Tim Walker’s Steam

After 15 years of restoration the Ab 608 Passchendaele steam locomotive along with its vintage train is set for its maiden South Island tour and as always, it will be leaving behind its plumes of acrid hypocrisy.

Steam trains have always struck me as a peculiar sight in modern New Zealand, especially when one considers the effort that’s been put into cleaning up the nation’s – the world’s – skies.

The name is somewhat deceptive: regarding steam trains it’s not actually the steam that’s the issue; it’s the inordinate quantity of coal burned in order to create that steam; given their primary discharge they probably ought to be called smoke trains, but they’re not are they, they’re called steam trains because everybody loves steam…

The Ab 608 Passchendaele will travel to Invercargill where it will then make its way back up the nation, stopping off at Dunedin, Oamaru, and Christchurch during this almost three week celebratory voyage.

…Approximately one tonne of coal is burned for every hour a steam train is in operation which, thinking of it, makes steam trains a ridiculously impractical means of transportation.

Taking into account efforts of governing bodies, the regulations that have put in place surrounding clean burning fires and such, to reduce Christchurch air pollution; then to have this Ab 608 Passchendaele monstrosity make its way over the land, belching out its millions of dirty log-burners worth of pollution in just a few hours’ of travel, suddenly, all those efforts are effectively negated.

Most people make a point to not mix trash with organic with recycling and yes, nowadays the majority are indeed mindful of their potential ‘carbon footprint’; some do their bit for the nation by driving a hybrid while some have gone totally electric – others choose to ride the rail.

Sure, these New Zealand built steam trains are pieces of historical wonder and granted, they are amazing contraptions that probably do deserve recognition, even celebration but realistically, this is the modern era.

Unnecessary polluting is currently the world’s greatest taboo.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Steim Loco Motif

Photography by Polly U Tonte


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