Mayor backs passenger trains

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A feasibility study to reinstate the passenger-train service between Christchurch and Invercargill is set to start but the level of support from at least one business owner in Timaru depends on how long the train stops in her city.

In June, Tourism Minister Paula Bennett and Economic Development Minister Simon Bridges announced a $50,000 grant to investigate the return of the service, which ended in 2002.

Timaru Mayor Damon Odey said he was “very supportive” of the service making a comeback.

The funding, through the Canterbury Mayoral Forum, would progress a study on the feasibility of reinstating the rail service.

“We’re now working on pulling together the scoping document and business proposal in order to access the funds and get this work started,” Mr Odey said.

The Station Cafe owner Judith Scott said many passengers on bus services stopping at Timaru dined at her cafe in Station St.

She doubted passengers on a train service between Christchurch and Invercargill would provide the same amount of custom because she expected they would buy their food on the train.

For businesses in Timaru to benefit, the train would need to stop in the city for a “reasonable period of time” to allow passengers to get off and spend money, she said.

She would prefer train excursions which departed from Timaru, bound for destinations such as Christchurch, Dunedin or the West Coast.

“That would be awesome.”

She had approached Dunedin Railways about her idea.

Dunedin Railways sales and human resources manager Nikki Ford said if a service between Christchurch and Invercargill was reinstated, KiwiRail would need to run it, as Dunedin Railways was focusing on services out of Dunedin.

The Dunedin Silver Fern Railcar travelled between Dunedin and the West Coast last month, stopping in Timaru on the last day of a five-night excursion.

Timaru businesses benefited from the railcar’s 90 passengers, she said.

A KiwiRail spokeswoman said the state-owned enterprise understood an independent assessment of the business case for reintroducing the services between Christchurch and Invercargill was “under way” and declined to comment further.