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Coastal Pacific Train Cutback But Capital Connection Train Saved (For Now)

In a new development KiwiRail have announced that they will save the Capital Connection passenger rail service between Palmerston North and Wellington for the next two years to June 2015. This is good news and probably politically motivated (which is not bad in of itself) and gives people a chance now to improve its commercial viability. I still think it may be better managed by the Regional Council (both GWRC and Horizons) for long term sustainability.
Ultimately it needs a more frequent enhanced service but this will clearly require subsidy to gain momentum much like the Wairarapa Connection does from GWRC - and why shouldn't it get a subsidy for the tangible benefits it provides like the other trains in the region do? Anyway, congratulations to all that lobbied to save it - well done!!!
Unfortunatey this announcement was soon followed up by a press release that the Coastal Pacific train will be curtailed to a extended summer season running from October through April. While not as bad as it could have been it is still dissapointing.
It used to be great to ride the train up through the North Canetrbury landscape and along the Pacific Coast on a cold frosty winters morning with a hint of early fog and later the clear blue sky with the calm glass like Pacific Ocean and the snow capped Seaward Kaikouras mountains in the background. And to go and have an early breakfast roll from the Cafe on the train rounded it off nicely. Oh New Zealand - you do not know what you have lost.
I am sad that more New Zealanders haven't supported our passenger rail system and have left much of it to simply fade away with barely a whimper. Maybe one day it will recover with the Christchurch rebuild. Let us not forget how much we have also lost with Christchurch as well. I really think that many New Zealanders, outside of Christchuirch itself of course, do not realise what they have indeed lost. There is of course the huge human loss but also the grieiving for other things lost as highligted above. It spans such a wide spectrum - it could make you cry.
Personallly I used to make several trips a year to Christchurch - stay at the 26 floor Grand Chancellor Hotel (Now raised to the ground due to the 2011  Earthquake) and make regular trips on the Coastal Pacific (was Tranz Coastal) up the Coast.
Life moves on but let us spare a moment for what we have lost.
The press Releases follow:
Coastal Pacific moves to seasonal service
2 April 2013

KiwiRail has today announced that the Coastal Pacific train between Picton and Christchurch will operate as an extended summer service in the seven months between October and April. This seasonal service is expected to be in place while Christchurch rebuilds its tourism infrastructure.

“The Coastal Pacific is losing almost $3 million annually, due in most part to a significant drop in the tourism and domestic travel market to and from Christchurch after the earthquake. These losses are highest through winter,” says KiwiRail’s General Manager, Passenger, Deborah Hume.
“Winter demand for KiwiRail Scenic’s long distance passenger services (May through September) is much slower than the summer tourist season. For the Coastal Pacific service, the drop in demand in these winter months is even more pronounced than the TranzAlpine, as this train serves a less well known and travelled route. Added to this, since the February 2011 Christchurch Earthquake, travel to and from the city has dropped significantly due to the loss of tourist related facilities and accommodation.
“Very low numbers of people used the train during last winter, although there was an increase during the school holidays. However, KiwiRail needs to sell 130 seats on each service to break even, and on some days only 30 people were on board.
"We have had to take a really close look at how we make the best of the domestic and international market we have, and a seasonal timetable does this. A number of similar services in Australia and Canada also run seasonal timetables,” Ms Hume says.
Since October 2011 a number of initiatives have been implemented to revitalise the service including the introduction of new scenic carriages in November 2011 and a new menu; rebranding of the service (previously named Tranz Coastal); introducing special Scenic Escape travel packages including Whale Watch and wine tasting; and increasing fares by 20 percent to better reflect the increased international value of the product and the train service’s true operating costs.
“We recognise that the Coastal Pacific train is a fantastic addition to the tourism portfolio in the Canterbury region. However, we still have a business to run and the revenue loss from the drop in passenger numbers is not sustainable.
We’ve had to make changes to accommodate for this, but we are confident that the market will recover over time, and KiwiRail Scenic remain very open to working with travel and tourism operators to identify further opportunities to increase tourism in the Canterbury and South Island region,” says Ms Hume.
The Coastal Pacific service will run until Sunday 5 May 2013 before closing for the winter. It will resume again at the start of October
KiwiRail commits to continuing Capital Connection service
28 March 2013
KiwiRail has today announced that it will continue to operate the Capital Connection service for another two years before making a final call on whether or not it will be closed.

“KiwiRail has been working with other parties on the long-term viability of the Capital Connection service, but ultimately its future depends on more people using it every day. “KiwiRail is very aware of the public preference for the continued operation of the daily commuter service by a train, and has made the decision to continue the service for another two years, before reviewing it again in June 2015,” says KiwiRail’s General Manager, Passenger, Deborah Hume.
To minimise the losses the service is currently making, KiwiRail will continue to run the Capital Connection with minimum capital investment and annual fare increases with a view to seeing if the service can at least break even,
Ms Hume says. “An annual review of the service will be conducted and KiwiRail is committed to continuing the service until June 2015 unless annual losses exceed $1 million.” “In order for KiwiRail to break even by 2015, daily patronage needs to have increased by 61 passengers in each direction and the average ticket prices need to be 40 percent higher.
In practise that will see KiwiRail attempting to grow patronage while increasing fares about 10 percent year on year. We know this will be very challenging,” says Ms Hume. In the intervening time KiwiRail will continue to undertake marketing activities to grow patronage and ensure service costs are optimised and tightly controlled.
“The future of the Capital Connection had been in the balance for more than six months, and during KiwiRail’s various discussions with a number of parties to look at options to fund and manage the service in the future, strong support for the train was expressed from many in the geographic market it serves.
“Growing patronage will be crucial for the survival of the train. If we don’t have continued support and additional passenger growth, the commercial viability of the service becomes very challenging. If we don’t have enough people using it to cover the cost of running it, the service won’t survive. We ask customers and the respective Councils to advocate within their communities to increase patronage and translate the strong calls to retain the service into more people using it every day.
” Currently, the average passenger ticket price is $10.29 (i.e. the average of all fare types for all section lengths along the route). The daily average number of passengers traveling from Otaki station and north is 174 (60 percent), and from Waikanae station and south is 116 (40 percent).
“We are pleased to be able to offer Capital Connection passengers more certainty around the operation of the service and I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank them for their patronage and continuing support,” says Ms Hume.

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