KiwiRail is making changes to the train service between Wellington and Auckland to transform the service into an internationally recognised tourism product. The Overlander currently runs a daily service during summer months and three days a week during winter using carriages that are up to 60 years old. The new service, which will be rebranded and will use new purpose-built carriages, is planned to begin operation on Monday 25th June 2012.
KiwiRail has taken advice from tourism groups and staff on how it could improve the North Island service and attract more passengers more regularly. Changes include the introduction of new scenic carriages to the service, a viewing carriage, a new menu, new uniforms and a faster journey time with the removal of a number of intermediate stops.
“We are focused on building the North Island service into a better product to attract more tourists – both international and domestic,” said KiwiRail’s General Manager of Passenger Services, Deborah Hume.
“Introducing a set of KiwiRail’s new scenic carriages is the key to revitalising the North Island service. Unexpectedly, the impact of the Christchurch earthquakes on passenger numbers for the Coastal Pacific and TranzAlpine services has created an opportunity to spread our resources more effectively and deploy some of the carriages to the North Island while still retaining a sufficient number of the new carriages in the South Island to meet anticipated demand over the coming years.
“These carriages have already proved themselves on the Coastal Pacific route and feedback from customers, tourism operators and travel writers has been uniformly positive. The new scenic carriages will give us the platform from which we can transform the North Island service into a high-value, must-do tourist experience.”
The new train will run three weekly services from Auckland and three weekly services from Wellington, with a lay-over day on Wednesday for vehicle maintenance. In addition to reducing the number of weekly services from 14 to six, a shorter journey time with fewer stops is also being introduced. Intermediate stops will be limited to Hamilton, National Park, Ohakune and Palmerston North. It will be easier for customers to plan their journeys as the six days a week schedule will operate year-round rather than changing for peak and off-peak seasons.
“The current Overlander service does not have a big tourist appeal and it’s no longer being effectively used as a domestic point-to-point service between Wellington and Auckland,” Deborah added. “The future for long distance passenger train travel in New Zealand is now about creating an international-standard travel experience rather than simply getting people from one place to another.
“We’re encouraging local businesses and tourism operators to leverage off this new service so that we can highlight tourist attractions along the way and make the journey through the North Island a memorable and ‘must-do’ tourism experience. We know with new carriages and a completely new product that the North Island rail service between Auckland and Wellington has the potential to be a great travel and tourism experience for the North Island.”