Rimutaka Incline Railway Group proposes reinstating steam train to Manhattan’s High Line

17 11 2011

If you haven’t noticed there’s been a bit of an interesting (and sometimes ugly) debate about the Rimutaka Incline Railway group who want to destroy the Rimutaka Rail Trail for cyclists and their upcoming proposal to the GWRC Cultural and Social Wellbeing Committee. I’ve written about their proposal before. Here is what the Cycling Advocates Network thinks. For the Dom Post’s coverage, and for AKT’s. The comments on all are interesting, and you can see I’ve engaged them, got attacked personally, and I’m not conceding that their idea has any merit.

I’m not going to go over the same points again here. But I encourage everyone who loves the Rimutaka Rail Trail to click on the CAN’s link above and write an email to at least the GWRC’s Fran Wilde and Nigel Wilson and possibly other members of the committee. Tell them how fantastic it is as a rail trail and that you’d love to keep on having the opportunity to ride it.

Instead here at Wellington Regional Cycleways I’m not above mockery. (As you can see – mocking PRT enthusiasts, TranzMetro’s bus replacements, rubbish transport planning and eco-gnomic mismanagement). The kookier the idea the more deserving of mockery, so here in the spirit of the Rimutaka Incline Railway Group’s Steam Trains over the Rimutaka Rail Trail is their next project:

Rimutaka Incline Railway Group proposes reinstating steam train to Manhattan’s High Line

Before New York built its subways it used to have elevated railway lines. The new-fangled electric subway trains made the steam locos obsolete. Near Nome, Alaska around the change from the 19th to 20th centuries gold was discovered and in 1902 the Council City and Solomon River Railway was formed to service the goldfields. Construction proceeded from 1903 til 1906.  They bought some excess locos from New York and shipped them to Nome. The railway never turned a profit and went bankrupt in 1907. The engines were left where they were and today they are still there slowly sinking into the tundra. The Nome Chamber of Commerce has trademarked the site The Last Train to Nowhere, so I won’t use the phrase here. But I went to Council City (population 37) and it is hardly nowhere.

Photo by me

The High Line wasn’t one of the original elevated lines, but was built in the 1930s to raise the trains above 10th Avenue traffic. It was in use until 1980.

Then it was derelict and partially demolished. Between 2006 and this year they opened sections of the high line as public space for pedestrians, something in short supply in that part of Manhattan and it has become a bit of a poster boy for urban renewal.

The Rimutaka Incline Railway Group, never missing a great opportunity, is proposing to reinstate a tourist steam train service on the High Line banishing pedestrians to the sidewalk of 10th Avenue below. Pedestrians knowing who is Boss are calling it a 10th Avenue Freezeout. They estimate that all 300 million Americans will want to ride it in its first year of service.

Next the Rimutaka Incline Railway Group, in its never-ending search for rail technology excellence, has found the last trains to nowhere sinking into the tundra by the shores of Norton Sound. They did stop in Nome long enough to propose to the Iditarod committee to replace  the iconic dog sled race with a steam train, and then they realised that the rusting locomotives didn’t fit into the overhead lockers of their Alaska Airlines flight, so presently they are kind of at an impasse.

I believe they plan to approach the Carterton District Council asking the council to stump up the $320 million dollars to refloat the Titanic so they can ship the locomotives from Nome to Wellington on a this-time, ice-free voyage. Then they’ll strap the locos to the top of a Runcimans bus and come home up the SH2 to a deserved hero’s welcome in Upper Hutt.

And the irony is those Alaskan rust buckets with musk oxen for neighbours are in finer nick than anything the Rimutaka Incline Railway group has access to.

OK who want’s to see a musk oxen?

photo by me

Musk oxen, like cyclists on a rail trail, are a bit of an endangered species.

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10 responses

26 11 2011
David Bond

As a cyclist who has ridden the Rimutaka Incline Rail Trail a number of times, I have to say that I am saddened each time I have ridden it, THAT IT IS NOT STILL A RAILWAY, and that the value of retaining it as a working railway and a very unique one at that has been lost. Yes, the quiet and leafy “rail trail” is nice, but it is a poor substitute for the world famous Rimutaka Incline Railway, which if reinstated, would draw railway enthusiasts from all over the world, not to mention many non-“foamers” who would greatly enjot the amenity. The group proposing reinstatement fully intend to preserve cycle and walking access along the route, but on a separate alignment to the side. What is so wrong with this? Why are my fellow cyclists so pig-headedly standing in the way of this amazingly worthwhile project? There are many lovely places we can cycle. But NZ is chronicly short of passenger railways. Our loss would be small (if indeed it were a loss), but for a great gain. I have to say that I believe those who oppose this project on such flimsy grounds as not wanting the Rimutaka Incline ever to be any different from what it is today, are a pretty small-minded lot. Get a vision, and get a life.

