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Train service restart a bit Irish

IAN ALLEN
Last updated 13:00 16/08/2011
Coastal Pacific
IAN ALLEN/Marlborough Express

ON TRACK: KiwiRail's Coastal Pacific train runs beside an empty, snow-covered road between Blenheim and Kaikoura during its first passenger service in almost six months yesterday.

Cedric McLean
IAN ALLEN/Marlborough Express
BACK IN ACTION: Blenheim man Cedric McLean was well prepared to brave the elements on the open carriage as the Coastal Pacific train made its first run in almost six months yesterday.

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Boarding the Coastal Pacific passenger service yesterday, I had an eerie sense of being back home in "Norn Iron".

But it wasn't just the polar snowstorm, grounded flights and chat about burst pipes that had me reminiscing.

Stepping onto a cold Blenheim platform, to board a train already 20 minutes behind schedule (ah, Northern Ireland Rail, how I miss you too), I came face to face with a man wearing a balaclava and holding a suspicious-looking device.

It wasn't until he said "Hello" in a strong Kiwi accent that I came out from behind the luggage trolley, realising my mistake.

For the man, Cedric McLean, of Blenheim, wasn't an IRA member disillusioned with peace at home, who had decided his fight was with KiwiRail.

The train enthusiast was merely well prepared to brave the elements on the open carriage during the return of the Coastal Pacific passenger service between Christchurch and Picton, and the suspicious-looking device turned out to be a hand-held video camera.

But the train, formerly known as the TranzCoastal and making its first run in almost six months since its suspension after the February 22 earthquake, couldn't have come at a better time.

It was one of the only ways to the South Island's largest city yesterday, as roads were closed by the Arctic-Irish conditions.

Mr McLean, making the most of the new service, was one of the few hard-core travellers opting for the open carriage, where being hit by hail stones was like being shot in the face with a pellet gun. Ah, the memories.

The Blenheim trainspotter caught the Coastal Pacific in Blenheim at 11.45am and headed north to Picton, before making the return journey to Christchurch. He plans to come home on the train today.

"It is great to have her back and I would recommend it to anyone," said Mr McLean.

"It is far better than the bus, as there is so much of the coast that you can't see from the road."

However, he feels the cost of the service at $59 one way could put off people from Marlborough.

"It is more for tourists," he said.

"Maybe if it was about $28, it might encourage more locals to use the train."

One tourist was certainly happy the new service was up and running yesterday.

Sara McMillan, of Brisbane, had planned to take a hire car with friends from Picton to Christchurch.

"We are pretty lucky this service started today," she said. "We heard the roads were closed, so dropped the hire car back and took the journey by train.

"It worked out well, as our friend, who was supposed to drive, could enjoy the trip as well."

Travel writer Heather Hapeta, originally from Christchurch, said she was enjoying her trip.

"Being a Christchurch girl, I am very supportive of anything that helps bring tourists back into the city," she said.

"It's quite ironic that the service started today, what with roads being closed because of the snow. Perfect timing really."

Coastal Pacific train manager Duncan Browne said the return of the service provided a bit of normality for staff and passengers after the Christchurch earthquakes.

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"Everyone is happy to see her back in action," he said.

I, for one, certainly enjoyed my trip down memory lane.

- The Marlborough Express

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