THE Southerner could once again be rolling into the Invercargill Railway Station.
Hopes for a return of a Christchurch to Invercargill passenger service have been renewed after the Government announced it was spending $50,000 on a business case assessing whether the service was economically viable.
The move was welcomed by southern mayors, who believed New Zealand’s tourism boom meant demand could be high enough to warrant reviving the service, which was cut in 2002.
Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt said bringing it back could provide a “fantastic boost” to tourism in the south.
Reducing the number of tourists taking to the roads could also lower the number of accidents and incidents of people driving on the wrong side of the road, Mr Shadbolt said.
He applauded the Government announcement.
“I think it’s a really good call because things change.
“All right, it may not have been viable in 2002, but we have had record increases in tourism, even in Southland.”
He had fond memories of taking the Southerner when he worked on the Manapouri power project and said the view was better from trains.
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull was “very pleased” about the announcement.
“We have been very supportive of this idea since it was first pitched by Timaru Mayor Damon Odey.
“Not only would a passenger train have benefits in terms of tourism dispersal throughout the South Island, it would open up options for commuters and help to ease road congestion,” Mr Cull said.
He and others believed a strong business case was needed before such a service was funded.
“It’s pleasing to see the Government recognise the potential of this service for the South Island’s east coast and we’ll be eagerly watching progress.”
Southland public transport enthusiast Stephen Luscombe said the train service would help grow the Southland economy and tourism market.
Mr Luscombe operates the Transport Southland Limited Facebook page dedicated to promoting and saving public transport.
Feedback on the page suggested a lot of people would like to see the train service back in Invercargill, he said.
Tom Shields, the new manager of Invercargill’s Victoria Railway Hotel, also supported the announcement.
“I think for Invercargill… and all small towns between Christchurch and Invercargill, it can only be positive and the sooner they make a business plan and get on with it the better.”
Not only would the train service help to grow tourism in the region, it would also help reduce the growth of traffic on the roads and the problems associated with that, he said.
“I can’t see any negatives to it whatsoever.”
A KiwiRail spokeswoman said it always welcomed opportunities to utilise its network and would consider a new passenger services if there was enough demand.
New Zealand’s tourism growth had resulted in increased demand for its existing passenger services, including its TranzAlpine and Northern Explorer routes.
Kiwirail suggested reinstating the Southerner passenger service after earthquake damage put its Coastal Pacific service from Picton to Christchurch out of action last year.