24 Jun 2020

Last passenger train leaves town as Dunedin's Taieri Gorge Railway line is mothballed

1:53 pm on 24 June 2020

A locomotive and carriages used on Dunedin's Taieri Gorge Railway left the southern city this morning for the North Island.

A locomotive and carriages used on Dunedin's Taieri Gorge Railway leaving the city

Photo: RNZ

The engine and rolling stock had been leased by the city council owned Dunedin Railways, but they're no longer being used as the line has been mothballed with the loss of 50 jobs.

Some of those workers joined a group of two dozen supporters to see the locomotive off this morning.

Among them was Judy Trevathan, who had worked for the company for 16 years.

"It's actually quite sad watching our train go past and there's now a lot of knowledge and qualifications all just disappearing," Trevathan said.

"We're a small collective - like a family unit."

She remained hopeful the company would restart its excursions in future.

"We just wish and hope that we will be back working together again."

Dunedin Railways workers Courtney Kilner (left) and Judy Trevathan will be among those to lose their jobs next week.

Dunedin Railways workers Courtney Kilner (left) and Judy Trevathan will be among those to lose their jobs next week. Photo: RNZ

Courtney Kilner, a worker of five years, shared Trevathan's sentiments.

"The people that they are leaving in charge once we go into the mothball are great," Kilner said.

"There's a lot of hope that we'll be back. The train that left today, we're using it to signify the last train, but hopefully it's not. The carriages that are going were leased by the company ... but everything else we still own and as far as I'm aware there's no intention of selling them. They're going to try and keep them oiled and moving."

She recently visited Queenstown and saw what the return of local tourists had meant to that centre.

"It's just busy as normal, everything is running. Everyone's been set free, we can do things again and I don't see why we couldn't be one of those things that everyone comes to do," she said.

The pair were thankful for the support of the community.

Mothballing hard to swallow

Keep Dunedin Rail Rolling spokesperson Dave Kearns said that support made it so hard to swallow the mothballing of Dunedin Railways' assets.

"We certainly have their [Dunedin City Council's] support in principle. The way the company is set up through the DCHL [Dunedin City Holdings Limited] they are unable to cause the board of Dunedin Railways to change their plans.

"It's kind of a bizarre situation when with public support, owner support in the form of the DCC, political support even as far as central government, that there are only two individuals who are hell-bent on closing this thing and as yet we are unable to change their minds."

Today was a sad day for rail workers in Dunedin, Kearns said.

"Despite the fact that there are no paying passengers on board, this may be the last passenger train that people see operated by Dunedin Railways.

"It's quite a sombre moment to see that. And it's indicative of their plans and the more we hear the back-story to this mothballing the more we think that financial mismanagement in the lead up to it is the real reason for the effective closure of the company rather than the Covid lockdown."

The workers with support from the Rail and Maritime Transport Union intended to fight any closure of Dunedin Railways, and were still lobbying to keep the 51 workers in their jobs before the operation was formally mothballed on 30 June, he said.

Labour's Taieri candidate, and Rail and Maritime Transport Union member, Ingrid Leary said keeping rail in the city was a "no-brainer".

"The future for Otago includes rail, particularly at this time when we're needing a stimulated economy, it's a green solution and people should be looking to retain jobs," she said.

"It's a really sad day for those people losing their jobs . . . and I do hope the council can reclaim ownership of this. Those people who have been elected to make decisions should be pulling their weight and making the right decisions."

The council agreed to meet up to $1.05 million of the ongoing costs of mothballing Dunedin Railways from next week.

The costs included the retention of a small number of staff, and the storage and maintenance of key assets such as locomotives, carriages and power vans.

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