Transmission Gully is open, but is it faster? Three journalists in a race along the coast towards the capital

It’s 7:24 a.m. in Paraparaumu, and three reporters and two photographers stand in the predawn darkness of the Coastlands parking lot. One is munching on a breakfast McMuffin, and all five have their eyes on the prize.

Wellington’s highly anticipated Transmission Gully opened to the public in the early hours of Thursday morning, and finding out which route is faster – the new motorway, the old coastal road or the train – are three reporters from Dominion Post writing.

Ben Strang, accompanied by visual journalist Ross Giblin, drove an electric car toward Transmission Gully, now State Highway 1.

Sophie Cornish and visual journalist Jericho Rock-Archer took a drive along the coast, former State Highway 1, now State Highway 59.

Whereas I (hi, I’m Kate) took the train from Paraparaumu station, a direct service to Wellington past Porirua.

READ MORE:
* Transmission Gully is finally open, but questions remain
* Driver’s guide to Transmission Gully: time saving, fuel points, safety checks and more
* Transmission Gully: A highway more than a century under construction

Dominion Post reporters, left to right, Ben Strang, Sophie Cornish and Kate Green.

Thing

Dominion Post reporters, left to right, Ben Strang, Sophie Cornish and Kate Green.

The new 27 kilometer section of SH1 has been touted as cutting the journey to Wellington from seven to 15 minutes for people coming from the north. It’s been in the works for years – the first groundbreaking shot was shot in 2014 – and has been delayed by almost every disaster imaginable – weather, earthquakes, surface flooding and, of course, a pandemic.

Spoiler alert: it was worth the wait.

I love taking trains. Feeling like a European influencer leaving for Paris, and dressed a little less glamorous, I board the 7:24 service and took his place. It was a clear morning and the car was only a quarter full.

The train ticket had only cost $11, the man at the ticket office said, because half the price started that day – although I was under the impression that it started on April 1, I don’t wasn’t going to argue.

Reporter Ben Strang and visual reporter Ross Giblin in the Coastlands car park before the race.

Jericho Rock-Archer / Stuff

Reporter Ben Strang and visual reporter Ross Giblin in the Coastlands car park before the race.

AT 7:32, my train arrived at Paekākāriki station, a pink and purple sunrise painting the sky outside. Meanwhile, Sophie has just turned onto the old coastal road. She said it wasn’t easy to figure out how to get to the road, but once they were on it, the flow was very fast and there was hardly any traffic.

“It’s really quiet,” she said on the phone with the office team. “There is no fog, and it is a beautiful morning.”

Ben’s location was a mystery for the first 15 minutes of the race, with reception spotty on the new route.

Ben and Ross arrived at the end of the road and returned to the reception. “There was no more traffic than expected,” Ben told the office team.

They had seen workers having a beer and looking at the road they had made, and the driving on the new road had been smooth, but it had become slower and more congested once they joined the old road at Towa.

Ross Giblin and Ben Strang leave Transmission Gully and join the existing SH59 in Linden.

Ross Giblin / Stuff

Ross Giblin and Ben Strang leave Transmission Gully and join the existing SH59 in Linden.

Ignoring the judging stares of fellow commuters, I took pictures, filmed through the train window, done The Dominion Post WordFit, and nailed the Wordle in three guesses. The benefits of taking the train were immediately apparent; no traffic, the ability to drink a coffee, great views, and the warmth of knowing my trip’s carbon footprint was low.

My train arrived at Mana station at 7:52, but only three minutes later, at 7:55 a.m., Sophie was almost at Newlands and speeding through the mist into the Ngāūranga Gorge.

I had started to worry that my confidence in the Coastlands parking lot (“Prepare to lose, suckers” might have been my parting words) was misplaced, but I reassured myself that others would come up against traffic when they reached the city.

Kate has time to read the newspaper during the train ride to town.

Thing

Kate has time to read the newspaper during the train ride to town.

A reader compared our mission to a British TV show Top of the line; “I imagine Ben is Jeremy, Sophie is Richard and Kate is James…” they wrote. And the comparison was fair; I was definitely Captain Slow.

Ben was two minutes from the office, Sophie only a few minutes. My train was arriving at Porirua, the rising sun casting a gleam through the fog as the train glided along the track. It was 7:58.

“Listen, losing to someone on the road isn’t really a loss,” I wrote. “I have the moral victory. #willsomebodythinkoftheclimate”

The next stop was Wellington. It was 8:03.

It was useless. Ben’s next update declared Transmission Gully the winner. “Sailing from Paraparaumu to Tawa was smooth with no delays on the new Transmission Gully route. Once in Tawa, the traffic thickened and the road slowed down to about 80 km/h. There is no doubt that crossing Transmission Gully is much faster than the old route.

He and Sophie were neck and neck as they entered the office. Both journeys took around 40 minutes, but there was some slight controversy; Ben had found parking before entering, while Sophie parked in a temporary parking lot closer to the office. Ben was declared the winner.

With the time difference between the two routes being smaller than expected, Ben pointed out that Transmission Gully would have cut traffic from the coastal route. “On a typical working day, this old route would take about 45 minutes,” he said. “So TG has cut that time by just over 10 minutes and also makes the old route much faster.”

Of course, I missed all of that. While Ben was crowned, I was still on the train somewhere between Ngāūranga and Wellington.

Ross Giblin and Ben Strang reach the final stretch of freeway before claiming victory as the first duo back in the office.

Ross Giblin

Ross Giblin and Ben Strang reach the final stretch of freeway before claiming victory as the first duo back in the office.

Got off the train at 8:17am and enjoyed a leisurely walk through town. I felt relaxed, awake and ready to face the day, and arrived half an hour after the others, at 8:35.

I firmly believe that active transportation is the future; it causes less pollution, you can check your emails without endangering anyone and the view is great. I would always choose the train any day.

Moral victory is always a victory, after all.

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