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Mayor Aaron Hawkins announced today that Dunedin City Council has agreed to under-write a limited season of rail services – for this summer only – using the assets of Dunedin Railways Ltd.
The company’s locomotives and carriages will be brought out of hibernation temporarily to provide the service, and Mr Hawkins hopes the public will jump on the chance to ride the rails again.
“We’ve been left under no illusions about the level of public support for this iconic stretch of railway.
“This is now the opportunity to see how it resonates at the box office for locals and visitors alike.”
Mr Hawkins stressed the limited service is not a relaunch of the company, “but we’re pleased to help deliver at least one more summer of iconic journeys making use of the company’s assets”.
“Wider decisions about the future of the company are yet to be made, and for now this is a one-off opportunity while Council awaits a report setting out options for the longer-term future of Dunedin Railways.
“In the meantime, we hope residents and visitors to Dunedin alike will take the chance to climb aboard and see the city from a train.”
The Trains Not Planes promotion will start with a "Santa Express" train on December 20. There will then be two services each Sunday – the Inlander service to Hindon, and the Seasider service to Waitati where passengers would have a 2-hour stop. Further services may also be added later if demand requires.
The Trains Not Planes promotion will run from 20 December until 31 March 2021. Services will be targeted to domestic tourists as well as Dunedin locals, families and train enthusiasts.
Dunedin Venues Management Ltd will operate the project and have provided further details on the services.
The project is expected to cost approximately $65,000 per month in addition to the company’s existing hibernation costs, which are also being met by DCC. Project costs will be at least partly offset by revenue, but it is difficult to predict how much in the current tourism environment.
A small number of fixed term seasonal staff will be employed to supplement the existing Dunedin Railways hibernation team.
Trains could operate safely over summer without needing to address Dunedin Railways’ track deferred maintenance needs, which were highlighted by DCHL earlier this year. Decisions on the deferred maintenance requirements will be addressed when Council receives a final report on long-term options in early 2021.
Dunedin City Holdings Ltd (DCHL) Chair Keith Cooper said work to evaluate long-term options was progressing well.
“We are now down to a short-list of options. These are being refined before we issue a final report to Council in early 2021. The Trains Not Planes project will generate a range of insights that will be valuable for that report.”
Mr Cooper said short-listed options look different to Dunedin Railways’ previous business model, as expected.