26 11 2011
Matthew

Because it is not worthwhile. It is a fantasy that would stuff up something of high value (the rail trail) with something of low value (a seldom used, steam trail rail line).

The poorly designed parallel route the “foamers” are proposing is just that, poorly designed.

Financially the group is not even on the page. They do not have the money to do it, and they certainly don’t have the money to do it well. Then such businesses (steam train preservation groups) can and do go bust in New Zealand, like the Kingston Flyer. Then why would we let a private group reduce access to a public park? Shall we let the Disney corporation takeover Mt Aspiring National Park? We need more access to public lands, not less.

It’s just not me. Quite a diverse range of interests spoke against it at the GWRC committee meeting:

Cycling Advocates Network.
The Hutt Cycling Network.
The Fell Railway Museum (yes them, quite significant hey?)
Rotary/Hutt River Trail.
Wellington Trails Alliance
the Department of Conservation
and David Perks of Wellington Tourism was careful not to oppose the proposal, but said that we had to be careful not to destroy a facility that was creating great economic benefits, dwelling at length on plans for the Wellington Wairarapa cycle trail.

As for “NZ is chronicly (sic) short of passenger railways” well yeah, but you might want to put them where they would serve a useful purpose, like in Auckland or Dunedin or Christchurch, rather than a one way ride to nowhere in particular, or reinstate the Christchurch – Invercargill service.

There is a lesson here for the railway lot. They are standing on a lot of people’s toes at the moment. They might be surprised about all the community opposition to their plans, but the emperor’s got no clothes on. Don’t shoot the messenger. Their ideas are laughable.

27 11 2011
David Bond

Matthew, you typify the view that, “Because I don’t want this, therefore it is of low value”. You are wrong in your limited view, as are the other largely parochial interests who opposed this at the GWRC meeting. The tourist-clientele which the rail trail currently attracts is very limited and of much lower value in terms of local income than would a working Rimutaka Incline. Had this never been closed, it would be a drawcard for the region (and country) from all round the world. Not so, the abandoned trackbed that is all it is now. I currently do not see any “great economic benefits” – whenever I have ridden it, the most I contribute to the local economy is a milk-shake at Featherston.

You say it would be “seldom used”. Have you every been to Coromandel and seen Barry Brickhill’s “Driving Creek Railway”? That has become a major attraction in the area. So what is your sweeping statement based on? Prejudice only, I suspect, and I could simply counter it by stating my alternative view: That it would be well-used. The Kingston Flyer by the way has changed ownership and looks set to continue. Its weakness is that it is not in the best location for tourist throughput, being somewhat remote from the tourist-centre of Queenstown, with sparse public transport connectivity to anywhere. By contrast the Rimutaka Incline would have a direct rail connection from Wellington at Maymorn, and another at Featherston if the entire vision comes to pass.

David Perks sounds to be the only pragmatic voice among those you mention. Of course the railway development should take care not to destroy the current amenity. And if the current proposals for a parallel cycleway are genuinely inadequate, then that should be fixed. It is not a reason to kibbosh the whole proposal.

In terms of community support, the Rimutaka Rail group have done incredibly well to achieve the facility they have at Maymorn. This indicates a lot of community goodwill and willingness to contribute financially. Not everyone is has toes that are as tender as those you claim are being trodden on. I just ask you and others who are so opposed to this to be a little less insular in your view.

27 11 2011
Matthew

David,
You railway nuts really are persistent. Your idea is a dud. Only a very few people like the idea, and they are making supposition upon guesstimate. It’s not a goer on Planet Earth.

It’s complete Pie in the Sky stuff, and you are managing to piss off a whole lot of people.

You’ve hit a brick wall and you have no support.

27 11 2011
David Bond

If I’ve pissed you off, then too bad. I’ll wait for a few more responses than just yours before I accept your assertion that the entire project has “no support”.
If you want to do something useful then turn your obvious hostilities towards a worthwhile target such as the government’s “Roads of national Significance” programme. This looks set to be a disasatrous threat not only to the environment, but also to the economy and to any sort of rational and balanced transport policy (that might help cyclists, walkers or public transport users).
Know your real enemy before you attack me.

