Passenger Rail

KiwiRail benefits from boost in NZ tourism

New Zealand rail operator KiwiRail has set new patronage records for its train services geared towards tourist journeys, reflecting the overall growth in tourists flocking to the country.

Both the TranzAlpine and Northern Explorer rail services had their best months ever during February and March this year, with approximately 10% more passenger journeys than all prior years, and with services, on average, 95% full in the same period.

“Overall, our TranzAlpine passenger business has grown by 90% over the past five years, and the Northern Explorer is up 71%,” KiwiRail’s chief executive Peter Reidy said.

The TransAlpine train travels 223 kilometres on the South Island between Christchurch and Greymouth via the Southern Alps and the Canterbury Plains, while the Northern Explorer is a North Island service, running between Auckland and Wellington via Tongariro National Park and Hamilton.

“We’ve seen growth across both domestic and international markets, and our peak seasons have started to spread into our shoulder seasons.”

The reason for the growth in KiwiRail’s tourist services, Reidy said, is partly due to the general increase in foreign visitors to New Zealand and, moreover, to what he called a “global ‘rail renaissance’” – more and more people are looking for travel modes that are part of the overall tourist experience, something which can be offered by traditional scenic heavy rail services.

“This is why we are putting the focus even more strongly on customer experience,” said Reidy.

“We see tourism as a key part of KiwiRail’s future, and we’re looking at how we can continue to develop and grow our services.

“We are developing packages and experiences that encourage our passengers to more deeply experience the regions they visit.”

As work continues on the Main North Line, which was severely damaged by the Kaikoura earthquake in late 2016, KiwiRail is looking towards resuming the Coastal Pacific train service, which uses the line, in late 2018.

“While we are making steady progress with the repairs there is still a way to go before the line is restored so we can resume our pre-earthquake services,” Reidy said.