Full steam ahead for Picton to Blenheim train plans

Pounamu Travel managing director Paul Jackson says it's full steam ahead for his train plans.

Pounamu Travel managing director Paul Jackson says it's full steam ahead for his train plans.

A Blenheim-bound steam train is on track to be operational later this year - with a project organiser saying November's earthquake has not derailed the idea. 

While the train from Picton to Blenheim is being marketed to cruise ship tourists, it may also be just the ticket for Marlborough families. 

Pounamu Travel Group managing director Paul Jackson said on Monday the World War I train would hopefully be chugging between the two towns this October. 

A steam train travels between Picton and Christchurch. (File photo)

A steam train travels between Picton and Christchurch. (File photo)

The train would run on cruise ship days, and Jackson said he had been speaking to cruise ship agents about the plan.

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"Passengers will be able to pre-book prior to the ship's arrival," he said. 

The idea was passengers would take the train to Blenheim and spend two or three hours in the town, but local people wanting to see the sights were also welcome on board, Jackson said. 

At this stage it looked as though the train would be running on 30 days during the tourist season, but how much tickets would cost was still undecided. 

The train journey could tie into trips around wineries, or to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, or passengers could go into the town centre and go shopping or go to a restaurant. 

Passengers could also board the Blenheim Riverside Railway Society mini-train at Beaver Station, on the Taylor River, and go on a trip around Blenheim. 

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The company first announced its plan in 2016, and Jackson said it was a relief they could still go ahead with the plans after the earthquake.

"We are also delighted to hear that there is a clear commitment to open the line to Kaikoura and beyond, which will reconnect communities and get the freight line up and running again," he said. 

North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery, which includes NZTA and KiwiRail, aim to repair the rail network between Picton and Christchurch by the end of 2017. 

While the passengers were in Blenheim the train itself would travel south to a siding at the Cloudy Bay Business Park, to take on water and coal, and turn around.  

Jackson said he was working closely with KiwiRail, and he was also working closely with the Federation of Rail Organisations of New Zealand, and was looking for a crew to run the locomotive. 

One idea was KiwiRail running a steam engine course, which would lead to more steam train operatives being trained. 

"Our partners at Steam Incorporated are finalising our overall safety case to be submitted to NZTA," Jackson said. 

The train and its carriages had been secured from Steam Incorporated, and the name of the locomotive was still under wraps. 

Work on installing the train's turntable would begin in March or April, and would be carried out by Simcox Construction. 

 - The Marlborough Express


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