Saturday, January 30, 2010

remaining unelectrified North Island Main Trunk

A customer has asked in response to our post on 28 January, how much of the North Island Main Trunk will remain unelectrified after the Auckland suburban scheme is in place.

According to the NZ Railway and Tramway Atlas (out of print) the distance between the southern-most station in the Auckland scheme of Pukekohe and Te Rapa (just north of Hamilton) is 81 km. At the southern end, the distance between Waikanae and Palmerston North is also 81 km. Thus, 162 km out of the total 682 km from Wellington to Auckland is 24%.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The World's Smallest Library?

With both books and classic English red phone booths becoming a thing of the past, a village in Somerset has merged the two rare commodities.

The bright red old phone booth was purchased for just £1 and remodeled as the smallest library in the world. Residents line up to swap their already-read books for new ones left by other patrons. Over 100 books and a variety of movies and music CDs are available at this tiny library.

Telecom's mobile network crashes again - 2nd time in a month

"Hey, the stuff you sold Telecom last year - it gone bung again"

Thursday, January 28, 2010

AC/DC locomotive

Tonight the rock bank AC/DC plays a concert in Wellington's railyard stadium, appropriately featuring a locomotive in its stage set. The band's name is also appropriate as the issue of ac versus dc electric traction has been a problematic one for railways internationally including in NZ.

New Zealand Railways' first three electrification schemes (Otira-Arthur's Pass, Christchurch-Lyttelton and Wellington-Johnsonville) used 1.5 kV DC as this was a common choice in Europe at the time (the Copenhagen suburban system was electrified with this in 1934), but since WW2, the advantages of high voltage AC have made it the standard choice for new schemes.

The problem is that once you've opted for a particular system you are pretty much stuck with it for every extension. Thus Wellington's new Matangi electric units will be 1.5 kV dc, while the new units planned for Auckland will be 25 kV ac, as are the locomotives that run between Palmerston North and Hamilton. At this stage there are no plans to connect up the Wellington system with Palmerston North, but if that happened new dual voltage locomotives would be needed. The photo shows one of Slovakia's dual voltage ac/dc electric locomotives.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

World Holocaust Memorial Day

On 27 January 1945 the Red Army reached the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp in Poland, the largest of those established by the Nazis during WW2. Thus this day is given to remembering the 6 million Jews who perished during the Nazis' campaign of Vernichtung, about 90% of them from Eastern Europe. Although this figure was actually dwarfed by the number of people Stalin managed to dispose of, from the late 1920s to his death in 1953, through deliberate starvation, forced labour and executions, the Nazis' purpose-built death factories are still more shocking for most people.

Today the focus of the extreme right in Europe and elsewhere has shifted to Muslims, while the extreme left is now anti-semetic, as we have seen (in a small way) locally. The holocaust memorials help to remind where the road of extreme prejudice leads.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Wellington anniversary day

170 years ago (actually on 22 January 1840) the first settlers in the region landed on the beach at Petone (as it is now spelt). Twenty-five years later Wellington become NZ's capital city, and politicians' hot air joined the generous natural ventilation from the winds. The 150th anniversary or sesquicentennial in 1990 was marked by the notorious Sesqui carnival, which is described in our book Wellington a Capital Century.

As the song goes, you can't beat Wellington on a good day.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

former railway walks in NZ

A customer has asked, in response to our post of 6 January on the Rimutaka Incline Walk, what other walkways along former railway lines there are in NZ.

As far as we know, official walkways are:-

* Most of the former Little River Branch in Canterbury (pic above)

* All the old Otago Central Branch from Middlemarch to Clyde

* Part of the old Nelson section at Kawatiri

* Part of the old Dun Mountain Railway in Nelson

* Part of the former East Coast Main Trunk through the Karangahake Gorge

* Part of the former Motuhora Branch near Gisborne.

* More of the former Wairarapa line alignment can be walked through in the Rimutaka Forest Park north of Upper Hutt.

