Train back on limited basis

The Tranz Alpine is on track for a return to Greymouth next week, albeit with a limited schedule, having already missed key events on the Coast including the Kumara races.

Special $20 fares are being introduced for children to ride the world-renowned train in a promotion running from January 14 to February 8.

Greymouth Mayor Tania Gibson said the concession fare was "a step in the right direction" and she was thankful the service was resuming after being canned during the last Covid lockdown.

"It's about time they listened to us about special fares," Mrs Gibson said, having previously criticised KiwiRail for unaffordable fares that were beyond the reach of most families.

Shantytown chief executive Andrea Forrest said it was a missed opportunity.

"The child fare is a great idea but it is an opportunity lost as the Kumara races are a family-oriented event and they could have had some packed carriages this weekend."

Even though the offer was welcomed, adult fares were still $109 and the resumption of the Christchurch-Greymouth service next Friday missed the main travel period of the school holidays, and the biggest race day of the West Coast calendar.

Originally the Tranz Alpine summer schedule was set to begin on December 17, but KiwiRail remained cautious around Covid restriction measures and pushed the date back further.

The train has lain idle in Christchurch while the West Coast has been basking alone in warm summer conditions after management decided against resuming the scenic service until mid-January and then only for four days a week.

KiwiRail has suffered in the wake of the pandemic and the subsequent loss of international tourist dollars.

The state-owned rail operator suspended the service, along with the Northern Explorer (Auckland-Wellington) and Coastal Pacific (Picton-Christchurch) when the country went into Alert Level 4 lockdown in August.

Acting group chief executive Todd Moyle said its Scenic train services were forecast to lose almost $10million this year and the State-owned operator could not continue to keep absorbing the losses.

However, he also said the award-winning Tranz Alpine service was KiwiRail's most popular train and had the best chance of being viable even without international visitors.

"Given that, and its importance to the West Coast, it will operate Friday to Monday under orange and green ... [traffic light] levels."

 - Mef Fulford and Helen Murdoch

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