Push to get Caversham tunnel project momentum

The Old Caversham Rail Tunnel group wants the Dunedin City Council to commit to a thorough investigation of redeveloping the disused Dunedin tunnel for cycle and pedestrian use. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
The Old Caversham Rail Tunnel group wants the Dunedin City Council to commit to a thorough investigation of redeveloping the disused Dunedin tunnel for cycle and pedestrian use. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
In 1907, Mr D. Reid petitioned the local council for public access; a similar proposal by the Dunedin Cyclist Coalition in 1978 had "merit" - now a Dunedin group is concerned plans to redevelop the disused Caversham Valley Rail Tunnel for cycle and pedestrian use will be ignored by the Dunedin City Council.

Proposals for next week's infrastructure services committee meeting, released yesterday, outlining two preferred options for the tunnel - to do nothing, or to investigate funding for a survey by 2009-10 - have been described by an upgrade advocate as "frustrating" and "a missed opportunity".

The report indicates paving and lighting the tunnel and protecting electric and water utility services could cost between $ 250,000 and $750,000.

Old Caversham Rail Tunnel group spokesman Gerard Hyland, of Dunedin, said the report was "almost a repeat of the submission made at a meeting in August".

"They had the opportunity to move to the next stage and Water And Waste [Services] have just deferred any decision. And there could be a two-year wait until for further investigations.

We have a Victorian era structure in good nick, apart from drainage, and we should be highlighting it. Instead, an asset of the city is being under utilised.

"It shouldn't just be a services conduit simply for private use by water and waste."

He first inquired about use of the tunnel in 2005 and called for a survey on costs of upgrading the 865m, 135-year-old structure in the 2006 annual plan submissions.

In 2006, Water and Waste Services put up a gate at the Kaikorai Valley entrance after identifying wet clay as a potential source of noxious gas.

The tunnel was opened to the public in 1910 and "since the 1960s its been a conduit for utilities with the public going through with no problems", Mr Hyland said.

A charitable trust could be formed to investigate options for the tunnel and a shorter structure at Chain Hill, which could provide links with the Otago Central Rail trail and access to the Taieri area for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders.

Mr Hyland questioned the estimated costs.

"There is no explanation of figures, which is one of the main things we wanted. We would estimate about $200,000; there's no way it's half-a-million, but I'm not an engineer."

City councillor and Central Otago Rail Trail trustee Kate Wilson said forming a charitable trust may give the project direction.

"Often these things can't happen as quickly as common-sense, staff, or the public would like. I will be suggesting an addition or alteration to recommendations so a charitable trust can come on board.

"Tunnel projects are not core, essential business [for council] but could be beneficial. Work done in partnership with a community group might speed up any process. The [Otago Central] rail trail is a good model for that. . . . there might be land ownership issues with development at Burnside and these need to be discussed now.

"I understand their frustrations but processes are there for good reason."