There may be unofficial walking tracks in other areas.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

New book on the Turin to Chambéry railway

This is the main arterial route between France and Italy for both rail and road traffic, and involves traversing the mountains that form the border area. The railway has a small association with New Zealand as initially a Fell third-rail steam train system which ran for 77 km over Mt Cenis was used, just as was used on the Rimutaka Ranges (and at 1100 mm the track gauge was not much more than the 1067 mm used in NZ). And like the Rimutakas, this was replaced with a long tunnel. There was a big difference in the longevity, however - the Mt Cenis line lasted only 3 years from 1868 to 1871, the Rimutaka system lasted 77 years from 1878 to 1955, but was much shorter in distance, only 5 km. Some of the Mt Cenis equipment was taken to Brasil, while the Rimutaka system was the third and last system using English engineer J.B. Fell's principles.

Since 1871 the Fréjus line, including the 13.7 km tunnel, has remained a full fledged alpine railway. The ascent to the the highest point (1,295 metres above sea level) involves a steep climb up the Maurienne valley (after which our Waikanae property is named) on the French side and the Susa valley on the Italian side. The book covers the full history of this route including the various electric traction forms and the international trains that have run over over it. The text is unfortunately in Italian only.

The photo shows St Jean de Maurienne, with the railway in the centre. (click for larger views.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Prince William opens new Supreme Court Building

The new court building houses the Supreme Court, created in 2004 to replace the Judicial Appeal to the Privy Council in the UK, until then as far as you could go in the legal system. This was a good thing, although the appearance of Prince William to open the building today naturally provoked protest from the Republican movement.

The debate of Monarchy versus Republic has existed for decades, and it's apparent that unlike in Australia or Canada, most people here don't care one way or the other. The most likely scenario is that upon Prince Charles' accession as monarch (whenever that may be), Australia will again hold a referendum which, unlike the last time in 1999, could well be successful. If so, NZ would very likely follow suit.

As regards the new building in central Wellington, passers-by could be forgiven for wondering what the rusty looking lattice/scaffold-type adornment of the upper area is. According to the architect, it is supposed to represent looking through the branches of NZ native forest. If so, why isn't the predominant colour dark green as only about 6% of NZ native trees are deciduous? Oh well, it could be worse.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Fiat railcar in Blenheim, 1950s

The photo is of a Fiat railcar crossing the Opawa River bridge in Blenheim in the 1950s, a scene from our book New Zealand 1950s Steam in Colour (most but not all the photos in that book are of steam trains) available in better shops.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Why the future for books is not rosy

At least if these statistics are to be believed. It's certainly a trend that has advanced considerably in the past two decades. Whatever one may think of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, she has put a book in the hands of a lot of kids who would otherwise have never read a book for leisure, but the battle to encourage people to do that regularly remains a tough one. (click the pic for a large version)

Friday, January 15, 2010

déjà vu - the ''Avatar" movie storyline

Tch, tch. (click for larger view)

Revamped Newmarket (Auckland) Station opened

Yesterday, Transport Minister Steven Joyce formally opened Newmarket's grand new $35 million railway station, and just before that KiwiRail signed an $80 million contract with a joint venture of Hawkins Infrastructure and Australian company Laing O'Rourke for about 3500 catenary masts and 80 km of overhead wires for Auckland's railway electrification.

The station, which will be available to passengers and trains from Monday, was built by the Auckland Regional Transport Authority in conjunction with KiwiRail's $65 million reconfiguration of Newmarket's junction of the southern and western lines.

KiwiRail chairman (and former Prime Minister) Jim Bolger said the junction had been important to Auckland since a railway line was built to Helensville in the early 1880s. Its reconfiguration, with new signals compatible with electric trains, had been the most challenging of all the region's rail upgrade projects.

Mr Joyce said the Government made a commitment to proceeding with electrification before being elected in 2008, and he was proud to have honoured that without help from a regional fuel tax which would have been "just too big an imposition on Auckland motorists".

Yesterday's electrification deal follows a $90 million signalling contract signed in April, and the Government's announcement in November that it will lend KiwiRail $500 million to buy about 114 electric railcars.

