Before Covid-19, heritage was the fastest growing sector of the dynamic tourism industry, said Andrew Robinson.
The planned sale of items such as six wooden carriages built between 1912 and 1923 – because they are considered museum pieces or no longer suitable for commercial enterprise – was a brave call from Dunedin Railways, it said. he declares.
Mr Robinson is Director of Operations for the Otago Heritage Bus Society and he has restored carriages and carriages for Dunedin’s Ocean Beach Railway for around 25 years, as well as a run with the Taieri Gorge Railway for about three years.
“Standing on the open platform, being able to open the windows of old cars and stopping in remote places – that’s where the magic is,” he said.
Dunedin Railways chairman Keith Cooper said the assets for sale are not useful to the business in any future model.
Company directors were unconvinced the cars were safe to operate in a commercial enterprise, Mr Cooper said.
The board of the company owned by Dunedin City Council had received reports which led to this assessment.
Mr Robinson had not seen these reports, but he believed that the safety profile of the cars for sale was not very different from some cars which were to be kept.
Some were only slightly more modern.
Mr Robinson had traveled in modern air-conditioned and soundproof cars and said this isolated people from their experience.
They might as well watch a DVD, he said.
Mr Robinson said Dunedin Railways was in a conflict between promoting lovingly restored cars and wanting to get rid of them.
There had always been substantial community buy-in for organizing train trips in Otago, he said.
Dunedin Railways was put into hibernation in 2020 when passenger numbers were expected to drop dramatically due to the fallout from Covid-19.
The operation had become dependent on cruise ship clientele, but that market collapsed.
Limited services for the domestic market had since been run.
Former assistant locomotive engineer Paul Jeffery said the heritage cars were one of the railroad’s main marketing arguments.
People could stand on open balconies, admire the view and feel at one with the Taieri Gorge, he said.
The wooden cars were lighter and gentler on the tracks than later models, Mr. Jeffery said.
The cars were operational as recently as March 2020.
Mr Cooper said their security could be improved, at a cost.
Business leaders were required to run a safe operation.
Cars clad in wood do not meet contemporary standards for crashworthiness or fire safety.
As heritage vehicles, they are exempt, a heritage rail technical committee said.
When cars travel on the national rail network, they are subject to speed and operating restrictions.
Organizations and individuals have been invited to express their interest in acquiring surplus rolling stock from Dunedin Railways.
Closing of expressions of interest on February 4.