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May 12, 2008 | by  | in News |
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Michael Cullen the Fat Controller

Thank you Michael Cullen for buying back the trains! Since my youth I have always dreamed of owning a train set. You have finally fulfilled my dream, although I am only one owner out of 4.2 million I relish the idea that I own one four millionth of the rail system of NZ.

In 1993 NZ sold the rails to Fay Richwhite and American owned company Wisconsin Rail. They didn’t do anything with it for 15 years, and now we’re at a stage where NZ’s rail infrastructure is crumbling. Free market capitalism in this case did not work. This is not surprising since there are only four million people dispersed over a huge geographical area.

In many ways New Zealand resembles the Island of Sodor. In the third book of Thomas the Tank Engine, Sodor’s railways were nationalised! Wikipedia describes the Fat Controller as:

“In charge of all the engines on Sodor and seemingly has a great deal of say over other vehicles. As a young man, he learnt to drive in Elizabeth, the vintage Sentinel lorry.

He has overseen the construction of a number of lines and has been involved with the opening of several tourist attractions on Sodor.”

This is much the same as Michael Cullen’s journey to the helm of NZ’s economy. He learnt to drive the economy under Roger Douglas in the late 80’s and has overseen the government buying back many other state assets since 1999, prudently managing the engines to get the job done.

Thomas had his troubles, but he always came through with the sound advice of the Fat Controller. In fact Thomas won the Fat Controller’s respect by saving him and James in one of the first books. Maybe this leap of faith on Cullen’s behalf – buying back the rails – could save Labour’s electoral bacon. This could be seen as building steam up to this years election. It is too bad that the Fat Controller waited this late in the game to play the train card.

Week on the Blogs

Jackson wrote some self sexing Salient in-jokes in a post about production night at the Salient office. He also did a post on McCain being asked a question featuring the word cunt.

Conrad got all deep and posted a cool monologue from the movie ‘Network’. It was supposed to make you think and shit. He found a cool rap about The Economist magazine which made him wet, and made a post about Barrack Obama, with a title that showed his black sense of humour.

Comment of the week

Superior Mind on Obama slips the Chain
“Hillary scares me. She looks like her skull is trying to leap out of her face and bite someone.”

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About the Author ()

The editor of this fine rag for 2009.

Comments (4)

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  1. Critical_Lemon says:

    First of all, you seem to think that Faye Richwhite has been involved with the NZ rail system for all of the last 15 years and that Wisconsin Central Rail are also evil bastards. Wisconsin Central Rail actually started to make an operating profit out of the rail system, the first people to make a profit out the railways since the second world war. Faye Richwhite then tried to basically asset-strip NZ Rail ltd which resulted in the sale of NZ Rail to Toll.

    Secondly, the reason rail infrustructure hasn’t really been touched in the last 15 years is that there has been no real demand for it and the rail owners have not made enough profit to even invest. It was not economically viable to invest in the infrustructure during th 90’s, with the effective government subsidisation of road transport access charges (IE road user charges dont recover costs). You also seem to conveniently forget that the actual rail and associated infrustructure have been owned by the government for the last 3 or 4 years’ with minimal investment.

    Thirdly, Toll has also made an operating profit over the last two years despite having to pay a large fee for track access. It could be argued that the system in place prior to last Monday actually contributed to that, as does the same system in use in Britain and Australia, where rail companies are consistently making proffits.

    Part of the problem over the last 15 years is that the rail operators have pretty much been expected to fund infrustructure improvements themselves and Toll have paid around 80% of their operating costs to Ontrack to use the rail, compare that to trucking companies who only pay 50-something percent of their operating costs to the government as road-usage charges.

    Frankly, by buying the operating arm of NZ’s rail system the government have effectively put us back where we were 15 years ago, a system that was haemoraging money. I personally would rather our operating arm was run by an Australian company that is heavily involved in one of, if not the, fastest growing rail systems in in the world and our track owned by the government (like the UK and vast amounts of Australia) rather than putting all our eggs into the basket of a government that can’t even run a national ecconomy.

    I would also like to point out that if the government places the debt of infrustructure improvement soley on the books of the operator we will end up with exactly the same deal as the last government railway which is a rail operator that will never catch up with it’s debt.

  2. Jackson Wood says:

    It amuses me that you took the time to write something so long – longer than the original article – in rebuttal to what was obviously satire.

  3. “the reason rail infrustructure hasn’t really been touched in the last 15 years is that there has been no real demand for it and the rail owners have not made enough profit to even invest.”

    Which seems to contradict what you wrote in the the first paragraph: “Wisconsin Central Rail actually started to make an operating profit out of the rail system”, and then again when you say that Toll has made a profit a bit further down. Ok so maybe it was a small profit, not enough to do anything with cept maybe to pay people at the top higher salaries…

    So why did they buy it in the first place if there was no real demand for it? Isn’t it a businesses prerogative to make money? One would think the only way to make money is to create demand for your service/good.

    “It was not economically viable to invest in the infrustructure during th 90’s, with the effective government subsidisation of road transport access charges (IE road user charges dont recover costs).”
    What I get from this is that the National government, who sold the rails, hamstrung their own free market reforms.

    I’m not sure what you’re trying to get at. You basically just reinforced why it was a bad idea to sell off the rails in the first place. You’re right, we are back where we were 15 years ago, which is a place where the government, the biggest business in NZ with the largest capital base can fund improvements on the rail system, create demand and provide a sustainable solution to on road transport.

    Basically the gist of your argument seems to be that you would rather have the rails et al in private hands, on principle, so that it can languish, by way of your more detailed description than Jackson’s, and eventually either go bankrupt (by continued losses) or they sell it on to some other chump, with out any benefit to us the consumers of products that get shipped, and those of us who travel up and down our beautiful country.

  4. Critical_Lemon says:

    What I’m getting at is that the operations should be handled by a private company while the actual track itself should be owned (and invested in) by government.
    If it had all stayed in government hands in the first place it would have languished even further than it has. You must remember that there has been no real investment in the infrustructure since the middle of last century, the government was losing millions on it pre-privatisation.

    There has however been investment since the rails were sold back to the government. Which shows that they can definately look after that side of things, but I’m weary of pressure being put on a government owned railway to provide unviable services and that pressure succeding.

    On priciple, I have no problem with government ownership of infrustructure, I just don’t think governments should really own companies that operate on that infrustructure. It raises questions of how effectively to fund it without using massive amounts of tax funds, which paying track access fees does.

    Jackson, I spotted that satire but I feel strongly about the issue and I wanted to provoke discussion. Plus, I’m Miriam’s brother if that helps to explain things.

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