Rail service to Arthur's Pass National Park
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“We petition Environment Canterbury to implement passenger rail services between Christchurch and recreation opportunities in Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park and Arthur’s Pass National Park with
–frequent daily departures;
–multiple stops along the route at recreation access points; and
–affordable fares for locals.”
An opportunity exists to use current rail infrastructure to allow New Zealanders to access outdoor recreation opportunities in the distant backyards of cities. In Europe, many railway lines that were closed or were facing closure have been revitalised by offering services for recreation that is primarily based on domestic tourism with an important active ingredient, namely walking and cycling (which could be either mountain biking or tour biking or both). Establishment of such services could also aim at international tourists: instead of trying to cream international tourists, they could be seen as contributing to services that also provide recreational opportunities for locals.
The opportunity is particularly evident in relation to the Midland Line. The Korowai / Torlesse Tussocklands Park is about 1.5 hours by train from Christchurch and Arthurs Pass National Park is about 2.5 hours away. These offer great recreational outdoors opportunities. Many visitors to the outdoors have an interest in sustainable travel; train travel and outdoors recreation are a natural fit, especially if there is some flexibility in travel times and regular services across the day.
Regular train services would provide a low-carbon, sustainable way to access this great area. People could enjoy the mountains without requiring a car to get there. Access to recreation opportunities is difficult for those without a car. While many people in cities can adequately arrange their life without depending on cars all the time, it is the access to recreation that is often dependent on cars. As we move into a low-carbon future and more connected cities, we also need to provide for people's mental and physical well-being by giving access to the great outdoors.
Does the TranzAlpine not already provide this service?
The TranzAlpine is a tourist train that is marketed as an experience and its own leisure activity. It does not have many intermediate stops in the mountains and only indirectly gives access to some recreation opportunities. It uses heavy rail equipment, which does not allow for affordable fares. It provides little flexibility with just one departure a day and bookings required several days ahead.
Would a bus service not be a better option?
A bus service would be easier and cheaper to establish and to run. It would give access to some areas that are not near the railway line, but also would be further from some other access points. However, a bus service would not provide an attractive alternative to the car. Rail services are generally far more attractive and have been shown to achieve considerable more mode change. Currently, there are two private bus services in each direction per day. While they provide some access, the requirement to book, the low frequency timetable and the absence of shelters does not make them attractive options to get to and from Arthur's Pass National Park.
Who would benefit from such a rail service?
It would mainly be the people of Canterbury by getting easier access to great recreation opportunities. In addition, it is likely that journeys would be shifted from carbon-intensive individual transport to more carbon-efficient public transport. There would not be a significant increase in business due to such a service, though it would make Christchurch and localities along the route more attractive places to visit and live in.
Would this require the co-operation of the Department of Conservation?
Such a rail service would only make sense if DOC orientates some of its walking track network towards access by rail. Close co-operation with the department would be required in such a project.
A train service such as this would probably result in more visitors in the conservation areas accessible by rail. It might channel visitor numbers away from other conservation areas.
What would it cost?
It depends how the service would be implemented. Approximate cost modelling for a service pattern of six electric railcars a day in each direction indicates that a capital cost of $100 to $110 million might be expected for the rail-side operation, excluding a possible reconfiguration of Christchurch Railway Station. The basic operation would cover its operating costs excluding track access charges and depreciation. The approximate model indicates an annual deficit of $4.3 million a year, once possible track access charges and depreciation are taken into account, though the cost of track access charges is uncertain. More than 50% of the cost would be recovered by fares - more than rail services in Auckland, for example.
Set-up and operation for a ten-year period would be a total of $ 130 million according to this approximate model - a cost of $64 per passenger journey. That is the cost of embedding such a service, leading hopefully to a future of better travel options around New Zealand.
Would SuperGold card holders travel for free?
That is a political decision. The approximate cost modelling assumes that SuperGold card holders would pay 75% of the full fare.
Would there be sufficient demand?
We can't be certain. However, overseas such rail services to recreation areas have generally been successful and seen significant demand. With reasonable fares and availability to also carry groups, it is likely that such a service would see sufficient demand to be worthwhile and cover over 50% of its cost. If it attracts greater patronage, cost recovery would be higher.
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