Can’t Get There from Here

Three years ago André Brett — a historian at the University of Wollongong, now at Curtin University — emailed me with a proposition: he was writing a book on New Zealand’s passenger rail history, and, in his words, “It will need maps. The more the better.”

New Zealand used to have an extensive nationwide passenger rail network. Today, passenger rail is limited to urban services in Auckland and Wellington, three regional services, and three long-distance infrequent tourist services. André’s book would detail the historical context underpinning the network’s contraction; the maps would present the striking magnitude of the shrinkage. While other books on our railway history tend to focus on mechanics and operations, this book would focus on the people involved: planners, bureaucrats, politicians, and passengers.

In December 2021, Can’t Get There from Here: New Zealand Passenger Rail since 1920, published by Otago University Press, finally hit shelves. It’s been a long road to get this far, but I couldn’t be happier and prouder of the result. (I’ve also found it pretty surreal to see the book with my name on it in bookstores when travelling over summer!)

Hopefully in the next few weeks I’ll get a post up detailing my mapping process for this book. It wasn’t an easy project to work on, and certainly came with a unique set of hurdles to overcome.

“It will need maps. The more the better.”

The reception has been looking good too! Radio New Zealand had kind words to say about it late last year, and it’s made a bit of a splash on NZ transit/urbanism Twitter.


If you’re in New Zealand and want to pick up a copy, it’ll probably be in your local bookstore. These online stores also have it in stock at the time of writing:

The ISBN is 9781990048098 — Googling that should bring up a whole list of options for NZ and international shops.