Flyer action criticised

The Kingston Flyer in action in September. Photo by Olivia Caldwell.
The Kingston Flyer in action in September. Photo by Olivia Caldwell.

Kingston Flyer staff say they were not consulted before the steam train service was suspended on Sunday but were told at a meeting at 3pm on Saturday of the decision to suspend tourist train operations for a month, because of safety concerns.

A driver of the Flyer for over 40 years, Russell Glendinning yesterday labelled the decision by the train's owner, David Bryce, a ''total overreaction'' and avoidable.

With its main tourist attraction out of action for a month over Christmas, the Kingston business community was sent into limbo when Mr Bryce announced the end of services until mid-January after leaks were found in the boiler of the locomotive Ab 778.

Mr. Glendinning told the Otago Daily Times that had the problem of a faulty boiler been discussed ''it could have been resolved on the spot."

''This could have been fixed in a couple of hours. It is a total overreaction by management."

Kingston Flyer owner of little more than 18 months David Bryce confirmed to the ODT on Sunday the train was for sale for an undisclosed price, because of concerns with his health.

Before Mr Bryce purchased the train business in September last year, it had been in receivership for nearly two years.

Last night, he said staff were notified on Friday night of an emergency meeting the next day to advise them the service was being suspended.

Mr Bryce said water leaks had the potential to extend cracks in the boiler and cause it to explode, and he had to take this action. But Mr Glendinning said yesterday ''there is absolutely no danger of explosion whatsoever''.

The main locomotive Ab 795 has sat idle and in need of a 10-year overhaul throughout the winter.

Inspectors advised Mr Bryce it was due for the service as early as March.

Mr Glendinning said if a decision had been made to repair the main locomotive earlier, they would not be in the situation of having no replacement locomotive. Mr Bryce says the main locomotive was sent for repair in June, but Invercargill's Gough Bros Engineering owner Graham Gough said it arrived a week into October.

The cost of the overhaul was understood to be between $100,000 and $150,000 for the two and a-half months' work. The service suspension has left 11 Kingston Flyer employees without work and Mr Bryce admits most would not be paid while the train was off the tracks. Kingston bed and breakfast owner Margaret Gibson said the community was shocked that the train service would be closed for a month during the town's busiest period.

''It's devastating, actually, right on Christmas time. There were programmes organised and events that will all have to be cancelled."

Mr. Gibson said the reintroduction of the Flyer last year meant the small town had been more vibrant.

''You didn't have that train getting covered in cobwebs behind closed gates, either.

The train was likely to be back in action by mid-January, but Mr Bryce was ''not making any promises''.