Travellers are taking to the tracks, with a boost in patronage for long-distance trains – including the nearly derailed Overlander.
KiwiRail's three long-distance services have shown an 11 per cent increase in passenger numbers – or 34,000 more travellers – in the past year.
And, after narrowly avoiding the axe four years ago, the Overlander train service had the highest growth, with a 24 per cent increase.
Figures from KiwiRail show there were 340,000 passenger journeys on the TranzAlpine, TranzCoastal and Overlander in the past financial year, up from 306,000. Of those the TranzAlpine – from Christchurch to Greymouth – was the most popular, with 193,000.
KiwiRail passenger general manager Deborah Hume said the passengers included tourists and local travellers, and showed that people were increasingly seeing rail as a travel option.
"We have worked hard in a challenging international market and it is pleasing to see that rail travel is increasingly popular with a wide variety of people."
The increased passenger numbers for the Overlander, which travels between Wellington and Auckland, come after the lack of patronage nearly saw the service canned in 2006. At the time it was losing about $2 million a year.
After a public outcry, the service was given a reprieve days before the final train was due to run. Ms Hume would not reveal details yesterday, but said "revenue is up significantly and the Overlander is making a financial contribution to KiwiRail operations".
Green MP Sue Kedgley, who campaigned to keep the service, said yesterday the increased passenger numbers showed why the service had to be kept. "It's phenomenal and when you consider that only a few years ago the policymakers were arguing that there was no growth in rail." Policymakers had to take notice of the strong passenger numbers and make rail a priority because rail tourism was a growing niche, and these figures reflected that.
Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast said the increased patronage was "fantastic". "It's a phenomenal way to travel between Wellington and Auckland." The recession had created an increase in domestic tourism that was probably being reflected.
Ms Hume said there were more train services being offered as demand increased.
Overall, the number of passengers per train was up.
- The Dominion Post