The King Country town of Otorohanga will be back on the map as a destination for the Northern Explorer train after fears it could be among a number of small North Island towns banished from the line for good.

KiwiRail's new train service, which replaces the Overlander, left Auckland's Britomart Station yesterday headed for Wellington.

The service, which operates three times a week from Auckland and Wellington, culled a number of stops through the King Country and central and lower North Island because of low passenger numbers which KiwiRail said was costing it $9000 a trip or up to $3.5 million a year.

The changes left Waitomo tourism operators anxious about the effect this could have on their businesses so they called for discussions with KiwiRail.


Hamilton and Waikato Tourism chief executive officer Kiri Goulter said talks with KiwiRail's scenic manager Tom Evers-Swindell had been successful and Otorohanga, about 15km from the Waitomo Caves, would be a part of the 10.5-hour journey later this year.

"At this point in time we are working with KiwiRail to get Waitomo Caves included as part of the Northern Explorer product for the summer season," she said

KiwiRail general manager passenger Deb Hume said it was hard to justify the time for a number of stops on the route that were now sparsely used. "In the case of Otorohanga we think there's enough of a tourist attraction there to mean that if we work really closely with those parties and everyone gets behind us there will be a good enough reason to stop."

Otorohanga mayor Dale Williams said townsfolk were "absolutely gutted" when they first heard news that their stop might be removed from the Northern Explorer's route.

"Like all of our towns the rail goes right though our CBD because the whole town was built around the rail so it's not the town's fault the successive owners of rail have under-invested in it."

Destination Waitomo co-chairman Nick Andreef said the outcome was "very pleasing", but operators would need to brainstorm to ensure the town stayed as a permanent destination.