Flyer off track for peak season

Last updated 14:00 11/12/2012

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All Kingston Flyer tourist trips have been suspended because the locomotives for the vintage train need critical maintenance, leaving staff without work during the peak summer season.

David Bryce, who lived in Renwick when he bought the Kingston Flyer last year, also confirmed on Sunday that he is looked for a new owner for the train operation at the south end of Lake Wakatipu in Southland.

He said he had suspended operations until at least mid-January and that 11 seasonal staff had been stood down.

The company runs two locomotives, one of which was in operation while the other engine was undergoing maintenance and extensive repairs.

Mechanical issues and health and safety requirements were behind the decision to suspend all operations using the operational locomotive AB778, Mr Bryce said.

He planned to replace the inoperative locomotive with the engine undergoing repairs, AB795.

It was in better condition than AB778 but in need of an overhaul, boiler certification and an official signoff by the NZ Transport Authority, he said. AB795 was built in 1927, AB778 in 1925.

The safety of staff, passengers and the general public was of paramount importance to the company, Mr Bryce said.

A leaky boiler was the main reason for suspending the operation of the locomotive.

He had hoped to get the replacement locomotive ready in time after running the train for three months using AB778.

AB795 was about a week away from returning to Kingston after repair work in Invercargill.

"It was a difficult decision to make," he said.

"Once 795 comes back it will be like new, then we're confident we can operate seasonally with one locomotive.

"Unfortunately we have no choice but to retire AB778 from service until an extensive overhaul can be undertaken in the future.

"After much deliberation I have decided to concentrate our funding and efforts on repairing and restoring AB795 with a view to it returning in January."

Repair work on the spare locomotive has been hit by unforeseen delays that compounded the problem.

"The situation unfortunately means those who have made bookings between now and mid- January will need to contact the Kingston Flyer to either rebook or seek a refund," Mr Bryce said.

Mr Bryce said he and staff poured heart and soul into the train since he bought the business last year, getting the train back on track and attracting steady bookings and public support.

"However, taking into account all that has happened, this has taken a toll on my health and I now feel that I need to step back from the operation for a potential new operator to run the business," he said.

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"I will continue to operate and fund this business until that time."

The train had been mothballed for two years before he bought it because the previous owners were involved in a receivership wrangle.

Mr Bryce moved from Marlborough to Kingston when he bought the train. The business attracted more than 15,000 visitors during its first season.

- The Marlborough Express

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