Ormondville Rail Preservation Group Inc.

End of the Bay Express - 2001

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In mid-2001, after a lot of speculation regarding the fate of TranzRail and the New Zealand rail network in general, it became clear that a number of New Zealand's passenger trains were under threat due to 'unprofitability'. In part this was attributed to NZ having sold the railway tracks to TranzRail, which then was supposed to maintain these as well as the train stock itself. At the same time, TranzRail's competitors, the bus and trucking companies, did not have to contribute anything remotely like these costs to use the roading network. 

In other words, people were not supporting the passenger rail service for such reasons as incompatible timetables and costs. Times were somewhat different from the heyday of passenger rail.

The Bay Express stopped at Ormondville only on demand - usually meaning that someone standing on the platform had flagged it down. We don't know how often people boarded it during the week, but the weekend usage at Ormondville was minimal. We would usually note the many empty seats onboard as well. However, the train did bring us  some B&B guestsand working bee visitors and sometimes when it was running early, it just stopped for the hell of it to let its passengers hop off for a quick look around our station. Then within minutes it was gone again.  

So the Bay Express was part of the Ormondville scene twice daily. And then from 8 October 2001 onwards, it was gone...

The material below provides an idea of what was going on during 2001. Move on to the next webpage for Bay Express photos etc. (link at bottom of this page) if you can't face reading all this detail.

Eventually all the rail services then under threat were discontinued, while the Auckland-Wellington overnight train, the Overlander, was discontinued with minimal fuss in the latter part of 2004. The Government also bought back the rail network for $1 (plus an offer to spend millions repairing it), while the rest of TranzRail's former property is now owned by TollRail and life seems to have improved.

This is a 'Tremain' cartoon from (probably the Dominion) of 28 June 2001, which gives a pretty good summary of how TranzRail was being viewed at this time. We have another similar cartoon hanging on the goods shed noticeboard, showing a decrepid wheel-less loco captioned to represent the state of the NZ railway network that TranzRail was attempting to flog off. 

The following articles give some idea of how things were going on throughout this time:

Uncertain future for scenic rail rides  

Source: nzoom.com (TV1) Jun 23, 2001

There is concern that four passenger rail services could face the axe when Tranz Rail sells off part of its rail network.

Melbourne-based West Coast Railway , one of the leading contenders for a takeover of the passenger network, says it is too early to say what services would remain in place as it is still negotiating with Tranz Rail.

"We've been participating in the tender bid and we're very interested in the business and looking forward to trying to win it," says Don Gibson, a leading negotiator with West Coast Rail.

Earlier this week there was speculation over whether the Southerner passenger service from Christchurch to Invercargill will survive the sale process, with local politicians and unions fearing the service will be scrapped.

Now there is more conjecture that three other passenger routes, this time in the North Island, could also be for the chop.

They include the Bay Express from Wellington to Napier, the Kaimai express from Auckland to Tauranga and the Geyserland from Auckland to Rotorua.

Tranz Rail continues to refuse to comment while negotiations proceed.

But Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton believes some routes are at risk.

"I think they are but that's the truth of it... that doesn't mean to say that they will end and the tracks torn up... we own the land and no one is going to come on our land and rip them up unless we say so," Anderton says.

The Australian bidders refuse to speculate on what services might survive if they are successful in the bid.

Those interested are now at the stage of fine tuning their bids.

West Coast Rail says it been in discussions with Tranz Rail for over six months, and that it will meet again with them on Monday.

Greens backed in fight for rail link
27 June 2001 - Manawatu Evening Standard - By ANNA WALLIS

Destination Manawatu will join with the Green Party to save rail - specifically the Bay Express.

The Tranz Rail chop of long-haul passenger services has left the dedicated Wellington-Palmerston North service, Capital Connection, intact, but according to Destination Manawatu chief executive Steve Easthope, the Bay Express could also be important to Palmerston North's transport network.

