After driving the same route across the Southern Alps for more than 30 years, KiwiRail locomotive engineer Alfred Wilson still isn't tired of the scenery.
Alfred has been driving the TranzAlpine, which turns 30 in November, since its launch in 1987. Before that, he drove the daily passenger service between Greymouth and Christchurch, and remembers passengers regularly asking to ride in the cab so they could get a better view.
His favourite memories of the train include stopping to feed a pie-loving dog named Rosie, and coming to the rescue of a stranded former Prime Minister.
FAVOURITE PART OF THE JOURNEY
"My favourite parts would be Springfield to Arthur's Pass, and heading from Otira down to Greymouth. Leaving the Otira Tunnel and arriving in the West Coast you go from mountainous country to bush, it's incredible. It's just 20 minutes through a tunnel and it's like you're in a new world. It always surprises you. I love it in the West Coast when you get a dull day and suddenly it clears, you smell the damp in the air and then the sun comes out, and it's like you're in a whole new place."
BEST PHOTO SPOT
"A lot of people like the Waimakariri Gorge; there are always lots of oohs and aahs from passengers when we come through there."
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BEST TIME OF YEAR
"Every time of year is different. In winter you've got the snow, which is nice, in spring there's the blossoms and new growth. At Christmastime over the past couple of years, the red rata trees have been in bloom, just like Christmas trees. In autumn you've got the beautiful golden leaves; the trees all have that golden tinge. How can you pick a favourite?"
"I like the Staircase Viaduct, which is popular with passengers too. You've got the Waimakariri River on one side and the mountains on the other. The Broken River Viaduct is another nice one."
"We've had plenty of famous passengers. During a stormy trip when we were the only ones running, we arrived in Greymouth and someone told us David Lange and his entourage were stranded on the coast as their flight was cancelled, and asked if we could take them. We got them to Springfield and then I drove them to the airport, and they just made their flight. He sent me a thank you letter later; I think he enjoyed the trip. It's our job to look after our passengers, and keep everyone happy."
"When it first started you used to have a nice Devonshire tea; the drivers were brought the leftovers at Arthur's Pass. We had nice pies. We would stop and feed them to Rosie the dog at Springfield; she became quite famous. Over the years the food has changed to suit demand and there are more healthy options now, cereals and fruit. There are still yummy pies though."
"There are lots of pretty stations, although we don't stop at a lot of them now. People recognise Cass because of the Rita Angus painting. There used to be a nice little stop in Inchbonnie years ago, and there was an elderly woman who used to get on the train and go to Greymouth once a week to do her shopping. When the TranzAlpine started, the train no longer stopped there, but if she was standing on the platform we were to stop and pick her up; that carried on for a few years."
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