Flyer steaming off again

The Kingston Flyer starts up for its first trip of the year after the boiler of locomotive Ab 795 was fixed during December. Photo by Olivia Caldwell.
The Kingston Flyer starts up for its first trip of the year after the boiler of locomotive Ab 795 was fixed during December. Photo by Olivia Caldwell.
More than 60 passengers climbed aboard the Kingston Flyer on a quiet, wind-chilled Kingston morning yesterday.

About 15 onlookers gathered around the tracks, waved off the shiny carriages and were bid farewell by the shrieking whistle, as the Flyer headed for Fairlight on a 90-minute return trip.

This was its second 14km journey since its New Year's Eve party to Fairlight. Safety inspectors stopped operations at the beginning of December because the boiler of locomotive Ab 795 needed work.

Owner David Bryce at the time said he had no choice but to put the service on hold for what would be its most busy time of the year and leave the Kingston business community in limbo.

His decision was criticised at the time and although Mr Bryce had returned the train to operation from its two-year dormancy, he was left feeling ownership of the train could be a thankless job and contemplated selling it again: ''It's not on the market, but I need to consider my health,'' he said.

He had not decided when he might sell the train, but promised it would be fully operational when he did.

''It's certainly special to a lot of people and I have been given the opportunity to make it operational for those people to enjoy. I appreciate the support we've had from the public in general.''

The train's operation was derailed in 2009 when former owner Kingston Acquisitions was placed in receivership, owing at least $4.7 million. There had been repeated interest for several years from freight and rail entertainment company Railmark, of Mississippi.

Mr Bryce, who grew up and farmed at Longridge near Lumsden, left the Marlborough vineyard he still owns in 2011 and bought the train.

''Somebody had to do it. It had been operational for 41 years prior,'' he said.

The train is said to have carried about 50 passengers a day during its 2008-09 season and more in the 1990s. Before December, Mr Bryce and his Flyer crew were expecting 20,000 people to ride the train between September and April 30, its seasonal closing date.

Its reopening in 2011 brought between 1500 and 2000 people to town - many more than yesterday's modest 200.

Mr Bryce yesterday said there were still some who wished the cobwebs were never wiped off: ''Some people still complain about the smoke, the pollution and the noise.''

He refused to say how much money he had spent on the train over the past 15 months but said the Flyer had not had a lot of money invested in it for the past four decades.

His original contract included the two steam locomotives, the vintage carriages, the Kingston Tavern, storage sheds, a 14km section of track to Fairlight, six residential lots and development land in the village, totalling about 80ha.

Since his purchase, tavern improvements have been noticed, the Flyer's website has gone live and the train has taken between 20,000 and 30,000 passengers since October 2011.