Hopes for suburban rail revival

[comment caption=Would you use a suburban train service?]Rail operators hope suburban rail excursions next month will force politicians and the public to "think to the future".

Taieri Gorge Railway chief executive Murray Bond said the company would offer morning and afternoon return services between Dunedin, Mosgiel and Port Chalmers on July 16 during "Suburban Train Revival Day".

"The carriages will be pulled by DE and DJ locomotives, and excursions will be run so people can come into town for two and a-half hours to shop or take kids to school holiday activities . . . before returning home," he said.

The company anticipated the "novelty value" of the event would ensure several hundred travellers.

Excursions would resemble the daily suburban services which ran between Dunedin's city centre and suburban stations from the late 1800s until 1982.

If popular, the revival day might cause local body politicians and the public to think about rail as a viable mass transport alternative to road travel, he said.

"We have suggested through the media an investment of $30 million by central government could provide railcars for most of the country, but we would also encourage local government to get involved.

"If there's $188 million for a stadium, then surely there's money to invest in transport infrastructure."

Mr Bond said the cost of establishing suburban rail networks would be prohibitively high for private operators, and would occur only if new railcars and other assets were publicly owned and leased to operators.

"During a recent meeting with Tourism Dunedin, the city was mentioned as the railway capital of New Zealand, which I had never considered. Surely, we have to keep talking to capitalise on that," he said.

High track access fees and a business model which was based on tourism commitments meant the company was not looking at running regular suburban services.

"But you never know. We are committed to going for the tourist dollar in summer, but who says changes can't be phased in gradually if the demand existed?" he said.

Taieri Gorge Railway is 72% owned by Dunedin City Holdings.

Taieri Gorge Railway is investigating options for a new railcar which might operate between Dunedin and Oamaru. Such a service would primarily be used for tourists on the northern line, including trips for visitors on cruise ships, Mr Bond said.

He emphasised the company was making only preliminary inquiries with manufacturers, and would buy new assets only "if it stacked up as a good business decision".

A new railcar, which could cost "several million dollars", would be bought only if local and regional councils were prepared to defray costs.


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