Bid to take TranzAlpine to Hokitika

The TranzAlpine pauses at Springfield in Canterbury before heading into the mountains. Photo:...
The TranzAlpine pauses at Springfield in Canterbury before heading into the mountains. Photo: Philip Somerville
Westland Mayor Bruce Smith is leading a bid to take the TranzAlpine tourist train to Hokitika.

He says extending the famous rail journey south from the historic terminus at Greymouth would boost economic growth in Hokitika.

The bulk of the infrastructure was already in place, he said. "The rail tracks already exist and are used daily by Westland Milk Products and have a natural turning area."

However, the Hokitika Railway Station was demolished about 40 years ago, and there is no turntable.

Under the mayor's idea, the Westland District Council would build a covered platform opposite the adjacent Hokitika i-Site, which would double as the ticketing office.

A concept document has now been circulated among Hokitika businesses and stakeholders to encourage buy-in.

It says the extra 40km would extend the Christchurch-Greymouth journey for rail visitors by 35 minutes and provide a "more tourist-friendly stop".

"Currently tourists disembark the train in Greymouth. In the near vicinity of the Greymouth train station there is little of interest for tourists.

''Nearby businesses include Noel Leeming, Postie Plus, The Warehouse and a few small cafes. This does not create a welcoming atmosphere which encourages visitors to stay and spend money. Reduced tourist spending affects the income of local businesses and families.

"By comparison, Hokitika has the infrastructure and activities to support a high volume of tourists. Community support for this project is strong."

The proposal also notes the links to daily Air New Zealand flights to Christchurch through the Hokitika airport, and the glacier attractions.

"This allows tourists the option to fly one way and do the train journey the other way. Hokitika is the gateway to the most popular tourism activities on the West Coast - the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. In summer there are 6000 visitors a night to the region.

"By extending the train journey to Hokitika, KiwiRail could encourage these 6000 daily tourists to take the train. Ending the train trip in Hokitika would create a more convenient departure point for onward journey to Franz Josef or Fox Glacier. However, visitors who wished to disembark in Greymouth for northern journeys to Punakaiki or Karamea would still be able to do so."

Hokitika businesses were encouraged to back the idea with letters of support, because of the "significant economic benefits" the rail tourism bid would bring to the district.

"In order for us to be able to achieve this we need to be able to convince a few key people.

"Help us prove to KiwiRail's board of directors and operations team and the Minister of Transport that the community support for this exists."

The concept plan does not mention costs or how it will be paid for by the council.

The idea follows on from an earlier one floated by Mayor Smith of turning Hokitika Airport into an international airport.

 - Janna Sherman, Hokitika Guardian

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