Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Reinstate Passenger Rail Services to Invercargill!
I had my first political forum of the election campaign in Invercargill last night, it was organised by the CTU and their national president, Helen Kelly, was a guest speaker as well.
My speech mainly covered the Green Party's three election focus areas; green jobs, saving our rivers and lifting 100,000 children out of poverty. A representative from the Maritime Union asked a question regarding different transport options, especially coastal shipping and this led to a general discussion around the appalling obsession this government has with roads. I briefly described the Green Party's policy on transport and suggested how wonderful it would be to have the old Southerner Train service returned between Invercargill and Dunedin. This comment received the most positive response than anything else I said during the evening.
We no longer have flights between Dunedin and Invercargill and the only public transport we have currently are bus services. This has become problematic since the Southland and Otago health boards merged. Many Invercargill people have to travel to Dunedin for specialist appointments, this occurred when the boards operated separately but because the appointment was "out sourced" patients were eligible for transport and accommodation allowances, but this is no longer the case.
For those on low incomes or are frail and in poor health, the journey to Dunedin is a huge inconvenience. Buses run infrequently and the three hour trip is not comfortable for many who are elderly or disabled. Family or friends may have to take days off work to provide transport if buses do not suit and then the financial inconvenience extends beyond the patient. Passenger trains provide a more comfortable travel experience than buses and can be more accommodating for different needs.
When I was a student in Dunedin during the seventies I had the choice between a bus, the Southerner train and a railcar that was still in service then. Before we married, Vicky and I enjoyed a holiday cycling from Picton to the Abel Tasman National Park and spending time in the Marlborough Sounds and a few vineyards in between. What made the holiday even more enjoyable was the mode of transport to get to Picton, the Southerner. After loading our bicycles onto the train in Invercargill we settled back into the sumptuous, sheepskin covered seats and enjoyed the friendly service of the hostesses and the devonshire teas that were served to our table. We were in no hurry and enjoyed the continually changing vistas that passed our window. Our holiday had started the moment we stepped onto the train. I'm sure if the option was available many of the WRC visitors they would have chosen rail rather than rental cars, especially when the Northern hemisphere have maintained and improved their rail systems and this would have been a familiar service.
We all know the history behind the decline of New Zealand Rail but I hope that passenger rail services can be restored to similar levels of earlier times, for so many reasons it just makes good sense to do so.