Rebuilding commuting plan off rails

The idea of commuter trains ferrying workers between Dunedin and Christchurch has gone on the backburner, but the Dunedin City Council still sees plenty of possibility in earthquake rebuilding work.

The possible return of commuter trains was suggested by council economic development unit manager Peter Harris in April, as plans for Dunedin's response to the rebuilding of Christchurch stepped up a gear.

However, Mr Harris told the Otago Daily Times the idea had "not gone anywhere" since, due to the logistical challenges faced by potential operators of the service.

"I think you've got to get to quite a big critical mass to make it worthwhile, and we just haven't got over that line."

The council had been approached by one unnamed potential operator - not KiwiRail or the Taieri Gorge Railway - about the possibility, but they had since "gone quiet", he said.

Instead, Mr Harris and the council's earthquake work facilitator, Graham Williams, had been examining the potential for Dunedin companies to build components in the city, then ship them to Christchurch.

"There are already people commuting [between Dunedin and Christchurch] but our 'Plan A' is to secure as much work as can be done off site as possible."

That could include components of buildings, or even complete buildings, needed as part of the rebuilding, he said.

"There are definitely opportunities there.

"It's whether they line up ... with what the Dunedin industry wants."

Talks were under way within Dunedin to see which companies were interested in being involved, and the costs involved, and the best way to freight products to Christchurch would also be considered, he said.

"I think there's a lot of people interested.

"They can see the construction industry down here has got a reasonably flat outlook, so they're pretty keen to look at how they're going to maintain and grow their business."

Mr Worthington had been in contact with Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority officials, and Mr Williams with the Canterbury Development Corporation while on several trips to Christchurch.

The feedback showed there was "certainly an openness" to work with Dunedin companies, Mr Harris said.

"They're really keen to try and work out where they're going to get the resources from, and if they can get them from Dunedin they're pretty keen on that."

Progress was "slower than everyone would like it to be", but expected to pick up by the end of year. Dunedin needed to be patient, he said.

"This is potentially a 20-year issue ... "


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