Council nips hasty rail closure decision in bud

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
A decision to cancel Middlemarch trains has been temporarily stopped in its tracks after intervention from the Dunedin City Council.

Dunedin Railways yesterday announced it would no longer provide the service to the town, which in recent years has run about 20 times annually.

This would mean trains going as far as Pukerangi, which is about 18km from Middlemarch and 116km from Dunedin.

Council chief executive Sue Bidrose said it only heard about the decision late yesterday.

Subsequently, Dunedin Railways’ parent company Dunedin City Holdings Ltd spoke to the train operator.

Dr Bidrose was then assured no decision would be made until the community and the council had been consulted.

An email to councillors last night said a consultation period had begun to assess the costs and benefits of the Middlemarch service and a discussion would be held with the council before a decision was made.

Strath Taieri Community Board chairman Barry Williams said he was happy the decision was "on hold" because of council intervention.

"I was pretty gutted, aye, I’m a local boy. It just came out of the blue."

He was frustrated at the lack of consultation, he said.

"I know things change — look, everything changes, economics, and all sorts of things — but it was set up before cruise ships were involved and we’ve become second fiddle to cruise ships."

The decision would hurt the town economically, he said.

"I know they’ve got to make money, but there are other values that come into it for a city."

Dunedin Railways chief executive Craig Osborne said yesterday afternoon cruise ship tourism was one of the reasons for the route’s cancellation as the 6.5 hour return trip did not fit with a day visit.

"It’s just too long a trip to run on cruise ship days."

There was also a push in general for shorter trips, he said.

"The third factor is the cost of the maintenance of the Middlemarch track and maintenance of trains when we don’t go there that often."

No decision had been made regarding the future of that section of rail.

Two Middlemarch trips will run this month, but none are booked for January or February.

Middlemarch was home to one end of the popular Otago Central Rail Trail, but travellers were usually transported to Pukerangi by tour providers if they wanted to catch the train, Mr Osborne said.

When contacted again later last night he said the railway would consult the community in the new year to "work out where we need to go".

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Surely there's a way to maintain a regular rail service into Middlemarch?
If it's a simple revenue issue, chuck a goods wagon on the back of each train and take general freight up.
It'll get a few trucks of the road and it'll put the money back in the council's pocket.
Good on ya Sue for putting a hold on the decision!

Craig Osbourne states, "It’s just too long a trip to run on cruise ship days."
There was also a push in general for shorter trips, he said.

Well, why not run the train from the Port to the City Railway Station? I would have thought this was obvious. It would also reduce demand on the buses and the road to the Port, not to mention free up the city centre from all those ugly noisy smoking buses.

Buzz,
Most cruisers ride on trains that depart Pt Chalmers and go to Pukerangi. But they don't want to spend the whole of their one day in Dunedin on the train. And neither do the shop keepers of Dunedin.

Good thinking. W also need the cable car to Mornington up High St. Give our tourists a well as the locals something extra to enjoy

I hope that just for once, the business case for keeping the Middlemarch trains going is made public and explained to all.
Obviously Dunedin Railways are trying to remain profitable and viable. Do ratepayers want to pour $500,000 or so into the railways to keep the trains going?

It would be nice to extend the train to Alexandra or beyond. But could it be paid for and run profitably. No. At some point ratepayers ability to pay for all the frivolities has to be considered.

Good call DCC - stopping at Pukerangi seems rather short-sighted.

Very short-sighted of Dunedin Railways. If they made the journey affordable for a family to transport their bicycles, many more people would use it as having a day trip on the cycle trail and Middlemarch would continue to thrive. What about having a decent rail system for residents and not just day visitors?

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