Rock Fans Hire Excursion Train

THE ENSIGN 21st November

Rock Fans Hire Excursion Train

When 250 David Bowie fans the South Island arrive in Wellington for his concert on Thursday the train that brought them north will wait in Picton to take them back.

For this is no ordinary train it is the Otago Excursion Train, the only one in New Zealand that can be hired.Though hiring a train may seem a costly exercise,  it is becoming  increasingly  popular for clubs or large group of people, according  to the  Otago Excursion  Train Trust. it has carried  Young  farmers  to their  annual conference,  scout  to their  jamboree,  and now – for the firs time – rock fans will be its passengers.

Seven years  ago  it was impossible  to hire a train in  New Zealand.  But  train enthusiats  believed  there  was  a  market  for private hire. So they  got together  to try, to make  their dream a reality. It  took  three  years  of negotiation to get  the unconventional idea of hiring a train “on the rails.”  But it happened.


Since then  the  enthusiastic  members  of  the  Otago Excursion Train  Trust  have  been working to  renovate  old  carriages. Most of  these  were  built  about  1920. Some are  as old as 1912. Many had been written off  as  too decrepit,  But after month of work,  and around $20.000 a carriage, each one of them was  gradually  given a new  lease of  life.

The trust has 11 carriages and a buffet  car,  and can carry 480 people in all. Its home is  the railway  station, Where it is hoped to  build  a  covered  workshop eventually. Now  the  trust  is  also building new carriages on old rail chassis. They are not as romantic as the old  carriages, but more comfortable.

The lates venture is building a carriage for disabled passengers.  This should be finished about Christmas, and will be the first railway carriage for the disabled in the country. it has utilised an old  chassis,  but is otherwise entirely designed and built by the trust.  Outside, steel  cladding is used for easy maintenance  insaide,  it will look rather  like a classy tour buss,  with upholestered  seats. There are large windows, lower than usual, for a wide view of the country side.

But  there  the resemblance to a tour coach ends.  Some of the seats can be removed to allow wheelchair  to  be used and anchored by a clamping device. If the disabled person prefers to transfer from wheelchair to ordinary seat this is easy, too.  The wheelchair can be taken away and stored for the journey.

A ramp gives easy acces to a wide platform at the rear of the carriage, There  are  wide doorways into the  carriage,  and there  will be permanent  paraplegic  toilet facilities. The carriage for the disabled is expected to cost $21.500.  The idea for it came at the time of telethon.  Subsequently a Telethon grant of $7500  was  awarded to the trust towards the cost. The buffet carriage essential for the long  journeys that the train undertakes,  was desaigned and renovated by trust members from an old guard’s van.


The first big charter was three years ago when the Otago excursion train brought scouts from the south up to Napier and Hastings for their jamboree.  “This was what made us look more closely at the charter business,”  said Mr Philip, full – time worker for the trust.  “In fackt it is the excurtions that keep us going.  They really make local runs possible. We run about 40 trips a year, and are looking at the possibility of a regular,  scheduled run now,” Philip said.

“I think it is becouse we have such marvellous  scenery round here that an excursion train, like ours, has forged  ahead  and been so  successful. “After all, you go north of  Dunedin  and there’s all that spectacullar cliff secneray, South  is equally scenic, and then there’s the attractive country towards Alexandra.”

Mr Rowan is helped in the long task of renovation and building work by the Government’s P.E.P (project employment programme) scheme. Train buffs give their expertise in the evening or weekends, and they make up the local member ship of the trust.  “One of the most encourging aspects of our work,”  says Mr Arthur Rockliff,  treasurer and convenor of the operations side  of the trust,  “is thet we experience no vandalism  on the Otago excursion train.”

Mr  Rockliff works in the bulk tonnage section of the Railways. He is encouraged  also by the fact that the local community is behind the trust.  People obviously see the tourist potencial.


A local company has just given  the trust $2500. The Lions Club has  promised  the proceeds from an auction. Since the trust is always in  a  state of penury – it tried to keep charges for day or weekend trips as low as possible – this local  support is welcomed.

“The major part of the cost of any excursion is the hire of the locomotive,  guard and loco crew from the Railways,”  Mr Rockliff said. ” All other personnel on the train are trust volunteers.” Enthusiasts come from all walks of life. Two of the executive commintee are women  –  Ruby Bamberry and Ruth Gamble. Ruby is active in organising the buffet and Ruth helps organies excursions. Many families are members.

~ by viradoang on 24-June-2010.

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