Train’s fate in council hands, says community board chairman

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About 100 people attended a public meeting at the Strath-Taieri Community Centre last week. The meeting was about Dunedin Railways consulting on its proposal to suspend the running of trains to Middlemarch. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY

The fate of the train service to Middlemarch lies with the Dunedin City Council, Strath Taieri Community Board chairman Barry Williams says.

About 100 people attended a public meeting at the Strath-Taieri Community Centre last week.

The meeting was about Dunedin Railways consulting on its proposal to suspend the running of trains to Middlemarch.

The main point he took from the meeting was that because Dunedin Railways had a mandate to make a profit and Dunedin City Council owned a majority share of the company, so the decision on the future of the service lay with the council, Mr Williams said.

“The council want a return, so it falls back on the council.”

Council finance and council controlled organisations committee chairman Mike Lord said although Dunedin Railways had never provided a significant dividend or made a significant profit, it was expected to operate as a “viable and sustainable” business.

“That is not the case under the current model.”

The council was aware of the challenges Dunedin Railways faced, including increased costs and stretched resources, Cr Lord said.

“We understand the company’s need to look for potential cost savings.”

Consultation with the community was important, as there might be other viable options, he said.

The council, Dunedin City Holdings Ltd and fellow shareholder the Otago Excursion Train Trust would continue to work together to find the best solution, he said.

Rail and Maritime Transport Union general secretary Wayne Butson said an injection of capital from the Provincial Growth Fund could ensure the future of rail excursions to Middlemarch.

“The Dunedin City Council must raise the issue with the Government, and promote the service as a candidate for PGF investment to upgrade and maintain infrastructure for an iconic regional attraction.”

The consultation runs until the end of this month at www.dunedinrailways.co.nz/middlemarch-consultation.