The high price of travelling by train

For some time I have been wanting to travel on the Tranz Alpine rail journey from Christchurch to Greymouth, spend a day or two on the Coast, then return to Christchurch. I priced out a trip last night – and found that the return trip for two would be $480, plus accommodation in Greymouth, plus travel to and from Christchurch, plus a night or two accommodation in Christchurch. So the trip would cost $1000+ – I decided that was two much for a few days of holiday.

I recently flew from Dunedin to Auckland return, virtually one end of the country to the other, for about the same prices as across the South Island and back.

Coincidentally from Stuff: KiwiRail has priced Kiwis off its trains, yet taxpayers fork out to subsidise it

Our rail is subsidised by you, but most New Zealanders will never experience it because of the thankless and short-sighted management at KiwiRail.

​KiwiRail, the beneficiary of a $1billion bonus in the Wellbeing Budget, denies some everyday New Zealanders the opportunity to travel on its trains. The carriages of trains such as the Northern Explorer, Coastal Pacific and Tranz Alpine are packed mainly with two types of people: tourists and rich elderly folk.

on Saturday I, too, stood aboard one of the Great Journeys of New Zealand.

I got on at an almost deserted train station in Auckland, with a bag full of books, headed for Wellington. The 11-hour journey was beautiful, there’s no doubt about that. The tracks cut through sheep-filled paddocks, jump past waterfalls and curl their way up the 121-year-old Raurimu Spiral.

You can’t get on board the Northern Explorer or TranzAlpine for under $99. Tickets generally cost between $119 and $219. You can’t even get on the Coastal Pacific, between Picton and Christchurch, which is booked out almost every day.

KiwiRail’s pricing is obscene.

It’s a great journey, yes, but why does it cost so much? Most days you can fly Wellington to Auckland for $49 on Air New Zealand.

I’ve also thought of doing the Northern Explorer – fly to Auckland, take the train from Auckland to Wellington, then fly back to Dunedin. The train trip, about a quarter of that distance, is going to cost about the same as the air travel.

The local Taieri Gorge Railway trip costs ‘from $105’ per person – it’s much shorter, but at least that’s return. But I haven’t done that trip for a long time (I last did it over 15 years ago), and the price is a major factor.

In checking this out I see that there’s a special offer for locals (Dunedin residents), half price in June. It’s tempting at that price.

Dunedin to Waitati return, a nice scenic coastal trip but quite short, is ‘from $70’. Reasonable at half price.

Trains can take an almost endless number of people. Add on another carriage, hire a few more train guards and go. Unlike with planes or buses, increasing the price of tickets to equal demand cannot be justified with trains.

The only forseeable reason KiwiRail has decided to set its price so high is to remain exclusive. It’s expensive for the sake of it. The people at the state-run rail company have made a decision to price New Zealanders off our trains.

This isn’t just bad for travellers. It’s bad for regional New Zealand and the environment, too.

The Wellbeing Budget was meant to put New Zealanders at the heart of spending. From what I can see, it has given KiwiRail the green light to keep running a business that does not serve everyday Kiwis.

An affordable railway system could reduce our carbon emissions. It could encourage people to live in places like Taumarunui and other towns Air New Zealand can’t service. Instead, KiwiRail has decided to forget about the hand that feeds it. It has abandoned towns and priced out most Kiwis, yet we just gave them a $1b bonus.

I’m more likely to drive around for South island trips, and fly north, because the pricing is far from tempting.

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26 Comments

  1. Gerrit

     /  6th June 2019

    The commercial arm of KwiRail has no competition (be it freight or passengers) ands as such it should be separated out from the state owned steel road network.

    Private enterprise must have access to the steel roads (like it has access to tar sealed roads) to make pricing competitive and enable new services to flourish.

    Until that happens rail will be forever a basket case where the taxpayer has to keep pumping money into a 19th century dinosaur.

    That $1B in new taxpayer funded largess will only be used to bolster NZ First Northland election hopes with upgrades to the NAL and a spur to NorthPort.

    People in Taumaranui wont get a single cent of benefit.

    Now if the a trucking consortium were to invest in say a unit train with piggy back road trailers they should be able to. Piggy back road trailers does away with the final mile problem that rail has unless it gets alongside the free enterprise transport operators. Might also persuade Bluebridge to invest in rail capable ferries to give the Inter Islander some rail freight competition..

    Similarly if a bus operator could see the potential to operate a railcar service from say Hamilton to Palmerston North to service the central North Island (and breath life into places like Te Kuite, Taumaranui, National Park, etc. they should be able to access the steel roads to do so. Maybe a mixed freight/passenger service would be better in local areas such as Christchurch to Dunedin and further south?

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  6th June 2019

      ‘Private enterprise must have access to the steel roads (like it has access to tar sealed roads) to make pricing competitive and enable new services to flourish.’

      straight out of Milton Friedmans manual ….total nonsense of course.

      Private enterprise loves buying public assets for cents in the dollar….don’t have the balls to build their…own=too risky.

      Reply
      • Gerrit

         /  6th June 2019

        “Private enterprise loves buying public assets for cents in the dollar….don’t have the balls to build their…own=too risky.”

        When those assets are listed for sale…there is only one possible buyer…private enterprise.

