Otago Daily Times

Dunedin's back on track

- GRANT MILLER and JOHN LEWIS

SCENIC train trips from Dunedin will be tri­alled this sum­mer to test whether do­mes­tic tourists and Otago res­i­dents are keen to jump on board.

The as­sets of Dunedin Rail­ways Ltd have been in hi­ber­na­tion since July, but some will re­turn to the tracks on De­cem­ber 20 for a three­month trial to see who might oc­cupy seats tra­di­tion­ally filled by over­seas tourists.

Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins an­nounced yes­ter­day the Dunedin City Council had agreed to un­der­write a lim­ited sea­son of rail ser­vices that would al­low The Seasider (Dunedin to Wai­tati and back) and The In­lan­der (Dunedin to Hin­don and back) to run on Sun­days.

The Seasider will of­fer views along the Pa­cific coast, in­clud­ing the Otago Penin­sula and Otago Har­bour.

The In­lan­der trip will fea­ture gorges, bridges and tun­nels and fol­low part of the route con­structed dur­ing Otago’s gold rush.

More ser­vices may be added if there is de­mand.

The trial will cost the council up to $65,000 a month, off­set by rev­enue.

The council will also meet on­go­ing costs con­nected to the com­pany’s con­tin­u­ing hi­ber­na­tion.

Be­fore Covid­19 de­railed the in­ter­na­tional tourism sec­tor, about 80% of Dunedin Rail­ways’ cus­tomers were in­ter­na­tional tourists and more than 25% came from cruise ships.

Dunedin City Hold­ings chair­man Keith Cooper said Dunedin Rail­ways had not fo­cused or in­vested in the do­mes­tic tourism mar­ket, be­cause of the in­flux of in­ter­na­tional trav­ellers.

‘‘That was great at the time, but putting all our bets on one horse has come back to haunt us all.’’

Mr Cooper said stun­ning scenery was a fea­ture of the routes, but pro­mot­ers planned to take a ‘‘scenery plus’’ ap­proach to present pack­ages that could ap­peal to Otago res­i­dents and visi­tors.

That was likely to in­clude themed trips.

‘‘We’re run­ning shorter ver­sions of the trips, we’re go­ing to be pretty nim­ble, be adap­tive to de­mand, be more fo­cused on de­liv­er­ing a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence that at­tracts dif­fer­ent au­di­ences, and we’re ready to test what de­mand for this is like.’’

Mr Hawkins hoped the New Zealand pub­lic would jump at the chance to ride the rails again.

‘‘This is the opportunit­y that our lo­cal com­mu­nity and our visi­tors have, to see whether it’s a vi­able propo­si­tion, in a tourism mar­ket that doesn’t have in­ter­na­tional visi­tors con­tribut­ing to it.’’

Dunedin Venues Man­age­ment will run the project and its ‘‘A Sum­mer of Trains Not Planes’’ pro­mo­tion will start with a Santa Ex­press train on De­cem­ber 20.

The sum­mer trial comes amid lin­ger­ing long­term un­cer­tainty about how the rail­way com­pany’s as­sets should be used.

The council­owned train com­pany had forecast on­go­ing losses of about $500,000 a year and chal­lenges were then com­pounded by the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

Dunedin Rail­ways closed its doors on March 23, then went into hi­ber­na­tion.

About 50 peo­ple lost their jobs and six re­mained to main­tain the com­pany’s as­sets.

Mr Cooper said a hand­ful of ad­di­tional peo­ple would need to be em­ployed dur­ing the trial.

The council is await­ing a re­port set­ting out op­tions for the longer­term fu­ture of Dunedin Rail­ways.

Re­sults of the trial are ex­pected to in­form that.

Rail and Mar­itime Transport Union Otago Branch sec­re­tary and Keep Dunedin Rail Rolling cam­paign spokesman Dave Kearns wel­comed the trial.

He hoped es­tab­lish­ing a reg­u­lar ser­vice would lead to skilled staff be­ing re­hired.

The lim­ited ser­vice is not a re­launch of the com­pany.

How­ever, Mr Cooper said the com­pany had a lim­ited amount of rolling stock that was ready to go at short no­tice. This did not in­clude her­itage car­riages.

Mr Cooper said peo­ple had been call­ing out for Dunedin

Rail­ways as­sets to be used and the trial pro­vided a chance to see what could be sus­tain­able.

‘‘It’s a bit of a test case to see what sort of prod­ucts will at­tract do­mes­tic tourism to Dunedin Rail­ways.’’

A fam­ily ticket (two adults, two chil­dren) for The In­lan­der will cost $130, an adult fare $55 and a ticket for a child (un­der 16) $25.

A fam­ily ticket for The Seasider will cost $95, an adult fare $38 and a child’s ticket $18.

 ??  ??
 ?? PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY ?? Out of hi­ber­na­tion . . . Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins (left) and Dunedin City Hold­ings Ltd chair­man Keith Cooper cel­e­brate af­ter the Dunedin City Council agreed to un­der­write a lim­ited sea­son of Dunedin Rail­ways ser­vices this sum­mer.
PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY Out of hi­ber­na­tion . . . Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins (left) and Dunedin City Hold­ings Ltd chair­man Keith Cooper cel­e­brate af­ter the Dunedin City Council agreed to un­der­write a lim­ited sea­son of Dunedin Rail­ways ser­vices this sum­mer.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand