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#WFT: Ditch the plane and take the train says sustainability chief

Peter Griffin, Editor. 06 December 2022, 11:42 am

If you are regularly travelling between Auckland and Wellington, Vector’s Prageeth Jayathissa has some advice for you: block out a day in your calendar and do some ‘focus’ work while you take the train.

That might seem excessive, given that the Northern Explorer train journey takes nearly 11 hours and there are only 3 southbound and 3 northbound services a week. But Jayathissa, the general manager of sustainability at the Auckland-based lines company has made the trip has decided to make the trip his regular means of travel to Wellington.

“Flights to Wellington are my largest source of carbon emissions. Now that our intercity [tourist] train is running again, I gave it a go,” he explained in a Linkedin post titled #WFT: Working from Train.

Jayathissa’s reasoning is that with travel to and from the airports, waiting around in departure lounges, plus the flights themselves, he loses four hours of productive time for each trip to the capital. But he found that mobile data connectivity was sufficient enough to keep him productive most of the way along the scenic route, which takes passengers through the central plateau, with breathtaking views to distract you from your work.

Jayathissa even wrote a python script to check the mobile data speed every 90 seconds during his trip for the whole journey. As the graph he created shows, the mobile connectivity was sufficient for productive work during much of the trip.

Screenshot 2022-12-06 at 10.56.58 AM.png

Source: Prageeth Jayathissa, LinkedIn

“Note that I sometimes lost internet, not because of mobile data, but because of a hotspot tether failed, or my laptop fell asleep while I was taking a break,” Jayathissa points out.

The big downside, he suggests, is a lack of power ports except in the train’s cafe “which means you have to buy a scone every time your battery dies”. Not all seats have tables, and cradling a laptop for hours on end would be uncomfortable.

“If you get motion sickness easily, the train is still a little bumpy,” he adds. 

A working car complete with tables and power points would attract more working travellers, Jayathissa says. He also has some views about the infrastructure upgrades required to shorten the journey and make it more sustainable.

“A reform to unlock the barriers to rail investment. Just think that a 120km/h train, which is possible with our rail gauge could get us from Wellington CBD to Auckland CBD in 6h,” he writes.

“To electrify the final segment of our rail corridor. While the diesel train uses 3x less emissions than a plane, we need an electric train to get to net-zero.”

Screenshot 2022-12-06 at 11.38.07 AM.png

The Northern Explorer: source Rail New Zealand

And what about the price? A Northern Explorer rail trip leaving Auckland December 12 and returning from Wellington on December 14 would cost $438. Then you need to factor in two nights' accommodation in the capital - say $400. That’s $838. What can Air New Zealand get you to and from Wellington on the 12th for? $662 booking at this late stage, and you’d be there and back in a day. Of course, you could mix it up, taking the train one day and flying the other, reducing your overall emissions in the process. And the idea immersing myself in focus work for a full, uninterrupted with the beautiful North Island scenery gliding by sounds like bliss.

Jayathissa’s tips for future 'working from train' folk:

- Block your calendar in advance and allocate the day for focus work (reading/writing/coding/designing)

- Make sure that you have everything pre-downloaded for the central plateau due to lack of internet. Or use it as an elongated lunch break to charge laptops

- Opt for phone calls rather than online calls

- The stretch from Palmerston North - Wellington has the best network. The first hour in Auckland is good too

- Bring a cup and cutlery as the cafe only has single-use

- Max out the open-air carriage


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