I have loved trains since I was a small boy watching the last steam-powered suburban trains in Lower Hutt.
Like many young boys back then I had an electric train set which, over time, became a layout. I loved catching the electric unit into Wellington to look at all the activity in the rail yards.
In those days steam was disappearing and diesels were new so there was a wide choice to follow. I was not quite a train-spotter but I had several symptoms. I could tell you the different classes of steam and electric locomotives, tell you a potted history of the development of rail in the Wellington region and generally act like a little anorak much to my schoolmates' amusement or annoyance.
It has not improved much in the past 55 to 60 odd years. I still get New Zealand and British railway magazines, occasionally Australian and American as well.
Travelling overseas I haunt railway stations - that sounds a bit creepy, use trains as much as possible in the hope of seeing new strange classes of locomotive. Sad I know, but it keeps me out of the pub.
I have been known to arise early in a small Italian town, walk across the square just to watch the beautiful trains they have in that country thunder through the local railway station. A remembered highlight of a trip to France was travelling in the Loire Valley and watching a TGV train cross a viaduct at speed in front of me. Those beasts can hit 320km/h.
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We visited Newcastle in New South Wales years ago and I was left quite happily at the little railway station watching the then quaint old trains coming in and out from Sydney while my darling was giving the credit card a bit of exercise.
I make it a point to visit as many restored railways as possible in Britain and have seen quite a few. My home library is packed with railway books from around the world but in particular Britain, where rail began, and New Zealand where its development helped shape our country from the late 19th to the mid-20th century.
Just for something to do I have been known to get a railway bus from Whanganui to Wellington, spend the night in a pub, catch the Northern Explorer the next morning to Auckland, spending the day with my wife taking photos all along the main trunk line, spend another night or two in Auckland, seeing the sights by rental car, including yet another visit to MOTAT, and fly home to Whanganui. Bliss.
When the Coalition Government was formed in 2017 I was so pleased that all three partners in the conspiracy running our country at present, for good or bad, are nuts about trains like me.
It might be for slightly different reasons but it is the one thing they are united on, the badly needed updating of our wonderful rail system and the investment of, at last count, at least $1 billion dollars in new trains, track and roll on roll-off ferries. National ran our railway system down during its nine years in office after Labour had got it back into public ownership in 2008, only to then be booted out of office.
If the upcoming post-Covid19 budget shows further investment in developing rail as a vital, pollution-friendly transport mode in this country Labour will get my vote. This lot need another three years at least to embed projects for protection against a National-led
government canning them when next they arrive on the Treasury benches.
National is not rail-friendly, perhaps due to the influence of the trucking industry in terms of donations. Rail helps develop and maintain the population in the regions, it grows industry in those provincial centres who used to have massive industry.
This is now starting to re-emerge, offering jobs and hope to smaller centres. The Coalition is reopening old lines, planning upgrades of lines in Northland, further enhancement of Wellington's very busy Metro system, replacing the inter-island ferries and working continually to improve a much revitalised Auckland Metro system 70 years after it should have happened.
It would be good to see planning for further rail development, perhaps Nelson being joined to the national network via Blenheim, a tunnel north of Wellington to get rid of that God-awful old mountain railway south of Paekakariki, a reopening and finishing of the Gisborne to Taneatua line closed in the 1950s, a reopening and updating of the Stratford-Okahakura line and reintroduction of passenger rail services between cities such as Whanganui and Palmerston North for commuters to name but a few dreams.
In KiwiRail's chief executive, Greg Miller, we have a person who actually likes trains compared to some of of his predecessors so perhaps a dream or two may come true.