Dunedin City Council has released new details of its plan to breathe new life into Dunedin Railways Limited and the Taieri Gorge train service.
Councillors decided in January to retain the Taieri Gorge train, while seeking potential new operating models for both the service and its maintenance requirements.
DCC Enterprise Dunedin Manager, John Christie said attention has now turned to the best way to secure and enhance the Dunedin Railways service.
“Our commitment is to find a business model that is best placed to secure the future of Dunedin Railways, and the Taieri Gorge trip in particular, while enhancing what both offer to our community and visitors,” said Mr Christie.
“Dunedin Railways and the Taieri Gorge trip are key parts of Dunedin’s tourist appeal and we want to make sure both are positioned to succeed.”
Mr Christie said work carried out in the last year had already identified five potential opportunities moving forward:
- As a valuable visitor attraction – enhancing the service offering to provide higher value-
added experiences including attracting a wide range of potential customers who share Dunedin’s values, and a broader range of rail experiences. There was a desire to make the experience eco-friendlier and broaden its appeal to eco-tourists;
- A sustainable business model – achieving an economically sustainable business model. It was recognised that an enhanced business offer could attract more revenue, but that it would be unlikely to fully compensate the costs of operations as well as maintaining the resilience of the corridor, infrastructure and rolling stock. There was recognition that a range of other public goods could be possible under a future model, including embedding Te Tiriti o Waitangi principles, strengthening connections with the wider region, enabling business growth and development skills and provide opportunities to contribute to the wellbeing of the Taieri catchment. It was also acknowledged that DRL should be mindful of reducing and mitigating its share of Dunedin’s Carbon footprint in-line with the Council’s Zero Carbon Policy.
- A rich experience – to showcase more authentic stories and move to more engaging and memorable narratives for visitors to Dunedin.
- Increased connectivity across Otago region – to increase access by visitors and the community to a network of touring, cycling and walking trails and experiences. This also encompassed increased connectivity to Central Otago experiences, in particular linking to the Central Rail Trail terminus at Middlemarch.
- Enhanced Environmental Wellbeing of the Taieri Gorge – to better reflect the cultural value and historic narratives of Taieri river and mana whenua, improve awareness of the value of the Taieri and to introduce opportunities for additional contributions to environmental well-being (such as financial donations, or non-financial volunteer hours and tree plantings).
Council says more work is needed to consider these opportunities and staff will provide further updates in time for Council’s 10-year plan 2024-34. Taieri Gorge train operations will continue in their current format in the meantime, it said.
Mr Christie also thanked Dunedin Railways staff for their work to maintain and operate the service during the COVID-19 hibernation, and more recently since the return of cruise ships and other visitors this summer.