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Mr Kearns appeared before Dunedin city councillors at an annual plan hearings session yesterday to pitch an approximately $250,000 trial of three services a day: one each at peak morning and afternoon times, and another in the middle of the day.
Mr Kearns, a locomotive engineer, said it was important to note "how quickly [infrastructure] can deteriorate when not in use".
That included track and rolling stock.
"It would save jobs that are under threat, it would keep the equipment rolling, and while there are a couple of challenges to this — one being access to the KiwiRail network, and another being that unfortunately at the moment there is a major repair going on in the Green Island-Abbotsford area — these challenges are not things that should stop us proceeding."
Cr David Benson-Pope said he was happy to look at how the council could facilitate the trial and "the potential mothballing was the best of the bad options in terms of protecting the asset".
He said there had been "no appetite by elected members when the discussion was raised previously to quit the asset and sell things ... any attempt to try other things, which is what we’ve asked for anyway, is very welcome".
The presentation was not listed on the council hearings schedule and videoconference restraints meant not all councillors’ questions to Mr Kearns were fielded.
Approached for comment after the presentation, Cr Lee Vandervis said he was "blocked from asking" about planning to ensure social distancing in carriages.
He said there were also "issues of how much a passenger rail service would need to be subsidised and who would pay [to do so]".
"That no passenger rail service in the South Island has been commercially viable for many years suggests that a very heavy subsidy would be required for any passenger rail service."