Rail link will benefit town

1km extension a boon for Blenheim

SONIA BEAL
Last updated 11:28 08/01/2014
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John Orchard
Derek Flynn
On track: Blenheim Riverside Railway Society president John Orchard at the junction of track that leads left to Brayshaw Heritage Park and right to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. Volunteers from the society have been working on extending the riverside railway route to the nearby aviation centre.

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Work on the rail bridge to connect Brayshaw Heritage Park and the  Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre  in Blenheim is earmarked to begin next month, says Riverside Railway Society president John Orchard.

The Marlborough District Council last year granted the society $60,000 over two years to build a bridge over the Taylor River and connect its track at Brayshaw Heritage Park to a new station to be built at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre.

The service's narrow 5-kilometre 24-inch track runs along the river from the main station at Brayshaw Heritage Park to the River Queen berth by Horton St in town.

The society's application to council said the new Omaka Spur line would be 960 metres long, and would include a 46-metre bridge to get it across the river.

Mr Orchard said the 1km extension linking the park and the aviation centre would be a boon for the town.

It would allow visitors who were keen to check out both the town's museums, at Brayshaw and Omaka, to get around with ease.

Mr Orchard hoped to have the new track operational in time for the three-day Classic Fighters Airshow in April 2015.

The airshow was one event for which the railway would be put to good use, he said.

"Some people who are avid aviation fans are likely to be at the airshow for the whole time, but they will have family and friends who only want to spend a day there and do something else. That's where the railway comes in."

Annual events and the marketing of Blenheim as a "conference town" would bring visitors to the region, and they would be looking for things to do while here, he said.

Marlborough would benefit economically from visitors who used the railway service to get around the town and visit attractions, he said.

Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre chief executive Jane Orphan also saw the benefits of the railway extension.

"I think it's wonderful to be able to link up with other attractions in Marlborough," she said. "It's perfect to link up. Suddenly we're very close together instead of what feels like being miles away."

Mrs Orphan said she hoped the railway service would attract people and opportunities to the aviation centre, but it would depend on how often it ran.

Currently, the railway runs two Sundays a month, on the first and third weekend of each month, at 1.45pm and 3pm. During the busy summer season, from Boxing Day till mid-January, it runs two trips daily.

However, Mr Orchard said the society would look at trialling a new timetable.

Meanwhile, the aviation centre is planning a new exhibition in honour of New Zealand's aviation contribution to mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War I.

"What we'd like to create is a New Zealand hall that talks about the Kiwi contribution in the air - the flying schools set up in New Zealand, the soldiers going off to war, and then what happened to them when they came home."

If all went to plan and enough funds were raised the exhibition would open in time for the Marlborough Classic Fighters Airshow in April 2015, the same time the Riverside Railway Society aims to have the railway extension completed.

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Anyone who wants to volunteer on the railway extension project can contact John Orchard at the Blenheim Riverside Railway Society on 03 578 1621.

- The Marlborough Express

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