A passenger rail service between Christchurch and Dunedin would become a reality if a group of South Island mayors have their way.
Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher was one of several mayors and deputy mayors from Dunedin, Timaru, Waimate, Ashburton and the Mackenzie district who attended a recent meeting at the Timaru District Council chambers to discuss what would need to be done to push for the return of a service that was shelved 15 years ago.
Tourism industry and economic development representatives were also present at the meeting.
The idea was floated late last year, and the recent meeting was held to seek levels of support for the return of a southern rail service.
Mr Kircher said given there was not a service in operation north of Christchurch as a result of November’s Kaikoura earthquakes, he believed KiwiRail should seriously consider a regular service south of Christchurch.
“Obviously it’s not happening above Christchurch, so there’s probably some excess rail stock that could be utilised. If we could utilise that, that would be really good.”
He said a plan was in place to put a business case together, with input from elected mayors and tourism operators such as Tourism Waitaki, which would then be presented to KiwiRail for consideration.
“We’re working out how it could work and obviously each of the mayors are probably thinking how is it going to work for our district. There was agreement, because it’s well worth looking into.
“The idea is to look at all the options and how we could work together and with KiwiRail to get it happening.”
In an emailed statement, a KiwiRail spokesman said if a business case was presented, it would be considered.
“KiwiRail is always open to the potential for new services if commercially viable. A viable business case for a Christchurch to Dunedin service would need to include all infrastructure costs and a robust demand analysis.
“There are no immediate plans for a service between Christchurch and Dunedin and presently the available passenger cars from the Coastal Pacific are being used across KiwiRail’s other Scenic Journeys rail services and charter operations.”
Mr Kircher believed any rail service had the potential to grow tourism and event opportunities in Waitaki, and gave people who travelled regularly between Christchurch and Dunedin – and the centres in between – another travel option.
As an example, he said it would give people the opportunity to travel by train from Christchurch to Timaru so they could then travel to Aoraki Mt Cook, ride the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, then catch a train back to Christchurch from Oamaru.
“We could be quite a destination in our own right,” he said.
KiwiRail’s Southerner daily passenger express train, which ran between Christchurch and Invercargill, was halted in February 2002 after 42 years due to low passenger numbers.