Middlemarch rail excursions face financial threat

Otago Excursion Train Trust founding member Clark Simonds (left), trust life member Graeme Berry,...
Otago Excursion Train Trust founding member Clark Simonds (left), trust life member Graeme Berry, New Zealand Railway and Locomotive Society secretary Colin Barry, and South Island field officer Rail Heritage Trust of New Zealand Bruce Shalders. PHOTOS: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Fearing a future without trains in Middlemarch, an emotional crowd of about 70 heard Dunedin Railways chairman Kevin Winders explain how the "iconic Dunedin" tourism business needed to change last night.

A proposal to end trips to the Strath-Taieri town caught the community off guard earlier this month, but Mr Winders framed the Dunedin City Holdings company proposal at the Strath-Taieri Community Centre as short-term.

"We’re not looking to pull the track out," Mr Winders said.

"The natural human behaviour is to keep it open. But we are running a commercial organisation.

"Railways are a hard business. We run trains every day, all year round."

But this year, of Dunedin Railways’ 500 trips, 19 made it to Middlemarch.

The 18km from Pukerangi to Middlemarch added two hours to the otherwise 4.5-hour journey and it would cost up to $2million to "clean up" that section of track and then another $200,000 a year to maintain it.

An emotional crowd meets in Middlemarch last night.
An emotional crowd meets in Middlemarch last night.
Flattening tourism numbers — down 10% on the year to date — added to the challenge and the business in its current form was not sustainable.

He likened Dunedin Railways to a "mini KiwiRail" that operated on 60km of bridges, tunnels and tracks with a staff of 75 full-time equivalents.

Otago Excursion Train Trust founding member Clark Simmonds said the trust (still a 28% shareholder of Dunedin Railways) was started in 1978 in part to keep that section of line in use; he urged the company to "persist".

Rail and Maritime Transport Union Otago Rail Branch branch secretary Dave Kearns said he and the dozen union members present last night viewed the proposal as the "thin end of the wedge".

Jacquie Lucas presented on behalf of an "informal group" to test the community interest in a Strath-Taieri heritage park that featured the area’s railway, farming, ecology, and heritage buildings.

The survey distributed by Dunedin Railways last night was open until March 31. The company would present to the Dunedin City Council in April or May.

Comments

Maybe Middlemarch çan set up a sustainability/climate information center of such magnitude or importance that train trips are more warranted... Wished you had attracted the Eden Project.....

Im always annoyed that the govt of the day closed the top half of the line, the rails to Alex blossom festival was always a fantastic trip in its day. I do understand the expense of the line but perhaps the Middlemarch business community need to step up and keep their section of railroad maintained to show they are serious about keeping a link. In the real world a turnout of 70 passionate locals is brave and galant but Mosgiel is 20,000 population deep and they cannot even attract a return of a profitable daily railcar. I would however cringe to witness the Middlemarch line fall into a state of disrepair to a point of derelict, as there is never any coming back from that. So I say to Middlemarch business minds that you need to present a good plan and take on a bigger bite of railroad ownership to be in with a chance of Dunedin Railways success or buy a lotto ticket on Sat night.

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter