Return of passenger trains to the Hawkes Bay

Published on 7/01/2022 at 7:51 am.

Could passenger train services return to the Hawkes Bay region, Hawke's Bay Rail Incorporated chairman Guy Wellwood and Pahiatua Railcar Society president Don Selby would love to see passenger trains returned to the region, after 20 years without any passenger train services.

They believe the move could help tackle climate change issues by taking more cars off the road and also reinvigorate small townships by introducing a comfortable commuter service into Napier and Hastings for workers and school children.

The Bay Express passenger train service between Napier and Wellington was terminated in October 2001 bringing an end to over a century of rail passenger services between the two cities. Apart from sporadic services - such as a vintage railcar operating between Waipukurau and Napier during the Art Deco Festival - passenger trains have largely become a thing of the past in Hawke's Bay.

The state rail operator KiwiRail chief corporate affairs officer Usman Pervaiz said an initiative such as bringing back a Napier to Wellington passenger train service would require partnerships and subsidies but is open to reinstating a passenger service in the region in future but it is not financially viable on its own.

"With many transport choices available to people there is usually insufficient patronage on trains for stand-alone services to be financially viable. Even with higher patronage, such as for metro services, a subsidy is still needed for affordable access to the commuting public," he said.

"KiwiRail wants people to be on trains, that is in our DNA and we'll always be keen to look at whether we could operate any proposed new services and work with central and local government on any proposal."

He said a business case would have to be made for a new passenger train service, as it is a complex process in developing, planning, funding and obtaining local or central government support before you reach the point of a rail operator bidding or choosing to physically run the service."

Hawke's Bay Rail Incorporated chairman Guy Wellwood said there were many benefits in bringing back public transport trains to the region. "I actually think we need to with climate change and the need to decarbonise," he said.

"We need to start thinking in terms of public transport and utilising our existing rail infrastructure and getting some more trains.". He said even a railcar which operated on a shorter stretch of the existing line through Hawke's Bay would be fantastic.

"I've been very keen on a commuter service that started north of Napier and ended perhaps in Waipukurau every day, I think there would be demand for it and I think the Government should be encouraging rail because it uses so much less carbon [than a lot of vehicles on the road]. It could also make nearby towns more attractive to live in, where workers or school students could commute into Napier and Hastings on a comfortable train ride. I think places like Putorino and Kotemaori north of Napier and places like Waipawa and Otane south of Hastings would benefit." he said.

He said the line from Masterton to Wellington was a success story where people commuted and worked while on the train and it could be a similar success story here.

Wellwood, a retired lawyer, said he had travel on the line from Hastings to Wellington before the Bay Express service was terminated. He said the line between Napier and Gisborne would have to be one of the most spectacular railway lines in the world and he would love to see it better utilised for passengers also.

"It is a very picturesque track - it's there and in very good condition, the bridges are all in good condition and there are hardly any other trains on it," he claimed.

By 2001, patronage on The Bay Express had fallen. That was partly due to the length of time it took to travel between Napier and Wellington which was about five hours and 30 minutes - slower than by car and considerably slower than air travel.

An opinion by Guy Wellwood, the Chair of Hawke's Bay Rail Incorporated

Similar articles