Group raising $800k to maintain KiwiRail line for historic train

2:48 pm on 20 December 2022
WA165 Steam train

The Gisborne City Vintage Railway Group was formed in 1985 to restore the abandoned Wa165 locomotive to its former glory which was achieved in 1999. Photo: LDR / Gisborne Herald / Liam Clayton

A Gisborne train group needs to raise $800,000 for repairs to a KiwiRail line so its fabled steam locomotive can continue its usual route.

Between October and June, the lovingly restored Wa165 runs charter and public excursions from the port area to Muriwai - a 34km round trip.

But the organisation behind the trips, Gisborne City Vintage Railway group, said repair and maintenance work needed to be completed on sections of the route.

As part of its agreement with KiwiRail for using the line, the cost for that falls on them. The maintenance needed to be undertaken to guarantee the future of the group's operation beyond the next few years, railway group president Geoff Joyce said.

"The track is safe for us to use at the moment but there comes a time when routine maintenance needs to be done."

The railway group pays to use the line under a licence to occupy agreement made with KiwiRail in 2015.

As well as paying that fee, the group was also responsible for maintenance on the line and bridges in the sections it used, KiwiRail executive general manager property Olivia Poulsen confirmed.

The line follows a small section of the Gisborne to Napier line which was mothballed in 2012 following storm damage.

In June, several East Coast councils banded together in hopes the government would support a business case worth $6.38 million to reinstate the whole line.

External funding of up to $80m would be required for the job, with significant work on the Wairoa to Gisborne section where slips have washed away large chunks of the line.

Joyce reiterated the section of line used by the group was still safe to use.

"At the time that we took that [the licence to occupy] on, we were perfectly aware of the condition of the track and bridges, and we had to do some immediate remedial work so that we could operate.

"That involved replacing all the sleepers on one bridge."

The line is also shared with Gisborne Railbike Adventure which runs cycling tours out to Beach Loop.

Business director Geoff Main said his organisation was not affected by the maintenance requirements as there was "a fair bit of difference between a railbike and a steam train".

"We have a clause in the lease that says we can operate under special conditions because of the weight difference," Main said.

Gisborne City Vintage Railway Group made headlines last month when it was revealed a bridge it had previously used was no longer safe.

The Tūranganui River railway bridge, which is the responsibility of Eastland Group, was deemed unsafe for the Wa165 steam train following a routine structural assessment earlier in the year.

Credit: Liam Clayton/Gisborne Herald. Caption: The Wa165 crossing the Tūranganui River railway bridge in 2017. The bridge was recently found to be unsafe for the train, without “significant remedial work” being undertaken.

The Wa165 crossing the Tūranganui River railway bridge in 2017. The bridge was recently found to be unsafe for the train, without "significant remedial work" being undertaken. Photo: Liam Clayton/Gisborne Herald.

The Wa165 had previously used the bridge to access the port area for cruise ship passengers, and was now relying on a bus provided by Trust Tairāwhiti for boarding.

Joyce would not say how much the group had raised so far, but said he was "hopeful" it would meet its target.

Last Thursday, a press release from Trust Tairāwhiti revealed the development agency had gifted the group $280,000 to help with repair work on seven rail bridges used by the Wa165.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

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