Rail society wants station to stay

Status quo . . . Oamaru Steam and Rail general manager Harry Andrew wants the Harbourside Station to remain where it is. PHOTO: ASHLEY SMYTH

Oamaru Steam and Rail Society general manager Harry Andrew says he wants to work with the council, not butt heads, over the relocation of Harbourside Station.

The organisation had been in negotiations with an Auckland lawyer, engaged by the Waitaki District Council, since 2019, but had been bound previously by a confidentiality agreement not to speak about it, Mr Andrew said.

The point of disagreement was the council wanted the station, which had been on the corner of Itchen St and Humber Sts since 1996, moved across Humber St, he said.

‘‘Then we don’t get any people and we wouldn’t be such a part of Oamaru then.

‘‘We run on the smell of an oily rag. The money we make is the money we spend, and if you don’t make enough money . . . I mean we’re pretty tight, and not one person gets paid.’’

The reproduction of an authentic rural wooden station had been built by about 60 volunteer workers in just one day in December 1996.

Mr Andrew said the council was citing health and safety concerns as the reason for wanting the building shifted, but he was adamant it was not an issue.

‘‘We get audited each year with NZTA (Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency). We cannot dodge health and safety. NZTA would come down on us like a tonne of hot bricks.’’

The train enthusiast, who had been involved with the local railway since the 1970s, thought the council wanted to use the land for tourist accommodation.

‘‘They want the land and they don’t want us on it,’’ he said.

‘‘I just want to see it saved for Oamaru.

‘‘Having the train sitting there, it’s a stopping point for people to get an ice cream, coffee, and have a look around the precinct.’’

The issue was raised with potential councillors at the Rotary Club of Oamaru’s Meet the Candidates evening, held at the Brydone Hotel last week, the majority of whom were unaware of the issue. Discussions have since continued on social media, with personal attacks being made on both sides.

Waitaki District Council acting assets, finance and corporate development group manager Paul Hope said the council valued rail heritage at the harbour, and Oamaru Steam and Rail’s ‘‘contribution to its preservation and development’’.

‘‘We are currently in mediation with the Oamaru Steam and Rail committee and therefore can’t comment on the process at this time.

‘‘Despite the recent portrayal of this process at public meetings, and on social media, formal discussions remain positive, and council is hopeful of a mutually beneficial outcome in the near future.’’

Waitaki District Mayor Gary Kircher and Deputy Mayor Melanie Tavendale were to meet with Oamaru Steam and Rail on Wednesday, as the Oamaru Mail went to print.