Passenger train service between Christchurch and Dunedin a possibility, KiwiRail says
Timaru's mayor will lobby for the renewal of a passenger train service between Christchurch and Dunedin that he says could put Timaru at the heart of a key tourism route.
A passenger service between the two southern centres is being considered by KiwiRail, but whether or not it comes to fruition will be determined by its financial viability.
A Christchurch to Dunedin route was considered as a replacement for the Coastal Pacific service from Picton to Christchurch, which was rendered out of action by the Kaikoura earthquakes.
Its carriages were ultimately re-deployed to the TranzAlpine and Northern Explorer services, a KiwiRail spokeswoman said.
However, the prospect of a new southern service is still a possibility if enough people would use it on a regular basis to make it financially viable, the spokeswoman said.
"KiwiRail will consider opening new passenger services in the future if the forecast demand and/or tourism growth is present in commercial quantities."
The possible return of a passenger service 14 years after the demise of the Southerner train service could be a boon for Timaru's tourism and retail industries, Mayor Damon Odey said.
"It puts us back on the map," he said.
"The opportunities are endless."
The Timaru District Council would "100 per cent" lobby for it to become a permanent fixture, Odey said.
"It's just getting that start," he said.
All parties needed to come together and communicate about what it would take to get the service running, he said.
Odey said he would be lobbying for that to happen.
The prospect of a passenger commuter service between Timaru and Christchurch was floated following the Christchurch earthquakes, he said.
However, it never got off the ground.
Another possibility was a passenger service running between Timaru and Dunedin, which could provide transport for people heading to events at the city's Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Accommodation could be hard to come by in Dunedin when big events were on, and Timaru could capitalise on that, Odey said.
If the service became a reality, the area around the train station could be in line for a spruce up.
Odey said the council had already identified the need to make sure that area, including the neighbouring public toilets, was attractive for visitors.
It would also look at what other "facilities" could complement a train service, he said.
Rangitata MP Jo Goodhew said she would be "keen to hear more" about the proposal, and what Odey had in mind.
"My lobbying needs to go to the Minister, and that would have to happen in the new year," she said.
"I'll wait for Damon to let me know what he's got intended."
The proposal could also have big benefits for local businesses.
The Station Cafe owner Judith Scott said the renewal of a passenger train service would be "absolutely fabulous" for Timaru.
Tourists that visited the cafe often asked "when the next train is coming".
The increased business for the cafe could lead to more staff being hired, she said.
The town's history with the Southerner train meant rail travel had "always been a part of people's lives", she said.
If a service was to start running, Scott hoped people would lobby to make it permanent.
The service would be the first regular passenger train service between Dunedin and Christchurch since the Southerner service ended in 2002.
During its 32-year tenure, the service ran six days a week between Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill.