My ongoing quest to make it to Palmerston North.

I live in Wellington. I want to get to Palmerston North.

One would think that it would be easy to get there as it’s only 150km from where I live, but yet…

Apparently that is not the case.

The blue capital connection train sits at a station at dawn. The sunlight is golden against the train.

Theoretically, there are multiple ways to get from Wellington to Palmerston North. You can drive (the price of gas right now is terrible, and I live in Wellington, you really think I have a car?), you can take the Intercity bus (upwards of $60 one way, and I’d rather die), or you can take the Capital Connection — a train that runs once a day, only on weekdays, and currently costs $17.50 one way.

You’d take the train, right? It’s got a cafe. It’s got toilets. It’s the ideal. You can walk around! You can stare out the window at the wonders of the Manawatū! You can not be in a bus.

However, the universe and the horribly underfunded train system of the Horizons and Greater Wellington councils have decided that this is not possible. I have tried to get to Palmerston North several times across the month of June, to absolutely no luck. There’s a show on at Centrepoint Theatre in Palmy called Misery, featuring my favourite Kiwi actors, and I’m terrified I’m not going to see it before it ends on July 2.

Why? The Capital Connection has been cancelled/bus replaced nearly more than it has been running in the last month. Now, I’m sure bus replacements work for some people, but as someone with a particular hot mess of chronic conditions, being trapped in a bus for roughly 2.5 hours doesn’t work for me. I’m not complaining for the sake of complaining, it’s legitimate health concerns.

A calendar showing June 2022. Several days have been greyed, red or yellowed out.
Red represents days the train has been bus replaced, yellow represents days the train has had reduced services and grey represents days the train hasn’t run.

In the last month, the Capital Connection train has been bus replaced on six days with two days of reduced carriages, and we’re not even at the end of the month yet! As this is a service that doesn’t run on weekends or public holidays, the Capital Connection has run less than half the entire month. Looking back to May it’s even worse.

Which is, frankly, ridiculous.

When do we agree that a service isn’t fit for purpose anymore? Because I think the Capital Connection is reaching that point.

Trains aren’t just a fun way to get across the country, they’re an important part of our public transport system. They are often more accessible than buses, they’re faster, and they can carry more people. For some of us, they’re the difference between travelling and not.

The blue capital connection train with a commuter standing in front of it. He is wearing a business jacket, a hat and a COVID-19 K95 facemask
Image: stuff.co.nz

I’d like to get up to Palmerston North next week. I sure hope I do. So far I’ve had to cancel three different accommodation bookings.

It’s not just about whether or not these trains run, it’s about the frequency and the effectiveness. In order to see a theatre show in Palmerston North via train, you need to take three days.

  • Day Two, to see your show.
  • Day Three, to get back. The Capital Connection only runs southbound once a day, so you have to get on the train at approx. 6am. If the train is cancelled, or you miss your trip back, the only other option is the Intercity bus, which may or may not be full the day you try to book.

If you’re trying to travel to Palmy on the weekend, you’ve got to take four days (Fri-Mon), as the CC doesn’t run Sat-Sun.

It is absurd that it doesn’t run on the weekend. Y’know how many people would jet up to the Manawatū for a weekend away? While Palmerston North is perhaps not a drawcard for everyone, there’s plenty of nearby regional excursions that people fancy. A train system must be fit for all people, not just the daily business commuter.

Why not run the train multiple times a day — and also on the weekends? Space out the commuters (a must in COVID times), drive tourism to the regions, and give us public transport that actually works. Look at Auckland and Hamilton, with the Te Huia train — initially it was a fledgling service, now it’s incredibly popular!

Most importantly, give us a service that is consistent, that is funded, and that works. Please. I just want to go somewhere that isn’t within the bounds of the Metlink network.

Maybe I will make it to Palmerston North next week.

But I doubt it.

EDIT: I made it! And the play was excellent!

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kiwi theatremaker and artist.

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