You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
Hopes for a return of a Christchurch to Invercargill passenger service were renewed yesterday after the Government announced it was spending $50,000 on a business case assessing whether the service was economically viable.
The move was welcomed by southern mayors yesterday who believed New Zealand’s tourism boom meant demand could be high enough to warrant reviving the service, which was cut back in 2002.
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said he was "very pleased" about yesterday’s announcement.
"We have been very supportive of this idea since it was first pitched by Timaru Mayor Damon Odey.
"Not only would a passenger train have benefits in terms of tourism dispersal throughout the South Island, it would open up options for commuters and help to ease road congestion," Mr Cull said.
He and others believed a strong business case was needed before such a service was funded.
"It’s pleasing to see the Government recognise the potential of this service for the South Island’s east coast and we’ll be eagerly watching progress."
Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said it could provide a tourism boost for districts along the route.
"It’s an opportunity that we think needs thoroughly investigated as tourism continues to grow.
"If it can be shown to be viable, we would absolutely see what we can do to support the concept," Mr Kircher said.
He believed it was possible the train route could become another "great train ride" and a much improved offering on the old Southerner.
Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt said bringing it back could provide a "fantastic boost" to tourism in the South.
Reducing the number of tourists taking to the roads could also lower the number of accidents and incidents of people driving on the wrong side of the road, Mr Shadbolt said.
He applauded the Government announcement.
"I think it’s a really good call because things change.
"All right, it may not have been viable in 2002, but we have had record increases in tourism, even in Southland."
He had fond memories of taking the Southerner when he worked on the Manapouri power project and said the view was better from trains.
"You are looking into people’s backyards and that’s often where their lives are more interesting than their prim and proper front yards."
A KiwiRail spokeswoman said it welcomed the announcement, but said it was too soon to say how it would be involved in the business case.
It always welcomed opportunities to utilise its network and would consider a new passenger services if there was enough demand, she said.
New Zealand’s tourism growth had resulted in increased demand for its existing passenger services, including its TranzAlpine, Northern Explorer routes.
The fresh hope for the passenger service comes after KiwiRail mooted bringing it back last year after earthquake damage put its Coastal Pacific service from Picton to Christchurch out of action.