27 11 2011
Matthew

Dave, I’m not personally pissed off, and I’m not hostile (to the group no, to the idea, yes), but you definitely are managing to piss off a whole lot of people. I’m generally supportive of historic railway groups (although this particular group I think has very little credibility). But as proposed it is the wrong thing to do.

If you could work out a way to enhance the experience of walking or riding over the hill with the other stakeholders, such as cyclists, walkers and the Fell Museum, enhancing the history displays (which are already quite good), or having a steam train ride to the start of the trail (and to me that is to, but not through the Maymorn tunnel and everything from Tunnel Gully to Cross Creek is offlimits to a steam train), then your group could do something positive. As proposed it is a terrible, misguided idea.

Why won’t your railway group take on board any of the criticism? Why are they so obdurate and pig-headed? Why are they so determined to force their flawed vision through, against the wishes of a whole lot of people, and then they go around calling all bits of opposition hostile? It seems the real arrogant hostility is only coming from them.

As for targeting the RoNS, read some more of my blog.

27 11 2011
Dvaid Bond

OK Matt, I confess I didn’t know this was your blog. I only recently came across it and was immediately impressed (by 99% of it, just not this particular bit). Congratulations on some obvious good work and thanks for not stifling this debate.

The reason the railway group (with which I am only involved as a by-stander), is no more wanting to compromise from its position than it appears the cycling groups are from theirs, is because the reinstatement of the Rimutaka Incline railway is and always has been the group’s goal and reason for existing. A steam ride stopping at Tunnel Gulley has never been the objective, so why should the group meekly give up its entire vision to appease another group which appears to want everything and is willing to give up nothing.

The project has been on the go for some years and up to now there has been very little opposition and a lot of support. Are you and other opposers turning vocal only now, because the project is obviously gaining momentum and can no longer be ignored?

Compromise has to be two-way, and saying “no you can’t have any of the route beyond Tunnel Gulley” does not sound very two-way to me. The words obdurate and pig-headed are apt. A genuine compromise on your part would be to accept the basic project, then work together with the group to find acceptable ways to retain what cyclists need. Why do you want so much more? Your demands seem excessive.

And I speak as a cyclist who feels a bit caught in the middle here, and more than a bit ashamed of the negative response of other cyclists who I would normally expect be at one mind with. I believe this project will ultimately help cyclists. It will enable cyclists who don’t want to ride the whole thing, to have their bikes carried say to Summit, for a ride down the other side. It will enable groups of picnickers, very young families, elderly, handicapped etc to enjoy what is currently only accessible to the able and energetic, WITHOUT restricting access to present users, and without the more usual threat of opening it up to car access.

What is your problem, other than just “Boo hoo, I don’t like it”?

28 11 2011
Matthew

David,
Reducing all of what I’ve said to “Boo hoo, I don’t like it” is another example of your obduracy.

You just aren’t listening. Your little private group has no right to trounce over the 80,000 members of the general public who enjoy it each year, in what after all is a public park.

The $500,000 of grant money already spent on any facilities the group may have might have been a mistake. There’s no point chasing sunk costs for a dream very few people share, is all pie in the sky, and would end up being a financial disaster. Before wasting that money they should have thought more about imposing their will onto an unreceptive public.

And yes why should we “compromise” having tracks laid over our lovely cycleway, when we would lose everything? I make no apology – hands off our cycleway.

And don’t give me any sob story, fob-off the cyclists, parallel track. It would be rubbish and you can’t afford to build either it, or anything else.

As for “It will enable groups of picnickers, very young families, elderly, handicapped etc to enjoy what is currently only accessible to the able and energetic” – actually because of the flatness it pretty much is open to all these groups. The steeper parallel track you offer as some kind of false “compromise” would actually limit access for these groups.

30 11 2011
Te Araroa Trail to finally be opened « Wellington Region Cycleways

[…] Zealand now has a world class long distance walking trail. As far as I know the Rimutaka Incline Railway Group hasn’t yet applied to put a steam train over the route. There are bits that are still along roads (but it’s up to 90% not along roads), and there […]

5 12 2011
A Proposal for an Aerial Gondola linking Wainuiomata to Days Bay « Wellington Region Cycleways

[…] functional, useful, modern public transport is a better thing to spend public money on rather than the steam train proposal for the Rimutaka Incline or the White Elephant […]

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