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A Capital Connection

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With the extension of electric suburban trains to Waikanae is the connection between Wellington and Palmerston North destined for the chop?  Launched in the 80s the Capital Connection train has always been an “orphan”, not claimed by Greater Wellington as it runs out of their region and not embraced by Tranz Scenic as one of their passenger rail journeys that “combines world famous scenic journeys with quality facilities and comfort”. 

Despite these short comings the Capital Connection has held on to the service making it possible for passengers north of Paraparaumu to get to Wellington each weekday. But what now?

The northern Kapiti/Horowhenua region and the Wairarapa have several things in common.  Masterton and Levin are the same distance from Wellington, a rail corridor runs through the district, the total population of the two areas are around the same, (22,500), and both have a healthy mix of age, ethnicity and wealth within the populations.  Where the two areas differ greatly is their access to good public transport.  

In the Wairarapa there are six return rail trips operating  between Masterton and Wellington each weekday and six return bus trips between Masterton and Featherson. Here in the Otaki/Horowhenua region we have one return train service between Palmerston North and Wellington, three return bus trips between Otaki and Palmerston North and six return bus trips between Otaki and Waikanae, (but none of the Otaki to Waikanae bus trips connect at Otaki with the buses running north).

To gain a better public transport service in the Otaki area would require some collective thinking from Greater Wellington Regional Council, Horizons Regional Council, Kapiti Coast District Council and Horowhenua District Council as we sit on the boundary of all four authorities and that probably is why we’re so badly served.

With some lateral thinking maybe this can be improved.  The Capital Connection Service has always picked up the most passengers at Waikanae and filled up the train with Paraparaumu commuters willing to pay a premium for a faster and more comfortable run to Wellington. Without these two pickups a much smaller train could run between Palmerston North and Waikanae, a Silver Fern maybe?

These railcars from the 70s seat 96 passengers in comfort, have refreshment facilities and toilets on board, run quietly and are much cheaper to operate than a carriage train requiring a 98ton, 3000hp diesel locomotive to haul the carriages.

Using a Silver Fern it would be possible within the timetable operated now by the Capital Connection to operate four return trips between Palmerston North and Waikanae.  These journeys throughout the day would make travelling between Palmerston North, Shannon, Levin, Otaki and Waikanae possible for so many people.  With Otaki becoming the shopping mecca on the coast a scheduled rail link would make shopping an enjoyable experience for people from both north and south and workers from Waikanae north could be in Palmerston North by 8.30am, (not everyone wants to go south!).

If Palmerston North City Council “tweaked” its bus timetable to meet the trains and ran the service via the hospital patients could get to appointments and family and whanau could visit their sick.  (We in Otaki are serviced by MidCentral Health Board).

The important part of a plan to operate this service would be to promote it well and give it the TIME it would require to become part of everyday life.  Whilst cost has to be considered it should not be judged on dollars and cents alone but on meeting the needs of the communities.  The bean counters should not be allowed to squash it before it starts or cancel it after a short trial.

At the moment, without good public transport, residents of these Kapiti/Horowhenua towns are locked into their communities.  The rail corridor that could make travel possible is at the moment just a hazard to cross, instead of a link with the rest of the world.

Could the collective 22,500 population make it happen? Kiwi Rail does belong to “Us” and public transport is an important brief of the four councils (to which we all pay rates) so what about a plan. Could people power make it happen?

By Wendy Bailey