Heritage train on track for expansion

A World War I era steam train could soon be chugging its way down the east coast of the South Island.

Blenheim-based business Pounamu Tourism Group has announced plans to expand its network of heritage train journeys to include Seddon and Kaikōura.

The business currently runs one-way or return trips on historic locomotive The Marlborough Flyer from Picton to Blenheim.

Pounamu Tourism Group managing director Paul Jackson said the Seddon and Kaikōura expansions would allow more travellers to flood through Marlborough.

“The train would boost overall regional tourism for several Marlborough communities, including Kaikōura, Seddon, Blenheim and Picton,” Jackson said.

“The ultimate objective is to play a role in increasing the number of cruise ships which visit Picton.”

The Marlborough Flyer, known formerly as Passchendaele, would be used to run trips between Blenheim, Seddon and Kaikōura.

The century-old steam train embarked on its first trip on December 1, 2017, was the only passenger-train operating along the South Island coast at the moment.

Jackson said he hoped to also run a train from Picton to Christchurch in future, but journeys of that distance would require a diesel train.

“They’re hard to come by in New Zealand, so I’m not sure where we would source it from,” he said.

At present there’s still much work to be done before Pounamu Tourism Group’s new heritage train journeys become a reality.

The business recently worked with KiwiRail to purchase a turntable from Balclutha, believed to be 106-years-old, which they have since earmarked for Seddon.

The turntable would allow the Seddon community, about 24 kilometres south of Blenheim, to welcome travellers at their 116-year-old train station before the travellers headed back to Picton.

Jackson said discussions on funding the restoration of the Kaikōura turntable, which was damaged during the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake, had also begun.

Jackson paid tribute to KiwiRail for helping to get his plans for a heritage train to Kaikōura in motion.

“The progress they have made on the enormous task of getting the mainline back in operation after the Kaikōura earthquake, borders on superhuman,” Jackson said.

“They deserve accolades for how quickly and efficiently they have embraced the challenge of reconnecting the community down there.”

When the rail network between Picton and Kaikōura is repaired Pounamu Tourism Group will run selected heritage trips to Kaikōura, with priority given to Coastal Pacific and vital freight connections.

While the Marlborough Flyer had not yet announced ticket prices for the Kaikōura heritage journey, Jackson said there would likely still be “Super Sunday Specials” on offer. .

KiwiRail sales and commercial group general manager Alan Piper said KiwiRail partnered with Pounamu Tourism Group as they were “keen to support tourism in our regions”.

“The Flyer is a great local initiative celebrating New Zealand’s rail heritage while providing a boost to the region,” Piper said.

“There is a real romance to rail travel that international tourists are looking for as well as local enthusiasts, and still no better way to see our glorious countryside than by train.”

Jackson said Pounamu Tourism Group hoped to handle the ticketing in Picton for KiwiRail’s Coastal Pacific once it returned to pre-earthquake operations.

There were also plans for the two businesses to provide rail support for the new coastal cycle trail by interlocking the cycle and train experience.

North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery, which includes NZTA and KiwiRail, aims to have passenger trains running between Picton and Christchurch by the end of 2018.

Train tourism experiences would be unable to run until the rail line was fully complete and all speed restrictions are lifted.

Jackson said he looked forward to seeing the Coastal Pacific back in operation.

“We will do our best to support KiwiRail from Picton in terms of a sales office and arrivals lounge,” he said.

“The future for the mode of rail in New Zealand is bright, with a mixture of heritage and contemporary tourism key to realising the benefits to the region.”

For more information and bookings visit marlboroughflyer.co.nz.

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