Taieri Gorge Railway Ltd chairman John Farry is stepping
down after more than two decades helping the popular
tourist train enterprise grow. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
John Farry is sure he is alighting at the right stop. Mr
Farry, the chairman of Taieri Gorge Railway Ltd since its
inception, yesterday stepped down from the role after more than
20 years at the controls.
But the man who was a key figure in saving the popular
tourist train when it faced at uncertain future in 1990, was
yesterday confident he was leaving the operation in good
He had guided the service from a ''hobby operation'' offering
infrequent excursion train services, to one that offered
regular daily services and excursions that acted as a magnet
for cruise ship tourists.
Last year the railway even turned a small profit, he said.
Asked yesterday if he was leaving the railway operation in
good health, Mr Farry predicted it would continue to go
''from strength to strength''.
''I wouldn't leave otherwise. I think it's in very good
It was confirmed yesterday Mr Farry would be replaced by
incoming chairman Geoff Thomas, a director of Dunedin
International Airport Ltd.
Mr Farry's departure was one was of four from Dunedin City
Holdings Ltd and its subsidiaries announced yesterday, along
with the appointment of four new directors.
Mr Farry had been recruited in 1990 to head a community
fundraising drive to save the deteriorating train, which
faced an uncertain future after the Minister of Railways
announced plans to close the Otago Central railway line.
The council immediately announced plans to purchase the line
for $300,000, but only if the community raised another $1
million to rejuvenate the train service, operated at the time
by the Otago Excursion Train Trust.
The goal was exceeded when - through the efforts of Mr Farry
and many supporters - the amount raised reached $1.2 million,
In 1995, the trust and council together formed a new
operating company, Taieri George Railway Ltd, as a local
authority trading enterprise (Late), with the council taking
a majority share.
The company later became part of Dunedin City Holdings Ltd's
stable of council-controlled organisations.
Passenger numbers had multiplied in the years since, to hit
80,000 last year, while turnover had increased to $5 million
in 2012-13, and was still rising, he said.
The company also employed 40 fulltime-equivalent staff, while
being helped by another 70 essential volunteers, he said.
More importantly, it was also now an attraction for the city,
Mr Farry said.
The train trip's spectacular scenery, as well as the
significant mark-ups cruise ship operators could make on
tickets, were among the reasons Dunedin received the same
number of cruise ship visits as Auckland, he believed.
''It brings a hell of a lot of people to the city each
season, and it just gets bigger and bigger,'' he said.
He said his own knowledge of trains had increased over the
years since he first climbed aboard a locomotive and asked:
''Where's the steering wheel?''.
Mr Farry paid tribute to the men behind the early service,
George Emerson and Arthur Rockliffe, and the directors, staff
and volunteers who had helped make the operation work in the
That included long-serving chief executive Murray Bond, who
''gives his heart and soul'' to the service, Mr Farry said.
''All in all, it's been a very interesting experience to see
something grow from nothing to what it is today.''