Call to revive Christchurch to Dunedin train

Idling rail carriages. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
A railway advocacy group is calling on the Otago Regional Council to investigate the possibility of reviving an inter-regional rail service from Dunedin to Christchurch.

Save Our Trains Ōtepoti-Dunedin will make a presentation to the council’s regional transport committee today.

Spokesman Dave Macpherson said his group wanted the regional council to conduct a study into the feasibility of an inter-regional rail service from Dunedin to Christchurch along with the feasibility of a local/commuter rail service on the Mosgiel/Dunedin/Port Chalmers line.

These services would ideally be funded through the public transport system, Mr Macpherson said.

He said there were several "imponderables" to consider before getting any service off the ground.

"You would have to consider the frequency of the service, how it would be funded, and the cost of the preparation and feasibility work ... it’s not something we want or expect to start straight away."

He said feasibility studies for the expansion of successful Te Huia service between Hamilton and Auckland cost about $100,000, which was funded by a mix of central and local government assistance.

"The study cost less than $1 per ratepayer ... and they didn’t have nearly as much inbuilt infrastructure as Dunedin has," Mr Macpherson said.

With the right government support, trains could provide affordable transport for people on low-incomes or otherwise unable to use cars, Mr Macpherson said.

"Inter-regional trains can provide easy domestic vacation options, lessening the need for air travel overseas or domestically for holidays."

Mr Macpherson said although the previous government invested $105 million into Hillside workshops, it did not promote passenger rail.

Dunedin Rail runs services on the Taieri Gorge line and the Main Trunk Line north to Oamaru.

Mr Macpherson said there was an opportunity to capitalise on the long history of rail in Dunedin.

It was also a climate change issue, he said.

"In Dunedin’s urban area, transportation accounts for 49% of greenhouse gas emissions, the biggest single contributor in the area. The ORC is responsible for public transport in this area.

"Fewer cars on our roads can help to make roads safer for all. But we’re not wanting to see the end of cars; we just want people to have a choice."

Save Our Trains Ōtepoti-Dunedin was established in August out of a public meeting at the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum in April.

It is a group of Dunedin residents who promote and support passenger and other rail initiatives in the Dunedin area, in the wider Otago region, and nationwide.

ORC public transport committee co-chairman Cr Andrew Noone said he looked forward to the presentation.

"From a land transport planning perspective, ORC is focused on providing public passenger transport through enhanced bus services to help move people into, out of, and around Dunedin," Cr Noone said.

"We will soon be considering with our community the recommendations of a business case to help encourage mode shift to greater bus use by providing higher frequency services.

"These services would be stepped up over the next decade if adopted through the long-term plan process."

Cr Noone said these proposed new services would include extending to early morning and late evening services.