Strong support for trains

Strong support for the return of a suburban train service from Dunedin to Port Chalmers and up the north line to Waitati, Waikouaiti and Palmerston was apparent at a public meeting attended by more than 200 people in the Waitati hall this week.

The Otago Regional Council is to be petitioned to commission an independent study to establish the cost and viability of a commuter rail service.

More than 300 petition forms were handed out to be distributed between Ravensbourne and Palmerston. It is planned to present the completed petition to the regional council at the start of the 2009 annual plan process, "Bring Back the Train" spokeswoman Danielle Cameron said after the meeting.

A 48% increase in passenger numbers using public transport subsidised by the regional council had shown a reawakening in public transport over the past 12 months, Cr Michael Deaker told the meeting.

However, "light rail" was expensive - building a light rail line from the Gardens along George St to the Octagon and the Exchange was recently costed at $4.5 million and annual running costs would be $600,000.

The council had decided to use buses instead.

He noted the Palmerston Mini Bus Service was now carrying 11,000 passengers a year.

Cr Deaker was enthusiastic about expanding the bus services, but said subsidies would be needed.

Fifty-seater railcars could be constructed at the Hillside Engineering Group workshops in South Dunedin for a service to outer Dunedin suburbs, Hillside Engineering Group operations manager Andy Bisset told the meeting.

The Hillside Engineering Group was building passenger train sets for use on the Auckland suburban rail system. While the trains might be too big for Dunedin, railcars could be made at Hillside with some imported components, Mr Bisset said after the meeting.

Between 14 and 24 months would be needed for railcar construction. The Taieri Gorge Railway, which was part-owned by the Dunedin City, would be used by the city to introduce suburban rail services if these were viable, Dunedin City councillor Andrew Noone said at the meeting.

However, he wondered whether ratepayers should have to subsidise both bus and rail services north of Dunedin.

A commuter train should be trialled on the north line, member of Parliament for Dunedin North Pete Hodgson said at the meeting.

However, buying back the railway and rolling stock was a political decision by the Government which was not supported by all parties in Parliament, he said. Green Party MP Metiria Turei and National candidate for Dunedin North Michael Woodhouse also spoke in favour of a suburban rail service at the meeting.

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