Urgent calls for long-distance passenger services to stay as KiwiRail cuts operations

After running for nearly 100 years between Auckland and Wellington train services have been canceled by KiwiRail after the pin was pulled on a number of its scenic trains

The Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU) and a number of other public transport user groups are calling on the Government and KiwiRail to return the canceled scenic trains to the rails as part of New Zealand’s climate change response and as a low-emissions option.

Late last week KiwiRail announced it has paused the operation of it’s Northern Explorer (Auckland–Wellington) and Coastal Pacific (Christchurch–Picton) services, with plans to restart the services in 2022 as multi-day experiences - taking away the previously offered one-day trip to Wellington by train. While the services are mainly used by tourists, a number of Kiwis use them as an environmentally  friendly way to travel the country.

This decision to pull the services has riled up a number of transport and train groups, which say if services are not provided, then passenger rail will not re-establish itself as a travel option for New Zealanders or future international visitors, said RMTU general secretary Wayne Butson.

Public Transport Users Association coordinator Jon Reeves says the services have been in place for 112 years, and are needed now more than ever. And the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) group said the absence of a passenger rail service is especially noticeable during holiday times such as the Christmas/New Year period, when holidaymakers wanting to get around the country need to endure hours stuck in holiday traffic.

These groups acknowledge KiwiRail's plan to offer multi-day experiences, but say services like those should be used to complement regular passenger service and not act as a substitute.

A number of planned reopenings have been delayed by lockdown extensions and the move into the traffic light system (COVID Protection Framework).

It’s expected the TranzAlpine is to resume services in January, but all other scenic trains have been canceled until at least July 2022.