Christchurch tram operator eyes return

TRAM: The Christchurch tram in 2009.
TRAM: The Christchurch tram in 2009.

Christchurch-based Wood Scenic Line expects to restore the quake-hit tram and gondola that form the core of its business by early 2013.

Wood Scenic Line managing director Michael Esposito said the tourism operator was working towards the restoration of tram operations by Christmas 2012 though the date would be dependent on the city being opened up from quake repairs.

The tramline runs close to the Clarendon Tower which being demolished over a 59-week period. The line also runs over the damaged Armagh Street bridge, Esposito noted.

Wood Scenic Line, which runs under the brand ''Welcome Aboard'', wants to expand the tram route from its existing route through the Square along Worcester Boulevard, up Rolleston Ave, along Armagh St and down New Regent St.

Esposito said that extension plan had close to completion before the February 22 earthquake hit. That extension would turn the route into a figure eight track including Oxford Terrace, Cashel, High and Lichfield streets, Poplar Lane and a return back up High Street.

Yesterday, he said the extension plan was still ''up in the air''. Wood Scenic Line ran the tram on a licenced basis and was in consultation with the Christchurch City Council on the extension.

There was the possibility the extension could be shortened, he added.

''The council are completing a track assessment report as we speak  it will probably be out in the next couple of weeks. There's very little damage to the tracks  it's snapped in a couple of places, the road down Armagh Street has a couple of dips and Rolleston a couple of dips.

''Of course the overhead (wires) need a bit of work because all the buildings are down.''

Esposito said he hoped the Clarendon Tower demolition could be made safe for passing by trams this year.
Christchurch mayor Bob Parker said he thought that Christmas date was achievable.

''It does require the Clarendon to be made safe, so that will need to be pulled down to a level which would allow the cordon and its drop zone to be reduced and that's achievable ...

''I've taken a great deal of interest in the condition of the tram tracks and I'm very pleased to say by in large (they've) come through amazingly well.''

The company, owned by four shareholders also wanted to get its gondola operation back up and running by the summer of 2012/13.

It was now concentrating on its four operating tourism assets - which include a punting operation on the Avon River, Christchurch ''grand tour'' bus tours, the ''Thrillseekers Adventures'' jetboat, bungy raft and quadbike activities based in Hanmer and a relatively new Auckland tramway.

The company was now seeking council consents for a second tram track stage to Britomart for the Auckland operation.

Esposito said the operations that were closed were covered to various lengths of time by business interruption insurance. The company was keeping a tight rein on costs.

The plan was to eventually move staff back to the tram barn at 7 Tramway Lane. Before the quakes the company employed around 38 staff including part timers and planned to have ramped back up to around 25 by the time it moved back into the city.

Three of the trams that had been operating on the streets on February 22 had been temporarily relocated to Ferrymead museum. There was an opening of the tram shed scheduled for Saturday, he said.

Parker said the council contributed funds to the Tramway society to help build a storage shed to help protect the heritage trams.

Wood Scenic Line hoped that the gondola would be open by the 2012/13.

Most damage had occurred at the upper station where a sprinkler system let forth 60,000 litres of water throughout the complex as a result of the February 22 quake with the epicentre close to the gondola.