Taumarunui is back on the Main Trunk Line as Ruapehu and KiwiRail celebrated the town becoming a scheduled stop for the Northern Explorer passenger rail again at the beginning of the month.
KiwiRail ceased the scheduled stop in Taumarunui 10 years ago and would only stop there if 10 or more passengers were going to join or leave the train.
KiwiRail’s general manager Scenic Journeys, Tracey Goodall, said the Great Journey’s offerings were now revamped to showcase the regions and help the tourism industry recover from the impacts of Covid-19 border closures.
“With the growing tourism interest around Taumarunui, we are excited to announce the Northern Explorer will now have a scheduled stop at Taumarunui Station,” Goodall said.
The new initiative by KiwiRail is aimed at tourists, but will also benefit local travellers wanting to get from A to B.
The reason for ceasing Taumarunui as a scheduled stop was to cut down travel time between Auckland and Wellington with KiwiRail saying the Northern Explorer service was a tourism experience, not a regional passenger service and tourists rarely requested to stop in Taumarunui.
Ruapehu Mayor Weston Kirton fought to make Taumarunui a scheduled stop again when he was a Horizons Regional councillor in 2019 and said the Taumarunui community had been looking forward to this day for a long time.
“Both tourism operators and residents alike are very excited about rail services resuming. The return of the iconic Northern Explorer to Taumarunui will be a huge boost to the township and our visitor industry, and we expect the service to be very well supported,” Kirton said.
The town celebrated the official return with a station-side party that attracted hundreds of people.
Kirton said the number of people who came out to welcome the Northern Explorer stopping at Taumarunui highlighted the degree to which the township identifies with its rail heritage.
“It was amazing to see people at vantage points all along the track between National Park and Taumarunui waving and tooting as the train went by. People have been looking forward to this day for a long time which will be huge boost to the township and our visitor industry.”
Taumarunui is a gateway to visitor attractions like the Timber Trail Great Ride and the Whanganui River Journey Great Walk.
Visit Ruapehu general manager Jo Kennedy says: “We are delighted to be working closely with Great Journeys NZ to develop an increasing range of packages designed to attract visitors to the region and entice them to spend longer and do more in Our Greater Outdoors whilst travelling more sustainably on the train!”
In January last year, members of the public started a Save Our Trains campaign calling on the Government and KiwiRail to commit to maintaining existing intercity passenger rail services including Taumarunui.
The group addressed a petition of the same name to Minister of Transport Michael Wood and the chief executive of KiwiRail Peter Reidy calling on the Government to also develop a national strategy for future passenger rail services.
Save Our Trains spokesperson and economist Paul Callister says one campaign goal was to make sure that rail is a convenient, low-emission and cost-effective transport option for all New Zealanders throughout the region.
“We are moving slowly in the right direction, and what is needed now is a commitment from the Government and KiwiRail to get the cost of fares down and have this train running at least one day a week to make this a reality,” Callister says.
The train station, opened in 1903, has a historic status and was a popular stopover point for trains heading north and south throughout the 20th century.
The train station is featured in the well-known folk song, Taumarunui on the Main Trunk Line, by Peter Cape from the 1950s and talks about the railway station’s glory days.