KiwiRail is hoping to ride a global tourism ''rail renaissance'' by appointing a heavyweight panel to drive growth.

It has appointed an influential panel of advisers, including Tourism NZ chairwoman Kerry Prendergast, former Tourism NZ head George Hickton and Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts.

"This is the first time we have appointed such a committee, and it signals the start of a new era for our tourism business,'' acting chief executive Todd Moyle said.

The state-owned enterprise carries more than a million visitors a year and Moyle said the panel could help guide it into its next stage.

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Great Journeys of New Zealand services will be expanded.

Last year, the Government announced an $80 million investment through the Provincial Growth Fund that would allow it to add extra carriages including new premium carriages on the Coastal Pacific (between Picton and Christchurch) and TranzAlpine (between Christchurch and Greymouth). The funding would enable the Coastal Pacific year-round.

About 82,000 people travel on the TranzAlpine each year to and from Greymouth.

They spend around $46m on the West Coast and support about 400 jobs, Moyle said.

With the extended service, this was expected to increase to around 119,000 passengers a year by 2027, with spending increasing to $80m.

He said KiwiRail would also upgrade platforms along its routes, invest in international marketing and upgrade reservation systems.

KiwiRail was moving beyond just providing ships and trains to working with partners to develop tourism packages, attractions and activities that complement journeys and champion tourism growth in the regions.

"We're also benefiting from a global rail renaissance, with increased demand for travel where the journey itself becomes part of the experience,'' Moyle said.

"Tourism is New Zealand's biggest GDP export earner and it shows no signs of slowing down."

The new advisory committee will include four KiwiRail executives and the three external advisers.

Earlier this week it confirmed plans to replace its Interislander fleet with two larger ferries that can carry freight trains.