Campaigner to ride on Overlander a last time

One of the leaders of a campaign to keep small towns on the Overlander's timetable will take a trip on the service's last journey this weekend.

The last Overlander will run on Sunday with the new Northern Explorer service, and its carriages, taking their first trip on Monday.

Richard Aslett said he planned to take the Overlander from Taihape to Marton on Sunday. He liked the scenery on that section of the track and planned to spend the time taking photos.

"I thought I'd do that, but hopefully [the lost stops] will return, we'll see what happens."

In changing the Wellington to Auckland service from the Overlander to the Northern Explorer, KiwiRail has scrapped 12 stations from the timetable. Included in the cull are Taihape, Feilding, Marton and Levin. "I'm disappointed that it is at this stage going ahead, though I thought that was always going to be the case."

Mr Aslett, a Rangitikei district councillor, was one of the organisers of a petition calling for the stops to stay on the timetable. A total of 8067 signatures were collected and delivered to Parliament last month.

KiwiRail has said a decline in passenger numbers made the Overlander service unsustainable, and the 12 stops dropped from the timetable had low demand. Individual stops could be reinstated if there was enough demand and KiwiRail said trains would stop for bookings of groups of more than 10 people.

Mr Aslett said he had planned to catch the train to Wellington next month, but as he lives in Mangaweka he would have to drive to Palmerston North to catch it.

"I might as well just drive the whole way to Wellington."

Mr Aslett said the situation could change, the petition was yet to make its way to a select committee, and there was no guarantee the new service would be a success.

"You don't know what the future will bring, as far we're concerned it's not the end of the story.

"If people are being disadvantaged, write to KiwiRail, write to your local MP."

The new Northern Explorer service has refurbished carriages and is to be marketed as a tourist experience.

Manawatu Standard