The Kingston Flyer may yet ride West Coast rails after Development West Coast confirmed it is still investigating the option to buy the historic steam train in its entirety.
It turns out the recent buyer of the train was only interested in the land it sits on at Kingston, at the head of Lake Wakatipu.
Development West Coast (WDC) chief executive Chris MacKenzie said on Tuesday the trust has now confirmed it is still interested and has tasked staff to find out what it would take to buy and bring the train to the West Coast.
A feasibility study is being undertaken by trust staff, including working through the practicalities of running the train on the Coast, namely access to KiwiRail tracks, availability of crew and issues such as turning locomotives at key locations.
After media reports from Queenstown that the train had been sold to a local consortium, MacKenzie said the new owners were considering options for the train part of the asset.
That consists of two former New Zealand Railways AB locomotives built between 1915 and 1925, and about 10 wooden carriages built from the early 20th century onwards and commonly seen on the New Zealand rail network until the early 1970s.
"The purchasers of the property, however, are in the position if they get a good offer and decide not to resurrect the Kingston Flyer down there, it can be purchased as a complete package: the train and the bits that go with it," MacKenzie said.
A proviso in any sale was that key aspects of the train's infrastructure had to remain at Kingston including the rail tracks and equipment to service steam locomotives, namely a coal loading crane and a water tower.
However, those things were not insurmountable.
Trust staff had recently been back to view the train, which has been stored for several years after the previous owner stopped operating it.
"We'll put something together on that but the challenging part is yet to come, which is at some point to have discussions with KiwiRail," MacKenzie said.
Central to that would be getting permission to operate the train on the West Coast rail network, including to previously suggested destinations such as Moana and Hokitika, suitably qualified train crews and the feasibility of operating it.
In reality, operating historic mainline steam locomotives such as those on the Kingston Flyer was far more labour intensive than for modern train operations and would probably need a core of volunteers along with other people to make it work, he said.
"The train itself is in reasonable condition. We'd need to spend quite a bit of money to bring it up to mainline condition, but everyone understands that."
Among the challenges for any future operation would be suitable turning facilities outside Greymouth in order to maximise train running times without having to run locomotives in reverse at slow speed.
Removing the train which has protected heritage status from the Queenstown Lakes District would also have to be worked through, he said.
- Greymouth Star