22 Nov 2020

Dunedin Council steps up to offer summer tourist rail service

12:08 pm on 22 November 2020

The Dunedin City Council will underwrite a limited season of tourist rail services this summer.

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

The services will run until the end of March. Photo: RNZ

Dunedin Railways locomotives and carriages will be brought out of hibernation temporarily to provide the service.

The Trains Not Planes promotion will start with a Santa Express train on December 20, to be followed with two services each Sunday - the Inlander service to Hindon, and the Seasider service to Waitati - until the end of March next year.

The project was expected to cost about $65,000 per month in addition to the company's existing hibernation costs, which were being met by the council. While project costs would be at least partly offset by revenue, it was difficult to predict how much in the current tourism environment.

Hawkins said it was not a relaunch of the company, but the council was pleased to offer at least one more summer of the railway's iconic journeys.

"We've been left under no illusions about the level of public support for this iconic stretch of railway," he said.

"This is now the opportunity to see how it resonates at the box office for locals and visitors alike."

He stressed this was at present a one-off chance.

"Wider decisions about the future of the company are yet to be made, and for now this is a one-off opportunity while Council awaits a report setting out options for the longer-term future of Dunedin Railways," Hawkins said.

"In the meantime, we hope residents and visitors to Dunedin alike will take the chance to climb aboard and see the city from a train."

Dunedin Venues Management would operate the project and a small number of fixed term seasonal staff would be employed to supplement the existing Dunedin Railways hibernation team.

Trains could operate safely over summer without needing to address Dunedin Railways' track deferred maintenance needs, which were highlighted by DCHL earlier this year. Decisions on the deferred maintenance requirements would be addressed when the council received a final report on long-term options in early 2021.

Dunedin City Holdings chairperson Keith Cooper said work to evaluate long-term options was progressing well.

"We are now down to a short-list of options. These are being refined before we issue a final report to Council in early 2021. The Trains Not Planes project will generate a range of insights that will be valuable for that report."

The short-listed options look different to Dunedin Railways' previous business model, as expected, he said.

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