An assurance from the minister to about 120 guests at the Newmarket Station opening that the first electric trains would be "on the ground and operational from 2013" drew applause led by Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee, who spent much of last year fretting about a lack of funds for them.

Newmarket Business Association chief Cameron Brewer said the new station would do for "the fashion capital of New Zealand" what Britomart did for Queen St since opening in 2003.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Westpac stupidity a no. 1 news story in 2009

The story of the Nelson man Roger Griffiths and his protest at the way he way treated by Westpac (see our post of 24 July) was the biggest story of 2009 on news website

The more than 324,000 online hits surpassed the 266,000 for the main story on the Napier gun siege two months before. Even now Mr Griffiths is surprised at the enormity of the reaction. He was inundated with e-mails, phone calls and requests for media interviews, and it was a phone call from his brother, David, in New York that made him realise how far-reaching the story was. His brother asked, "What have you done? It's on CBS [American TV network]."

Mr Griffiths had calls from radio stations in Ireland, England, Germany, three from America and stations around New Zealand. "I think we all get used to bad news but this was something good," he said, and added that his hand literally ached from people shaking it in congratulations.

And in case you think Westpac stupidity is confined to its middle managers, this bank was adjudged to owe the IRD the most (a whopping $885 mil) in the Fay & Richwhite-style tax fraud that the Australian owned banks concocted between them. Stupid because Westpac has the business of most Government departments and agencies. If they decide they should put their business with a more appropriate bank, that's a fair chunk of NZ business to lose.

If your bank is causing you grief, then give them a blast. And don't think that being small you won't be taken notice of - try spending a night in a tent with a mosquito!

Friday, January 8, 2010

answers to a few more FAQs from the last decade

Why did you move from the Harcourts Building on Lambton Quay?
It wasn't from choice as it was a great location. The building was owned by AXA who sold it to Messrs Fay & Richwhite, who (true to form) told everybody on Christmas Eve 1999 that they had to the end of January to vacate the building. They then proceeded to gut the building, including many original features from the 1920s.

Why did you drop the IPL imprint?
Because everybody kept asking what it stood for. We were also being confused with INL (now part of Fairfax).

I find transpress in other countries while surfing the web - are they related to you?
No. There are transpress businesses in Germany, Spain, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Finland and Russia - none related to each other as far as we know. Incidentially the Spanish one copied the spinning globe gif from our website, not vice versa.

Do you publish totally commissioned books?
Yes, but we use the Maurienne House imprint for these, as unlike other Wellington publishers such as Steele Roberts, we don't want to be seen as indulging in vanity publishing.

The National Library has moved

Those visiting Wellington this year (and probably next year too) should note that while the building is being redeveloped, the National Library public reading room and some other services are now at 77 Thorndon Quay, instead of its site at the corner of Aitken and Molesworth Streets. The present building is relatively recent, opened in 1987, but is already too small.

We visit it quite often as it naturally has the best collection of New Zealand books in the country, and the old books are most useful for research.

While on the subject, here is also a photo of what was there about 80 years ago. One notes the Vauxhall sign. The shops on the other side (Hill Street corner) were later demolished to make way for the Anglican cathedral.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Cars and light rail don't mix too well

In the 14 years after the Los Angeles Blue Line opened, Houston Texas was the largest US city without a light rail system. So at the beginning of 2004 it opened a 12.1 km system. However, it has had a collision rate with cars and SUVs of 25 times the North American average. The main reason is most likely that instead of having a dedicated right of way, it shares the road with normal vehicles.

The video shows some of these collisions with vehicles whose drivers are clearly thoughtless or impatient.

New book on Alco locomotives

What was notable about the American Locomotive Company? Well for one thing, it produced the world's largest ever steam locomotive (and 'world' in the sense that non-Americans use the term) - Union Pacific's 4-8-8-4 type 'Big Boy's. In fact Alco also produced UP's next largest steam locomotive, the 4-6-6-4 Challengers. In the diesel era Alco's second place to General Motors was gradually usurped by General Electric until finally Alco exited the new locomotive manufacturing business in 1969.

