Long distance trains smells like teen spirit

We've heard many stories about how long-distance trains provide more travel choice open up the world for young people. Here are some of them.


Lindsey Horne

3/15/20234 min read

man on a train station
man on a train station

"When I was in my pre to mid-teens I used to regularly catch the train between Greymouth and Christchurch. At that time we lived in Punakaiki. It was just me and my mum. The train meant that I could travel alone or with a friend, sometimes to stay with my grandparents who lived in Christchurch and at one stage because my mum was in hospital in Christchurch. The train meant that I could be at school in Greymouth during the week (I stayed at the high school hostel once I started high school) and then travel to Christchurch for the weekends

…These days it’s much too expensive to use as a form of transport which I am very sad about. It would be great to still be able to travel in that way. It opens up transport opportunities for those who can’t drive or don’t want to drive. My teenage years when mum was unwell would have been much harder without that service."

45-49 Female, Canterbury

As part the parliamentary enquiry into inter-regional passenger rail, Women in Urbanism sent out a simple survey to New Zealanders, asking them to share their stories of what long distances trains meant to them. They received over 330 stories from over 130 New Zealanders.

One of the striking findings was how long-distance trains provided freedom for young people – and subsequently, their parents.

This makes sense, imagine you’re 16, in Whakatāne and its school holidays. Your parents are driving you batty (and vice versa) and your favourite band is playing Auckland. All you want to do is head up there with your best friend and see them. But you’re too inexperienced to drive there on your own, your folks won’t lend you the car because they’re too worried about you being on the roads and your car that you got cheap from a friend of a friend is old and unsafe. The bus only leaves once a day, it’s over $67 for a one-way ticket and travels via Rotorua so it’s almost a 7hour journey. Catching a bus or flight to Auckland from nearby Tauranga is also difficult because there’s only one connecting bus from Whakatāne and it doesn’t get you to the connecting Tauranga bus or airport in time.

We heard many stories about how long-distance trains provide more travel choice open up the world for young people. Freedom for teenagers also means freedom for their parents - having the teens out of the house opens up freedom for parents and caregivers. Car crashes are one of the major killers of New Zealanders in general, and car crashes are the biggest killer of our teenagers. Having a safe, affordable and comfortable way can also remove very real anxiety and concerns about having loved ones on the roads.

"As a young teen I would often spend my school holidays on a farm that family friends owned out on the cost near Blackhead beach in Hawke's Bay. My mum was parenting alone, and it gave us both a change of scenery. But these trips also gave me something more - a sense of independence and freedom, and a big part of that was the train trip. I would get in in the central Wellington train station and spend a glorious 4 hours alone, knowing I was both safe on the train (the conductor would always pop by to check on me at some point) but also free from adult demands."

40-44 Female, Wellington

"Te Huia allows me to go and see my family more often who live in Auckland (I live in Hamilton) as it is more convenient and affordable than other options. I am always surprised at how full the service is, one time there were no seats available but I was okay with it as it was cool to see so many people using the service. I like that there’s WiFi allowing me to use my phone or laptop for study. I am a student and it really helps to have the space and be able to work on the journey to and from home. It also means I am able to have more time when I come to see friends and family as I can do anything I need to do on the train. I’ve been able to make events that I otherwise would not have been able to because of this.

If more long-distance options were available I would 100% use them given they run on affordable fairs like the Te Huia service.

The trains provide an excellent opportunity to reduce emissions and help save gas given its current price and I think it would also promote more interregional travel."

18-24 Female, Waikato

"I grew up in the Netherlands and have been independently training since I was like 12. Going to the big city (Amsterdam) for some serious shopping, or when I went to University, I used it every day to head to The Hague (in the Netherlands students travel for free all over the country during weekdays)."

40-49 Female, Auckland

"The Southerner, I've caught it anywhere between Picton and Oamaru, different places along the way. It was a mode of transport when I was in my very early 20's and didn't want to drive the distance to see my whanau or have a car to do this. I loved the calm of being on the train, the ability to get a snack and enjoy the view and just rattle along the rails enjoying the calm of not being on the open roads and not worrying about any other drivers!!"

50-54 Female, Wellington

Teenagers are like an indicator species - if it can work for them i.e. those who can't drive, need some extra care and support, like to travel in groups and be social - it can work for other New Zealanders. In particular, those who are not confident travellers, solo travellers, those with accessibility needs, those who can't drive or don't want to drive.

In addition, the recent climate protests throughout Aotearoa New Zealand are showing that many teenagers and younger people are deeply concerned about climate change. They are demanding change. We need to provide low emission options for their travel.

woman holding phone
woman holding phone