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The horrific loss of seven lives on State Highway 1 south of Picton over the weekend, when a truck and a van collided, highlights again the folly of a transport policy that since 1982 has been fixated on road building and road transport.
That was the year when decades-old restrictions on how far trucks could carry freight around the country were finally abolished.
These restrictions, initially imposed in the 1930s, were a lazy political response to the lack of investment in the country's rail network, which in the decade leading up to World War II was coming under threat from improved roads combined with rapidly advancing car, truck and bus technology. It was cheaper to protect an antiquated rail network than to invest and upgrade it.
Predictably, when the restrictions were lifted, rail lost the great majority of its freight business. It could not compete on speed with trucks, with many rail lines engineered for 40kph average speeds.
The scale of this transfer of freight from rail to road was the subject of my master's thesis in 1989 using the West Coast as a case study.
The huge increase in the number of heavy vehicles on our roads over the past 40 years has come at a massive social cost in terms of additional deaths and injuries on our highways.
WARWICK SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ/STUFF
Trucks have thrived on New Zealand roads since deregulation of the heavy transport sector in the 1980s, leading to an increase in fatal accidents.
At a conservative estimate, about 2500 people have been killed on our roads due to accidents involving heavy vehicles since deregulation.
The overwhelming majority of these accidents involve the largest category of trucks such as B-trains or articulated truck and trailer units hitting much smaller vehicles on our busiest State Highways.
The real tragedy is that this level of carnage over the past four decades and future accidents could have and can be greatly reduced by increasing our investment in our rail network and also coastal shipping, to allow proper integration of road, rail and shipping services to the benefit of all those modes of transport in terms of efficiency and safety.
Emergency services at the scene of Sunday’s multi-fatality crash between Picton and Blenheim.
Rail and coastal shipping are inherently safer modes of transport compared with cars and trucks, so making greater use of these modes is crucial to cutting our road toll.
There really are no winners in the dog-eat-dog freight transport sector which has dominated for the past 40 years.
Aside from the social cost of accidents, few trucking businesses make money as they are forced to ruthlessly compete by undercutting each other on price.
Large corporate transport companies do so by forcing their drivers to become so-called independent contractors. This allows these companies to slash their labour costs as contractors are not entitled to holiday or sick leave, while other costs associated with employing staff directly are eliminated too.
SCOTT HAMMOND/STUFF/MARLBOROUGH EXPRESS
KiwiRail seems to rely on permanent life support and has to try to provide modern transport services using a museum for a rail network.
KiwiRail seems permanently on government life support due to being burdened 100 percent with the cost of maintaining its network and lacking the resources to modernise the rail network some parts of which have had almost no capital investment for over 140 years.
Government investment continues to be sporadic and woefully inadequate in comparison with money lavished on roads. KiwiRail is in effect asked to try and provide modern transport services using a museum for a rail network.
The government has signalled some additional funding for coastal shipping, but it is doubtful the small amount will have much effect and this brings me back to the terrible crash in Marlborough and how modal integration can work to everyone's benefit.
I am a relatively frequent user of the Christchurch to Picton highway for work and I cannot understand for the life of me why there is not at the very least a dedicated truck ferry operating between Wellington and Lyttelton.
This would remove at least 80% of the heavy vehicles travelling that road. As anyone who has used that stretch of State Highway 1 is aware, it is wholly unsuited to the very large vehicles, especially through the Hundalees where there are two 25kph hairpin bends.
Few people may realise how inefficient the Wellington to Picton ferry service is for moving people and freight between Wellington and Christchurch.
If you combine the distance between the two existing ferry terminals with the road distance between Picton and Christchurch, after travelling 3½ hours from Wellington, you end up 10km further from Christchurch than when you started the journey.
Cook Strait ferries in Picton. They may be a critical link in our north-south transport infrastructure but they are a highly inefficient one, argues Richard Worrall.
A modern truck ferry could complete the journey between Wellington and Lyttelton in the same or less time than the current Cook Strait ferry and Picton to Christchurch road journey.
Trucking companies could save almost 700km of wear and tear on their trucks along with reduced operating costs on the approximately 2000km round trip between Christchurch and Auckland.
Such efficiency gains would help address the ongoing truck driver shortage, as drivers would only be needed at either end of the ferry service.
And finally returning to the human suffering our transport policy settings inflict on so many, if such a service was already operating, road carnage such as that seen at the weekend would be far less likely.
This article first appeared on www.stuff.co.nz
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