Greens' campaign unlikely to save Overlander

Toll New Zealand says the Greens' campaign to try to save the Overlander is unlikely to prevent the train service ending next month.

The Greens want a two-year stay of execution so it can be better marketed and made profitable.

The party said it collected hundreds of signatures in favour of retaining in the service in just an hour at Wellington railway station and Britomart, in Auckland, this morning.

But Toll spokeswoman Sue Foley said staff will look for new jobs in the next few weeks and prepare for the inevitable. She said they have to think of their own security and it is Toll's responsibility to support that.

The service is due to stop running between Auckland and Wellington as planned at the end of September.

Ms Foley said $1.7 million is needed to keep it on the rails, but says Toll is open to discussion.

Toll is yet to decide how it will farewell The Overlander train service.

Ms Foley said yesterday that the final trip, on September 30 had sold out.

Ms Foley said management was working with Toll NZ staff to decide how the final trip should be commemorated. As some people were losing their jobs, it was hardly a day of celebration, and it was important that an appropriate way of marking the occasion was found.

Ms Foley said staff were being understanding in the face of job cuts.

It was not yet known exactly how many staff would be made redundant as some people were able to be transferred to other areas.

"Everyone totally understands," she said.

"They're more aware than anyone how few people have been using the service.

"So there's understanding, but there is also sadness.

The Green Party launched a nationwide campaign for a two-year stay of execution for the service.

The Greens Party will be collecting more signatures in the weeks ahead, and will be supporting efforts by regional councils to gain a reprieve.

However, Finance Minister Michael Cullen appears to have quashed any hopes of Government help to keep the Overlander train running.

Michael Cullen said any response will depend entirely on the nature of the proposed package from councils. He has made it clear that a buy-in would be highly unlikely.

Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said: "It is easy to forget how essential the Overlander is to the communities along the route.

"Once the track has been repaired and the service is being properly marketed, the Overlander should become a great tourism asset.

"And once those passenger numbers begin to rise, train travel will be clearly seen as a cost efficient and sustainable form of public transport."

- NEWSTALK ZB, NZHERALD STAFF, NZPA

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