I always loved train travel. As children we would take the train from Feilding to Levin to visit my grandfather.
There were trips to Wellington from time to time, that was exciting, so too the train ride to Taihape.
We had family there. I thought travelling by train pretty cool. When I later lived and worked in Wellington I would often take the train when I went home for weekends.
It seems like a century ago now, well it was last century.
Later travelling in Europe I really got to appreciate train travel. The thrill was just as I remembered from my childhood.
The journeys longer of course, crossing borders at times into other countries. Trains ran on time, to the minute in Switzerland and Germany in particular, the carriages clean and comfortable.
Usually I would make a beeline for the dining car and make myself comfortable there for most of the journey. The trains were always full of tourists enjoying world class tourist services.
I sometimes wish our Government hadn't decided to unpack our railways operations, starting in the early 1990s.
It was hard to keep up with all the changes. Starting with New Zealand Railways Corporation changing to New Zealand Rail Limited then to Tranz Rail.
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In 2004 Tranz Rail's rail, ferry and trucking operation were acquired by Toll Holdings and renamed Toll NZ. The Government bought back the rail network trading as ONTRACK.
In 2008 it purchased Toll Rail, the rail and ferry assets of Toll NZ but not its trucking operation. The new company was named KiwiRail.
KiwiRail has three scenic passenger trains - the Northern Explorer, TranzAlpine and Coastal Pacific.
These take predominately tourists and show them our beautiful country. KiwiRail was one of the big winners in Budget 2019.
The Government has delivered them a $1 billion boost. Chief executive Greg Miller says this is a major step towards restoring rail to its proper place in New Zealand's transport landscape.
I thought that was what the past 40 years was about!
The Budget windfall will entail further development of the freight network and tourism and commuter services.
Could the tourism service development include Rotorua? I hope so. But KiwiRail has its work cut out.
Miller says extensive upgrade and repair work needs to be undertaken. Existing lines are in need of work, the majority of the locomotive fleet is well past its use-by date, apparently wagons are ageing and the major workshops are below standard.
Bridges and tunnels need maintenance and the national train control system upgrading. A new freight reservation booking and tracking system is also needed to bring KiwiRail into line with modern logistics practice.
The Interislander ferries are nearing their end days too. Sounds exhausting, but I hope this won't stall opportunities for improving existing scenic services with the possibility of developing new ones. I'm thinking Rotorua of course.
Rail is seen as a driver of economic development. From 2008 to 2016 KiwiRail received more than $2.1b of Crown investment.
I hope some of the new money will be used to prioritise more tourist services. Tourism is on a fast growth trajectory in New Zealand, although we are starting to hear rumblings that we need to put the brakes on.
By all means KiwiRail should focus on infrastructure repairs, upgrades, maintenance and new rolling stock as soon as practicable. At the same time, I'm sure they understand the role that tourism services play in local and regional economic development and job creation. We have world class natural beauty in Rotorua and the surrounding Bay of Plenty. A scenic train journey from Auckland would make these attractions easily accessible to overseas visitors all year round to enjoy.