Multiple examples of its product made their way to Australia and one notable locomotive which came to NZ - the Taupo Totara Timber Company's Mallet from 1912- was one of only four Mallets with the 2-4-4-2 wheel arrangement ever built (it is now stored at the Glenbrook Vintage Railway).

This book from one of America's most prolific railway authors is a nicely produced summation of the locomotives that Alco produced, without going much into technical details, and their North American purchasers. The text is supported by some very nice photos in both colour and monochrome. It is available from the transpress shop.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A good summer excursion

About now most people in NZ will either be on their summer holiday or planning to embark on it.

For those heading into the Wairarapa region, the Rimutaka Incline Walkway, as it is officially known, is a good day's excursion through hills and bushland. It can be accessed at either the Kaitoke or the Cross Creek (Featherston) ends, but the latter is better as a visit first to the Fell Locomotive Museum in the main street of Featherston which has good displays, helps to put its railway history (from 1878 to 1955) in context. At 17 km in length, plus a 2 km access path at Cross Creek, it is probably too much for most people to walk both ways in one day, although mountain biking over it is now as popular as walking.

The Featherston museum has the "carry with you" guide book pictured above for $5, which quite oddly has the same text and photos arranged in order from both the Cross Creek and Kaitoke ends! Instead, using the duplicated space to include more captioned photos would have been more sensible.

UK rival to Amazon shows you people shopping

Online bookseller The Book Depository has a feature on its website which shows you people's orders (details of titles and where they are in the world) more or less as they happen. They seem to receive about an order a minute. It's probably no surprise that more of their orders come from overseas as unlike Amazon, it does not charge international delivery costs - such is the power of competition it seems.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Amazon juggernaut keeps on growing

Here is a video clip of Amazon's UK distribution centre in Milton Keynes on the Guardian (UK) website which demonstrates how big online retailing has become. Originally Amazon started with books in 1997 and has steadily added other product lines, although it will only sell books, CDs and DVDs to customers in other countries. It is credited with putting paid to the (hopeless) Borders chain in the UK although its big discount requirements means many special interest publishers are reluctant to sell to them. Most transpress books are available on the Amazon US website (at prices above the equivalent in NZ), but not on the UK site.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Support the Paw Justice petition

Animal cruelty is an issue that we feel very strongly about. We as a civilised society simply can not tolerate any form of animal abuse and those who do it need to be found and punished severely. The Paw Justice petition aims to increase sentences for those convicted and petition forms can be downloaded from their website.

But not just that - everyone also needs to be pro-active in policing and combatting the perpetrators. As Paw Justice say, it is almost certain that those who abuse animals also abuse vunerable people (children, the weak and the elderly) too, as well as engage in hoon behaviour and vandalism. Take photos of all such people you believe are responsible and give them with the details to your local law enforcement agency.

Knight commander of film

The most notable of the knighthoods announced in NZ's New Year Honours Awards, with its recently reintroduced British titles, was that given to Peter Jackson "for services to film". He is reported to have been even more thrilled with this than with the haul of Oscars he got in 2004 for the final movie in the Lords of the Rings trilogy.

It is rather ironic that someone whose work was initially shunned by the establishment (despite having made three movies at the time, he was omitted from Jonathon Dennis's state-subsidised book Film in New Zealand - but he was certainly included in our book Celluloid Dreams) is now embraced as part of the establishment. But of course, Peter Jackson's achievements (mostly achieved in Wellington, not in Hollywood) now can't be ignored.

Our policy is not to include "Sir" or "Dame" with people's names, and that won't change, but we naturally admire a virtuoso craftsman in our arts and culture scene.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Our 25th anniversary year

As a colleague put it, the last 25 years have been rather like canoeing down an uncharted river as you never know what is around the next bend: smooth water, rapids or a waterfall! Certainly publishing and bookselling has changed a lot in that time, although the most notable change has been the ever increasing difficulty in selling books! The Internet has opened up new opportunities in finding new customers, but also presented a major source of distraction for them so the same potential customers have become less interested in reading books!

Anyway, as the saying goes, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. We wish all customers and readers a happy and prosperous new year and decade.