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A once-popular long-distance passenger train service between Dunedin and Christchurch could be back on track by June next year.
The route is being considered by KiwiRail while the Coastal Pacific service from Picton to Christchurch is out of action, a KiwiRail spokesman confirmed yesterday.
Enterprise Dunedin chief executive John Christie welcomed the potential resumption, from June next year, as an ``exciting possibility'', with ``huge potential'' for the Dunedin and Otago economy.
Mr Christie hoped that the service would be resumed, and that it could be continued beyond a temporary measure, subject to KiwiRail's assessment of its commercial viability.
Resuming a Southerner-style service between Christchurch and Dunedin would be not only attractive to international tourists, but would also appeal to some domestic commuters, for whom the train could be an appealing transport alternative, he said.
The rail track to Dunedin offered strikingly attractive views of the coast, which would clearly add to the appeal.
A resumed train service would also offer benefits to other places, such as Oamaru and Palmerston, as well as Dunedin, and Enterprise Dunedin would be keen to talk to KiwiRail about the possibilities.
The potential new service would offer both a ``new product''- an attraction in itself- and also a means of bringing more people south, also with economic benefits, he said.
The KiwiRail spokesman said it had redeployed carriages from the Coastal Pacific to increase the number of seats available on the TranzAlpine and Northern Explorer services and was assessing other potential service options for the carriages.
That included between Dunedin and Christchurch, which could be used until the Coastal Pacific was fully operational again.
But no new service was likely before at least June next year, he said.
The Coastal Pacific service has been cancelled because of the damage to the main north line caused by the Kaikoura earthquakes.
Dunedin Railways operations manager Grant Craig said that, for the benefit of rail, this would be a good idea, but he felt patronage on a new train service ``could be limited'' over winter, which was also a quiet time for Dunedin Railways.
Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said the recent earthquakes could mean that more people would travel south from Christchurch, rather than heading north, which would benefit the Waitaki area.
And it would bring more people to the Oamaru and Palmerston areas, which both had a ``lot of potential'' to attract visitors, he said.
Labour Dunedin North MP David Clark said it was ``delightful'' KiwiRail might reinstate the service.
``Even if only for a limited period of time, I am sure the scenic train will be supported by locals enthusiastic about rail.''
It would also provide an opportunity to test the appetite of an increasingly sophisticated international tourism sector in the South.
He praised KiwiRail for ``giving this a push''.
And he hoped that KiwiRail ensured that any Dunedin to Christchurch offering was ``guaranteed for a decent amount of time, and advertised broadly''.
It would be the return of a familiar service. The ``Southerner'' train ran a passenger service six days a week between Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill between 1970 and 2002.
The service attracted strong patronage in the early years, particularly between Dunedin and Christchurch, a service with four stops.
A later decline in patronage led to the closure of the passenger train service in 2002.