TranzAlpine journey turns 30

A special train journey was held today to mark 30 years of KiwiRail's TranzAlpine route through spectacular scenery from Christchurch to Greymouth.

Celebrations were held at both destinations.

In Christchurch, a birthday cake was served and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra entertained guests as they boarded the train.

John Bennett, who was then Southern Regional Manager for New Zealand Railways and a driving force behind the TranzAlpine, shared some history of the train’s beginnings.

The TranzAlpine got a warm welcome when it arrived in Greymouth in the afternoon, where it was greeted by a large crowd.

Among guests at the events were many of those who were involved in the TranzAlpine’s beginning, and on-board staff from the first ever trip.  They were joined by tourism industry figures, local dignitaries, KiwiRail staff, passengers and members of the public.

The first TranzAlpine service departed Christchurch on 22 November in 1987. The journey between Christchurch and Greymouth covers 223km one-way, taking just under five hours.

During the trip, passengers pass through 16 tunnels, the longest of which is the 8.5km Otira Tunnel, and cross four viaducts, including the 75m Staircase Viaduct.

The TranzAlpine was recently named one of the world’s top scenic train journeys by National Geographic Traveler.

The TranzAlpine crossing the Waimakiriri River. Photo: KiwiRail
The TranzAlpine crossing the Waimakiriri River. Photo: KiwiRail


The Midland Line was first traveled by loco, then railcar. The Otira Tunnel is 'The hole in the hill'. On the west, there were refreshment stops at Stillwater (the train set out from Ross), and Otira. The series of alpine tunnels were always a thrill. Guards closed windows at snowline. Oldsters remember the 2.20 am 'Nihil Utile Quod Non Honestum', the 'Press Car' taking the morning paper to Greymouth by 5.30.

More like 30 years to travel 150 miles