KiwiRail urged to focus on commuters ahead of tourists


A campaign demanding a reliable train service between the regions is gaining steam.

Northern Explorer crossing the Hapuwhenua Viaduct

Northern Explorer crossing the Hapuwhenua Viaduct Photo: Supplied / KiwiRail

The Northern Explorer used to run from Auckland to Wellington three times a week and the Coastal Pacific ran between Christchurch and Picton during weekends.

But KiwiRail announced a pause to these services in December and plans to re-jig them as multi-day experiences targeted at tourists.

The Save Our Trains petition calls for a same-day, inter-regional train service – and has already gained more than 7000 signatures.

Paul Callister, member of Save Our Trains and senior associate at Victoria University’s Institute for Governance and Policy, remembers when intercity trains were for everyday use.

“I went tramping at Mount Taranaki on the train, you could do that,” he said.

“I went to university in Canterbury on a train.”

He said people with limited transport options had been left behind because of the lack of investment in passenger rail.

“Slowly those services have been whittled away.

“When you remove those two [lines] on the core spine of Auckland to Christchurch, you really have nothing left.”

Dr Callister wants KiwiRail and Waka Kotahi to prioritise inter-city commuter services over luxury tourism experiences.

The first passenger train on the newly reopened Coastal Pacific Rail Line arrives in Christchurch from Picton.

The Coastal Pacific that ran between Christchurch and Picton. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Hunt for affordable housing may boost rail

But independent rail consultant Michael van Drogenbroek is confident the services will survive and eventually grow.

He said pressure on the housing market will make rail an ideal way to link cities to affordable housing in the regions.

“With priorities changing with climate change and access to affordable housing becoming more and more important, I think regional rail will expand in New Zealand.”

Regional councils across the country have been calling for the train services to keep running over recent years.

A letter with the support of every council along the route of the Northern Explorer was sent to KiwiRail when the line was suspended in the first lockdown.

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Thomas Nash Photo: Thomas Nash

Wellington regional councillor Thomas Nash said that despite a clear message from local leaders, the government is contradicting itself.

“We have heard signals that public transport will be a major aspect of the Budget and of the Emissions Reduction Plan and that makes total sense.

“So I don’t understand why the provider of passenger rail services between Wellington and Auckland would be contemplating scaling them back – it should be the opposite direction.”

KiwiRail said it is revising the Northern Explorer and Coastal Pacific lines for a post-Covid-19 market and will announce changes later in the year.

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