Northland Rail Suggestion


A proposal to bring a deluxe sleeper train to New Zealand and set up an Orient Express-style high-end tourism operation has emerged from a discussion about the future of the Northland rail line.

KiwiRail has apparently said it will ask its board for another six months’ grace before making a final announcement on the future of the line, but it has said all along that decision would be made in mid-2012.

At a meeting in Whangarei last night to discuss plans to mothball the Auckland-Northland rail line the Orient Expres idea emerged.

Is the Orient Express a go between North & Auckland?

Labour’s Kelvin Davis, in a statement says: “”It’s a brilliant idea, and given it has come from an ex-banker, we expect the Prime Minister as a former banker himself and as Tourism Minister, to take a particular interest in it.

“Keeping the line open and viable is something the community wants - as they say it is their line, not Steven Joyce’s - and they have come up with a whole heap of viable suggestions to do just that.

“Unfortunately the Government, in its usual short-sighted way, doesn’t want to look past its nose. There’s a deep water port at Marsden Point. It has no rail access. A spur line out to the refinery has already been investigated.

“Plus it has already been pointed out that widening the tunnels along the route to accommodate the new hi-cube containers could be done for a fraction of what it is costing to build Mr Joyce’s ‘holiday highway’, while the use of low-bed container wagons has also been proposed.”

He still believes the agenda is to mothball the line.

Saving the Northland rail is one thing.

But as for the Orient Express, nice idea but is it a luxury service seriously a reality between Auckland and the not very luxurious Whangarei?

Sorry, but I can’t see it.






  1. Sam says:

    Better would be a backpackers service to Opua; BOI is already a frequent destination from Akl and the rail is already there, via another tourist spot Hunderwasser @Kawakawa….

  2. Travis says:

    Its supposed to run the length of the country not just from the Rei to AKL

  3. Paul in Sydney says:

    I don’t think any passenger service will really help secure the lines future, it’s all about the freight potential. Get the tunnels fixed and the line to Marsden point, that’s the future

  4. Anthony says:

    I don’t really see it ethier, a ALK-WLG line would be possible…but no…..

  5. Martin says:

    Its a pity to think that the Asian Oreint trains used to be OUR exclusive train in the 70s, the Silver Star for those who remember it.

    Pity the Railways Corp of the 80s flogged it off to Thames (and onwards to Asia).

  6. Matt says:

    The money in rail is in freight, not in passengers. Freight can be shunted to a siding for hours, and has far less rigid concern for meeting timetables than do passengers. The only way the NAL will be financially viable is by making it the principal freight route between Northland and Auckland.

  7. Brendan says:

    Since the AKL - WLG service struggles to make a profit during daylight hours, I fail to see how a longer distance service with overnight services could make a profit, let alone raise enough money to maintain the NAL.
    Freight is the future of any service in NZ rail lines, unless we can introduce more frequent and faster services, at a level which I am fortunate enough to enjoy in across the ditch in Victoria. But this comes with a very large cost.

  8. Matt says:

    Brendan, those services are subsidised to the hilt. All passenger rail is, either directly by the government or indirectly by being a loss-making arm of an operator that has massive freight operations.

  9. Giel says:

    Someone is giving the proposers of this idea poor advice. There is no way the ex Queensland Rail/NSW luxury train they are talking about will fit through Northland Rail tunnels. Not even sure it will fit down the NIMT and certainly not the MSL line eg. Mihiwaka tunnel north of Dunedin or the Midland line to the South Island West Coast (Tranz Alpine route). The loading gauge in Queensland is quite a bit larger than New Zealand so with-out major modifications to infrastructure the train couldn’t run there anyway. About the only thing in common with Queensland Rail is the track gauge!! Hardly enough for this proposal to work. Now new rolling stock may be a different possibility - but at huge cost. Anyway like the idea in principle but it wont save the Northland line in itself.

    Matt - What you say may be true in certain parts of the world eg USA, Canada etc but it is not the case in all areas. In New Zealand Tranz Scenic more than covers its marginal costs and is not “subsidised” by freight. It is a way more saleable business than the freight business is hence the fact that business is partly for sale in the market right now. One could argue that this is all due to the Tranz Alpine -which earns more money per track km it travels than all West Coast coal put together does per track km. Coal moves nearly twice the track km distance than the Tranz Alpine does but coal revenue is not twice as much as the Tranz Alpines. You could argue there that the Tranz Alpine in fact subsidises the loss making West Coast coal as it covers all its marginal costs and contributes more to fixed costs such as track maintenance per train km than West Coast coal does. This has been clearly articulated by KiwiRail several times and they are developing strategies to try to correct that. How successful that is remains to be seen yet but good luck to them.

    I also beg to differ on your point about freight being able to be shunted into a siding as a result of it being less time sensitive than passengers. Proof - the many $100′s millions KiwiRail is spending to speed up the NIMT service for freight. So clearly its freight market is very time sensitive - way more than the Overlander for example as it has to make tight ferry connections to the South Island etc. Again KwiRail have clearly articulated this several times in their statements on the Turnaround Plan.

  10. millsy says:

    Time and time again a proposal like this surfaces, and everyone gets excited and chattering then nothing happens and we all go back to sleep.

  11. Guy says:

    One wonders if the likes of Ports of Auckland are lobbying government to not put the Marsden Rail link in place. With Marsden Port being a natural deep water port its has significant natural and probably cost advantages for the new super sized container ships. Future Reclamation and continual further dredging of the Auckland harbour is perhaps not something Aucklanders will accept. While the choices are limited Ports of Auckland have a reasonable case.

  12. Malcolm says:

    Why Whangarei to Auckland? A better idea would be Whangarei to Invercargill. Make it a true world class long distance journey to rival the Trans Siberian. What better way to travel the length of the country as a tourist than on a train.

  13. grunter says:

    I think you guys should read the orginal article before commenting. The plan for the hotel train IS to cover ALL of NZ and not just to Northland. Nor is it going to save the Northalnd line. What the backers of the holiday train idea have said, is that they hope that all the lines stay open as they would like to use them as part of a nationwide tour. Unfortuently, one train every couple of months will not save the lines by itself.

  14. Malcolm says:

    I would have read the article if there was a link! Having read the article, it does sound like a good idea. I think a more low cost train would be good though, for us non-rich folks. $1000-1500 a day is a bit pricey.


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