Urgent repairs halt Kingston Flyer

TAKING ITS TOLL: The Kingston Flyer and owner David Bryce,
TAKING ITS TOLL: The Kingston Flyer and owner David Bryce,

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

Kingston Flyer owner David Bryce confirmed yesterday that operations were suspended until at least mid-January and 11 seasonal staff were stood down.

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

Serious mechanical issues and subsequent health and safety requirements were behind the reason 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 sign-off 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 behind the decision to suspend 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 re-book or seek a refund," Mr Bryce said.

"Anyone wishing to make bookings is welcome to contact the Kingston Flyer for further information."

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.

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

The train was mothballed for two years because the previous owners were involved

in a receivership wrangle.

Mr Bryce moved from Marlborough to Kingston when he bought the train, which had been enjoying a resurgence in popularity with Kingston residents and tourists.

The business attracted more than 15,000 visitors during its first season, smashing predictions for the attraction's popularity.

On average, the train attracted 2617 visitors each month last season.

The Southland Times