MaximusAugust 31, 2009
There’s a certain charm about Trams that big brother Train just doesn’t have, even though they’re all related really. A couple of pictures, courtesy of one of our regular readers (and occasional commenters), shows us something that we’re missing: not only do Trams run happily in Barcelona, but they also run on a tufty green grass verge, and what’s more – they even have a station called Wellington. Surely, somehow, this has to be a sign from the Gods that we should oblige ourselves of a set of sparkly new trams.
While you could easily visualise the Tram above running happily down the middle of Manners Mall, I find it harder to believe that this next image is not photoshopped – does a baking hot city like Barcelona really have a strip of grass between the tracks? Of all the places for grass to grow, why would it want to live its life between the tracks? Is there an army of council employees busy on ride on Masports following close behind?
While it may seem a simple thing for us to do in the capital: go out and buy ourselves a train set, we’re actually in a very awkward situation: we have an almost ridiculously narrow gauge of track in NZ, and so will always have to get the bogeys for our trains and trams specially made. Hence the problem with the new trains (or lack of) for GWRC – there were virtually none sitting in a second hand yard that we could grab, which is why they had to ‘borrow’ one unit from a museum.
It is, allegedly, a problem created by the Australians – when they were putting in railways they had 2 different widths of tracks installed in 2 separate states, and eventually realised the folly of their ways. So they sold us the shonky skinny stuff: perfect (so it seemed at the time) for our narrow windy tracks and it let us build small skinny tunnels. While most of the world gets by with “standard gauge” width of 1,435mm between tracks (4 foot 8.5 inches in ‘old school’ terms), NZ has the dubious pleasure of squeezing into a “narrow gauge” track width of 1,067mm (a mere 3 foot 6 inches). We have more in common with the Tasmanians than we think: they’re apparently also stuck with a narrow gauge.
While many of the older European cities actually get by with tram sets with wheels set a nice round metric 1000mm apart, most of the more modern European tram systems ride on the “standard” (ie wider) gauge track. Of course, while it may mean that a narrow gauge tram can safely squeak around tighter corners than its bigger brother, it also means that it will never be possible to go as fast, or in such a stable manner. Like a fat person in tiny heels, we wobble with alarming alacrity at anything over a fast walking speed.
We could always just order some standard gauge trams, as are being installed in vast numbers across Europe, but of course we want our trams to have the chance to use the existing Transmetro tracks as well, and so are obliged to stick with the same silly skinny gauge. The light rail or tram system that we will undoubtably want to install one day (but probably not while Mayor Kerry holds the reins) will have a fight against the buses that snake their way through the city streets – although with one advantage against Poneke’s much loved trolley buses (mine too, actually): that they will only need a single overhead wire, or possibly none at all. I’m sure, that in time they will come. And when they do, we can have a nice weatherproof station waiting at each stop. Probably not like this one, but it’s nice to know that in a city far away on the coast of Spain, they’re already thinking of us, with a premonition of what might be, when we eventually get a light rail system: