Owen McShane Guest Post Redux

Back in 2006 Owen McShane wrote a guest post for the blog.

In honour of his remarkable contribution to New Zealand and free enterprise I am re-posting it today:

It is Time to open the “Main Truck Line”

New Zealanders are getting anxious about the ongoing closure of freight lines in the regions.

We shouldn’t be.

Instead we should be welcoming this opportunity to upgrade our transport system to make road travel easier and safer for us all.

We should get the trains off these rail beds, tear up the tracks and lay down a road bed dedicated to trucks – and express buses if need be.

This is such a logical and cost-effective move you would think it would have been done long ago. But the idea is always challenged by those who believe our transport solutions lie with nineteenth century technology rather than the advanced technology waiting in the wings.

Certainly, the rail operators in the UK were outraged by the report by Paul Withrington, “Reigniting the Railway Conversion Debate” published by the UK Institute of Economic Affairs, in June 2004. The abstract reads:

[quote]The economic functions of railways could be carried out by express coaches and lorries at one-quarter the cost of the train, using 20 – 25% less fuel, requiring one-quarter to one-third of the land, and imposing a casualty cost on passengers half that suffered by rail passengers. The railway conversion debate was initiated in the 1950s by the late Brigadier Lloyd and carried forward by the Railway Conversion League, subsequently renamed the Railway Conversion Campaign, until the death of its chairman, Angus Dalgleish, in 1994. The purpose of this
paper is to reignite that debate. The government should remove all impediments to the conversion of railways to roads.[/quote]

The UK railroaders should know better than to reject such findings out of hand – because good managers should be asking these kinds of questions, and examining these kinds of strategies, all the time. Sue Kedgley deplores closing these rail lines because, she asks, “Hasn’t the government heard of climate change?” Well, the UK study finds that
the trucks use 25% per cent fuel than the trains, and this efficiency improves by the day. Trains are only kept on the rails by their weight – everything is heavy and weight needs fuel. So “steel on rail” is doomed to become less efficient than “rubber on road” with every passing day.

Some tunnels may need widening and some bridges may need modifying. Some tunnels can be controlled by traffic lights. Hardly any of the actual rail corridors will need widening and the adjoining land is normally farmland and hence quite cheap. Any costs can be financed out of tolls, and the savings on reduced upgrading of our regional highways will be massive. The Government as owner of the corridors could actually make some money instead of everyone operating at a loss.

My analysis of the emerging transport technology suggests
“rubber-on-road” will almost certainly totally displace “steel-on-rail” from all rail beds, just as gas turbines displaced pistons in aircraft.

While the efficiency gains would be immediate the next generation of trucks will “drive by wire” on these converted “rail corridors”.

The driver’s hands and legs will instruct the computer which will instruct the drive train and the hydraulic power systems. A guide-wire down the centre of the newly constructed road-bed, laid over our present railway lines, will allow the computerised steering system to keep the truck “on-line”. Truck drivers will drive their trucks to the shunting yard where they will leave them and drive away on an incoming truck to deliver its local load. These trucks will be mechanically and electronically connected into “truck-trains” driven by only one “driver” in the front cab, monitoring the performance of every truck in
the train. At the next “station”, trucks will peel off to be driven away, again by local drivers, to their local destination. The savings in labour costs will be immense.

The coupled trucks will reduce drag. Accident rates will decline.

Drivers will never drive far from home. Lots of short trips will replace lots of long ones.

Hardly any trucks would drive on the regular roads which would then require much less maintenance and be much safer for everyone. Tourists in particular will be much happier.

The AA Advocate (Winter 2006) foresees massive on-road conflicts between huge numbers of logging trucks, milk trucks and foreign tourists. By 2030 the AA suggests every other drive on the road could be a foreign visitor.

Sadly, it appears the current operators of the steel-on-rail trains won’t make the switch because, like the vacuum tube manufacturers of the fifties who failed to switch to transistors, they are committed to running their hardware rather than providing a service.

So when the first “truck train” calls into your local station it will be operated by a company with a name like Freightways or DSL. And a bundle of companies with names like X-track and Y-rail will disappear from corporate memory.

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.