"I've sold monorails to Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook, and, by gum, it put them on the map." - Lyle Lanley, Springfield 1993 (The Simpsons).
You probably think monorails are a novelty. Designed to move tourists around zoos, Disneylands and Seaworlds. Stupid joke trains driven by the likes of Homer Simpson. But Auckland mayoral candidate Craig Lord loves them. He believes a monorail could solve Auckland's transport problems. Is he crazy?
Craig Lord is running because he thinks "the current mayor and council suck. Too much spending in the wrong places, and no focus on our needs and wants, our money is being siphoned away on vanity and nonsensical projects". For Lord the 47 year old ex-engineer Auckland needs a change in direction and that includes a sensical monorail.
Although monorail isn't quite the correct term. Elevated Column Mounted High Speed Mass Transport is a better description. Craig reckons a ECMHSMT system is a good idea because "no pedestrians get squashed, no cars get hit, no muppets driving across railway lines while the bells are ringing. Stations can be inside car parking buildings! If laid out properly, we can traverse Auckland's unique terrain much easier - Wooooosh."
Auckland Transport doesn't share Lord's love of monorails. They came up with three main objections. Lord summarises them thusly: 1. It wouldn't match the visual design of the Unitary Plan. 2. Cars might crash into the columns. 3. Columns will increase crime because people will hide behind them.
I am not convinced by any of these arguments. I walk passed columns all the time and don't feel the need to commit crimes. I don't see a column and get the urge to murder. Well, no more than I do on train platforms or behind trees. As for the visuals. Has AT been to Disneyland? Monorails look awesome. If an ECMHSMT doesn't fit your visual design, change your visual design to a more awesome one. Problem solved.
According to Lord, there have been quite a few developments in monorail tech in recent times. There's "the pneumatic/air propelled system called Aeromovel. They have been operating since 1989. There are 70 installations under way around the world. It's autonomous, and from research done so far, it's the cheapest and greenest mass transport currently in operation".
Then there's Maglev. Magnet propulsion. The units glide on air but are propelled by magnets. "It's the high-speed stuff made in Japan. But they might be too expensive per km for us, because we don't want to go from the CBD to the airport at 2500km/h," Lord says.
I asked Lord if he thought the legendary The Simpsons "Monorail" episode has put people off the idea. He said "Maybe it did, but the link to it has helped me get the topic out there."
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He has a point. I would not be writing this article if I didn't enjoy that Conan O'Brian written episode of The Simpsons from 25 years ago. Everyone knows the song. A few years back while on a monorail in Vegas my co-host Jeremy Wells asked an armed police officer "Do you think the track may bend?". The cop was obviously a Simpsons fan because he answered: "Not at all my Hindu friend". So I came in with. "What about us braindead slobs?" the cop sung back "You'll be given cushy jobs". Then a bunch of drunk people on the train joined in with a chorus of "Monorail, Monorail, Monorail". One of the great moments of my life.
I asked Transport Minister Phil Twyford about monorails on the Matt and Jerry Hauraki Breakfast Show last week. He said "the evidence of monorails doesn't stack up that well" but he agreed with Lord "that we need a rapid transport system in Auckland". Unfortunately, legendary broadcaster Jason Hoyte was in the studio at the time and he bogged down the conversation in some unhelpful gondola chat. Then Twyford had to go.
Lord admits he has no idea how much a monorail system in Auckland would cost. "I'll find out if Aucklanders ask me to hook into the idea." But there is already support. In a completely meaningless unscientific online poll 62 per cent of the 1000-plus responders said yes to monorails in Auckland. That's something.
Lord says: "There are the naysayers, the people who prefer to live in a 'Oh we can't do that' world, I tend to live in a glass half-full mindset. It's the engineer in me. I love projects that people say can't be done."
So will Lord become the "Monorail Mayor". No. Probably not this time. But at least he's passionately throwing up interesting ideas. People may laugh off monorails. Call it a crazy idea. But ask yourself this. How sane is it to spend $4.5 billion building a train hole up Queen St?