Last month's issue of the Railway Digest, the rail fan's authority in all things trains, revealed in their International section that KiwiRail has been recommended to shut down their incredible tourist trains.
A nine month review of KiwiRail by the New Zealand Government has shaken New Zealand tourism agencies to the core being fully aware of how popular their tourist train sector continues to be.
The proposal would see most of the North Island rail track closed and wait for it, all of the South Island's rail track system.
Apparently the $200m subsidies to the rail network it's claimed is unsustainable. Opponents say there is plenty of other examples of such tourism subsidies that might be better examined than cut out the very life blood of the New Zealand tourism rail networks.
There are already New Zealand voices strongly opposed to any such rail tourism cuts saying that road user charges now being utilised else where in the New Zealand economy should be put back into KiwiRail.
Moreover the question is pout, passenger rail has rarely if ever run as a profit so what's the big deal. Tourism is one of New Zealand's major cash cows and the tourism rail network is of such 'moment' for the tourism industry, is needs to be on of those sacrosanct tourism icons.
But there is some good news. KiwiRail has invited proposals for the reintroduction of freight or tourist services on the Napier-Gisborne line which closed in 2012 after storm damage.
South to North 1990
It has been my joy over many years to be part of the New Zealand rail tourism experience.
1990 for the Auckland Commonwealth Games where I served as a chaplain, I flew into Christchurch, caught the famous coastal train to Picton, ferried it across to Wellington, then trained it from Wellington to Auckland.
On this trip, I took one of many railway books to the locomotive crew and they invited me into the cabin and I spent a good part of that trip on the footplate and over those huge gorges where the track winds its way through the mountains.
Many a time with the heavy freighters in steam engine haulage the crew explained how it was not uncommon to come to a stand with the wet line and spinning wheels. These were similar experiences to Australian railway networks.
2006 Picton to Christchurch
That year our family took a New Zealand holiday. Our son was home from England, the eldest had been married for 2 years, the second was considering a similar course, and so it was determined we all have a family holidays and combine it with a New Zealand Tronson family reunion in Napier.
We flew from Sydney to Auckland, then again from Auckland to Napier and stayed in Napier for three nights including the family reunion day and a ministry radio interview. We then drove from Napier to Wellington for 2 nights followed by the ferry to Picton in the south Island and then the train to Christchurch.
In my view this was best part of the journey as we had assigned seats and frequented the open air carriage which is designed to capture on film the magnificent New Zealand scenery.
2008 Taieri Gorge Railway
My son and I joined my good friend the late Ian Carlson who was keen to experience New Zealand before his health deteriorated. We landed in Christchurch, got the hire car and drove to Dunedin where his Australian university days mate was lecturing at the university.
This gave me the opportunity to meet with the New Zealand Academy of Sport in relation to respite based in Dunedin. Then we took the tourist train up the Taieri Gorge Railway, a full day trip, up the mountain line and return. This is a private railway principally financed by the Dunedin Council, thereby with some form of Government backing.
There was remarkable scenery and on the way back down the mountain I was able to once again ride in the cabin and chat as the Footplate Padre to the KiwiRail crew. Not surprisingly all the same concerns they expressed were paralleled to Australian locomotive crews.
2013 Christchurch to Greymouth
My wife Delma and I travelled to Auckland and then Christchurch for young writer ministry meetings – Saturday in Auckland morning and Sunday afternoon in Christchurch. On the Monday we took the tourist train to Greymouth and back.
This is a phenomenal tourist experiences. Several stops along the way including Mt Arthur and fabulous scenery and many a visit to the open air carriage photographs. We went in March and we were told it was even more magnificent in winter with the snow abounding.
We witnessed huge river flows, mountain waterfalls, remarkable scenery – and met people from all over the world likewise enjoying this tourist experience. With Delma and me was fellow rail buff John Grocott the young writer program 'awards' statistician.
We spent well over two and half hours in Greymouth, saw the memorial to the mine disasters of well over a century.
No, no, no – don't cut out these New Zealand tourist trains.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html