New rolling stock (carriages) for South Island scenic rail journeys are as good as, or better than anything I have experienced anywhere else. They rival equipment used on Switzerland’s premier scenic rail journeys, including the famed Zermatt to St Moritz Glacier Express. And, best of all, the new rail vehicles, classified AK, are New Zealand-designed and built.
The $39.9 million contract for 17 KiwiRail carriages was let to Hillside Engineering in 2009. When completed early next year they will replace all carriages previously used on the Coastal Pacific and TranzAlpine rail journeys. Between them, the trains carry about 250,000 passengers annually, a majority of them visitors to New Zealand.
Longer than the present carriages, they have 52 sqm of glass in generous panoramic side and roof windows, enabling passengers the best opportunity to enjoy passing views. Other obvious visual differences include ceiling- mounted high-definition screens displaying safety messages as well as a map plotting the journey’s progress.
An impressive feature is the quieter, smoother, ride provided by the newly- developed P13 bogie wheel units having a combination of primary synthetic elastomer axle springs supplemented by a secondary airbag suspension. The latter is in common use on heavy road vehicles. The P13 units were designed by Christchurch engineering firm Motovated Design & Analysis and constructed by Hillside Engineering.
Yet somehow the same talent isn’t good enough to built some flat-deck rolling stock. Or assemble new locomotives…
New Zealand scientists, researchers, designers, engineers and skilled tradesmen are world class. In one of my earlier lives I had the privilege of a job that entailed visiting hundreds of such businesses up and down the country; overwhelmingly I gained the impression of an immense potential that was largely untapped.
Far too many business owners caught up in the boat, bach and BMW syndrome, a lack of courage, vision and mentoring robbing these businesses of a thriving future. Far too many small provincially minded companies intent on cutting each other’s throat over pissant little local contracts; while an entire world awaited to be feasted upon with the capabilities that they themselves barely recognised.
A hostile dog-eat-dog commercial contracting environment in this country has a lot to answer for; not only routinely delivering very poor value for money to the end-clients, but failing to develop strong, confident industries willing and able to grow. New Zealanders HAVE to grow up and understand that the “lowest price” is almost always the worst value.
And a hostile attitude from a generation of political leaders… almost to a man chanting the refrain, “It’s not the government’s job to pick winners”.. really amounted to nothing more than a leadership of cowards. Of course picking winners involves the high probability that some will be failures, but something about our national psyche loves to feast on that kind of carcass tearing apart anyone unfortunate enough to be too close. This is another failing on maturity in this country…the simple fact is that no team runs on the field and wins from day one; loosing with dignity and intelligence is an essential component of eventual success.
I want to highlight again a paragraph from Nanaia Mahuta’s post last night:
We need to be relevant to aspirations in the provinces, this means that we need to support our provincial candidates more effectively so that they are not having to fight an election on a single issue and not without the resources and support of the party. As a provincial member myself, I understand the need to communicate our policy and our people through our community networks. Regional economic solutions to grow jobs, support local innovation or further clean-tech solutions are but some of the real opportunities to assist. Similarly the role of small and medium sized businesses are important and we must ensure that Labour policies reflect the important contribution they make to our regional economy.
The essential difference between dense urban and dispersed rural communities is their intimacy. In towns like Masterton, Blenheim, Marton, Westport… there is a very real sense of connectedness that is generally absent in the big cities. These are places where people live and work for generations with an awareness, they would be loath to speak of out loud, of their mutual interdependence. Working in a small engineering business, just the half dozen or so of you, there is a very real sense that the fortunes of the business owner, who more than likely works right alongside you, are directly linked to exactly where your pay packet comes from this week.
Technology and neo-liberalism has changed the modern workplace dramatically. The mass union worksites of years ago are gone. You only have to look at Pike River to see how even traditional heartlands like the coal miners are no longer strong.
These are traditional Labour working class people, but they don’t think like them. They think like small business owners. They’re very suspicious of unions because frankly they can’t see how industrial confrontation could possibly deliver any value in their close intimate working environment. In some cases they know that their boss pays them more than he pay himself; they’d be ashamed to have a faceless union negotiator demanding more money from him.
The days of an effective Labour Party based on the membership of unionists, teachers and special interest groups are over. If I’m reading Cunliffe and Mahuta right they understand this and have a plan to drive through a new vision, while carrying forward the seeds of what Labour has already achieved and values…. but planted into a new soil.
That’s risky. It might fail. We might only get there with a handful of runs to spare, but it comes down to belief.