        If they did not buy, the assets would not be…sold.

        And the tax payer forever having to keep the failed state enterprise afloat.

        Reply
        • Blazer

           /  6th June 2019

          if public assets were not put up for sale by neo libs/cons for their mates to acquire cheaply,we would all be better off.

          Private business is no more efficient than public can be.

          Selling public assets is theft imposed on citizens.

          Reply
          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  6th June 2019

            Selling public assets is theft imposed on citizens.

            What is tax then?

            Reply
  2. Duker

     /  6th June 2019

    I read the story, what uninformed nonsense . hes goes on ONE train trip because he didnt want to pay surge prices for plane travel over Queens Birthday weekend….and hes an expert on how to price and run a passenger train service.
    maybe they have surge prices too over long weekends… for which is a 3 days per week service in winter. Locals in small towns dont catch the train because the long distance buses are much more frequent and chyeaper

    Reply
  3. Blazer

     /  6th June 2019

    ‘ which is booked out almost every day.’

    so are some expensive restaurants.

    Reply
  4. Alan Wilkinson

     /  6th June 2019

    Trains – a 19th century solution to 21st century problems. Worshipped by Greens and all haters of individualism.

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  6th June 2019

      trains the most efficient transportation for humans and freight.

      London,Tokyo,Paris,New York could hardly function without trains.

      Trains built America ,Australia would implode without freight trains.

      Only the truckers lobby and right wing politicians favour…gridlock.

      Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  6th June 2019

        They still work in high density mass transit situations where they can offer speed and flexibility. Not here.

        Reply
        • Duker

           /  6th June 2019

          They work in long distance travel too… TGV in France, China is now biggest high speed train country in world . Mostly new tracks and those are on top of the existing long distance and regional trains.
          Kiwirail on its operations budget breaks even , its the capital budget/depreciation that dargs in the losses.
          Big investment required for Inter island ferries – they are a 2000 yr old solution arent they Wilco
          next day delivery by truck from Auckland to rest of North Island by Truck – say Mainfreight requires lots of transhipments.
          First Truck delivers to Hamiton, then second truck delivers to Rotorua and then 3rd truck does local delivery around city and through to Whakatane.

          in a way it ‘replicates’ the railways , but with each wagon has its own driver and moved to separate wagons at each stage.

          Reply
          • Blazer

             /  6th June 2019

            Al looks at things through his Mainfreight shareholder eyes D.

            People or the planet matter not ,so long as hes in the…money!

            Reply
            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  6th June 2019

              Good companies make money by giving good service to many people including customers, suppliers, employees, contractors and investors. I salute them and you would too if you had any decency.

            • Blazer

               /  6th June 2019

              your ‘good’ companies do not like Competition at all….

              I’m sure you’ve played Monopoly…that is the end game.

              Nothing to do with decency!Try Union Carbide,United Fruit Co,Haliburton,Blackwater,Monsanto, etc,etc…

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  6th June 2019

              Your bile becomes you, B.

          • Pink David

             /  6th June 2019

            “Kiwirail on its operations budget breaks even , its the capital budget/depreciation that dargs in the losses.”

            Given trains are capital intensive, it’s the largest cost of a train system, the fact they can’t ever repay the capital tells you just how uneconomic they are.

            Reply
            • Duker

               /  6th June 2019

              Its the Tracks/ bridges etc. thats the depreciation problem as they have their own right of way while Trucks dont even pay their way in road damage and share those costs with cars
              Trains wagons last over 20 years , far longer than trucks, so your reasoning is wrong.
              plus 1 locomotive can haul 20-30 wagons easily while wheeled transport requires cab/engine for each wagon load , plus driver

            • Pink David

               /  6th June 2019

              “Its the Tracks/ bridges etc. thats the depreciation problem as they have their own right of way while Trucks dont even pay their way in road damage and share those costs with cars”

              A system that has single low volume use is going to load the costs compared to one with higher and share usage. The fixed costs still need to be recovered. Rail is simply uneconomic in most situations.

              “1 locomotive can haul 20-30 wagons easily ”

              Two locomotives can haul 300+ wagons. Great when you need to move 30,000 tons of bulk iron ore from a mine to a port.
              Useless for point to point deliveries, which is the vast majority of goods movement in NZ.

              ” wheeled transport requires cab/engine for each wagon load , plus driver”

              Which you still need regardless of how much you spend on trains.

              “Trains wagons last over 20 years , far longer than trucks, so your reasoning is wrong.”

              The IRD says they last 25 years, heavy truck trailers 15.5 One of those things costs a lot more than the other. Take a guess which one.

              And of course, the same point as before, you still need the truck regardless.

              There are really only a few places where rail is the solution in NZ.

          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  6th June 2019

            High density mass transit can be relatively long distance as in Europe, Japan, China, parts of US. Not here.

            Reply
            • Blazer

               /  6th June 2019

              yet…’Trains – a 19th century solution to 21st century problems’….

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  6th June 2019

              Yep. Here.

      • Pink David

         /  6th June 2019

        “trains the most efficient transportation for humans and freight.”

        Reply
        • Zedd

           /  6th June 2019

          yes that would be great from Sth D to the gardens..”MONORAIL !” 😀

          Reply

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