington rail service. Now it's a success story, unsubsidised, with patronage to the end of June nudging 40,000, up 13 per cent on last year.
Unlike the big South Island rail trips, 80 per cent on this service are New Zealanders.
One of the justifications for booting KiwiRail out is it would remove the need for upgrading the existing Britomart ventilation system. Yet the system is only 12 years old and was designed to cope with a fully diesel local train system. Now the local trains are all electric, the six diesel inter-city trains a week we're talking is hardly going to put any strain on a still relatively new exhaust system.
There's also claims the three 7.45am train departures a week interfere with rush hour needs. If so, then why not delay the departure until around 9am. A later start is not going to upset holidaymakers, and it will still get them to Wellington around 8pm -- or faster if they got the trains moving a little faster.
In many parts of the world, inter-city rail is newly popular.
We've shown with Auckland local trains if you provide a good and convenient service, people will use it. When will we learn?