The Star, Sunday 23 August 2020
By Shawn McAvinue
As expressions of interest in a tourist train company are evaluated, the Strath Taieri Community Board is calling to be part of any future decisions.
The Dunedin City Council-owned tourist and charter train company Dunedin Railways closed its doors on March 23 and was put into hibernation in July after its main source of revenue, overseas visitors, stopped when New Zealand’s borders were closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
About 50 people lost their jobs. Only six people remain employed to maintain the company’s assets.
Last month,, the city’s holdings company called for expressions of interest for Dunedin Railways and its assets.
This week, Dunedin City Holdings Ltd chairman Keith Cooper said 15 expressions of interest in the future operation of the tourist train company were received.
The options were being evaluated and a report would be presented to the council by the end of October.
“Decisions will then be for council to make. In the event that any options were to involve sale or transfer of Dunedin Railways’ assets, those options may well be subject to public consultation.”
Mr Cooper said another council company, Dunedin Venues Management Ltd, was leading the option evaluation work.
A reference group had been set up to “act as a sounding board as things progress”.
The group included Mr Cooper, city councillor Jim O’Malley, council group manager transport Jeanine Benson, rail specialist and former Dunedin Railways director Graeme Smart, Dunedin Host member Ralph Davies and former trustee of the Taieri Gorge Railway, former city councillor and current Otago regional councillor Kate Wilson.
At a board meeting earlier this month, chairman Barry Williams said the railway infrastructure was important to Middlemarch because most tourists visiting the village arrived by train.
The community had fundraised to get some of the railway infrastructure in the village, including a turntable, so the board must be consulted before the council made any major changes to Dunedin Railways’ operating model.
“To think all our hard work would be wasted.”
Mr Williams moved the motion the council consult the board “sooner rather than later” on any future decisions on the railway. Board member Robin Thomas seconded the motion and everyone voted in favour.