The south's romance with rail suffered a breakup yesterday when the Southerner rolled into town for the last time.
Tranz Rail staff controlling the locomotives and tending to passengers in the powder blue cabins did their best to put on a grin and a smile but as of today, many of them will be seeking news jobs.
Locomotive engineer Gavin Mortimore, of Invercargill, had been running the mighty Diesel engines since 1971 and said he'd never seen anything like the crowds who greeted and waved along the final tracks home.
"Everywhere along the road and at the stations there have been crowds like this,'' Mr Mortimore said.
The crowds added an extra hour to the journey as children were hoisted into the locomotive cabin for a look around and staff signed autographs on napkins for grateful rail fans.
Inside the Southerner, the atmosphere had reached a party pitch as Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt led passengers through renditions of Auld Lang Syne and Morningtown Ride over the PA.
Mr Shadbolt, a longtime advocate of the Southerner, said there were still options and plans for some type of southern rail service.
"Maybe the railcar service will be developed,'' Mr Shadbolt said.
Passenger numbers had increased in the past few months, he said, ''but maybe we don't appreciate things until we lose them.''
''Without promotion nothing works. Unless you market something, no one buys it.''
Several passengers on the final run had never experienced the journey and were glad that, even though the end had come, they had been on board.
Ken Adams, of Toronto, in Canada, said the journey was a great way to see the country.
"It''s such an easy way to see and travel somewhere without the confines of a car or a bus,'' Mr Adams said.
"Things are going the same way in Canada. The car has replaced the romance of the train,'' he said.
Jen McLeen, of Dunedin, had travelled on the Southerner about 75 times to visit her partner, Gordon Georgel, in Invercargill.
"It sucks. It's the pits actually.
"I'll have to take the bus now,'' Ms McLeen said.
She was joined by Mr Georgel and his guidedog, Danyon, for the last trip.
Despite rolling into the Invercargill railway station about an hour behind schedule, a large crowd complete with a bagpiper assembled to farewell the Southerner after 31 years' service.
The Southland Times