"The Visitor Centre says there are a lot of people getting on and off the Bay Express in Palmerston North. That being so, cutting the service will have an effect on people's ability to get to Palmerston North by rail."

He said the Green Party had already been in contact with him, rallying support for an approach to Australian company West Coast Railway to give the Bay Express a reprieve.

The problem with the Tranz Rail services, said Mr Easthope, has been a lack of marketing.para "They just haven't got out there and marketed the services. You only have to look at what the airlines do to see the importance of that."

No figures were available from Tranz Rail on how many people using the Bay Express got on or off in Palmerston North. However, the company could say, on average, it carried 45 passengers a day, down 23 percent since 1996. Tranz Rail spokesman Jeremy Kirk was unable to say how popular the Capital Connection had been.

But it must have been patronised well enough for West Coast Railway to include it in its purchases, which include the Wellington-Auckland services, the TranzCoastal between Picton and Christchurch and the TranzAlpine between Christchurch and Greymouth. The Green Party initiative will see politicians and other groups making a joint approach to West Coast Railway to discuss alternatives to cutting the services.

Also commenting on the service cuts, Vision Manawatu's deputy chief executive Adrian Broad said any reduction in transport services in and out of Palmerston North was of "deep concern".

He said he was pleased Tranz Rail was continuing Capital Connection, but the critical factor in the success of the region was its links with other centres, and the closure of the Hawke's Bay service could impact on that.

Editorial: Trains still vital to Bay

28.06.2001 - Hawkes Bay Today 

Retaining the Bay Express is not only about its relevance to our daily lives — after all, few Hawke’s Bay residents actually use the service to Wellington regularly, as travel by car, even bus, is quicker and cheaper. The link is, however, important to our province’s sense of identity.

Hawke’s Bay relied on the railway link for decades — in the immediate aftermath of the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake, residents of Napier and Hastings were evacuated to Wellington by train, and relief workers and supplies were also brought to the devastated cities by rail.

But should government or local authorities give money to a private company, either American-owned (Tranz Rail) or Australian-owned (West Coast Railway) to keep the link going when there is obviously insufficient demand for the service to turn a profit? After all, the railway line will remain, as Tranz Rail has given an assurance that the freight service south from Napier is secure, and a passenger service could be resumed if future demand warranted it.

But the reality is that once the service was withdrawn, coach and bus operators would take up the business and it is unlikely trains would carry passengers from the Bay to the Capital ever again.

So it is crunch time for rail, and Napier Mayor Alan Dick is to be congratulated for once again going in to bat for the Bay, despite previous efforts to retain vital services, namely his city’s public and private hospitals, being unsuccessful.

But it is sad that, as with attempts to deal with drunkenness on our cities’ streets, it is local politicians doing the work, with our national representatives nowhere to be found.

The fact of the matter is that it was our national politicians who sold the railways to overseas interests, and pocketed the proceeds, so they have a responsibility to address issues such as the proposed closure of this important provincial route.

One of the reasons the service is underutilised is the length of time it takes to get to Wellington on the train, due to old rolling stock and a poor track.

Visitors from Europe or Japan who are used to modern trains and track may find New Zealand’s equivalent quaint, but they are unlikely to use it more than once. Therefore there is also an onus on the rail link’s owners, be it Tranz Rail or West Coast, to provide a modern, fast service which people might consider using as an alternative to their cars. If that happened there is no reason why the required 20 to 30 percent lift in passenger numbers could not be achieved quite easily.

However, improving the trains and track would require an enormous investment, and there is every likelihood that it would not happen without government assistance.

But it is the tourism potential of the link, at a time when the visitor industry in the Bay is growing at an impressive rate, that must give our mayors the best chance of convincing West Coast Railway that the Bay Express has a future. For the sake of the province, its past and its future, we can but hope that they make a good enough case.

Planning to keep the Bay Express on track
Dominion feature article - 02 July 2001

ON TRACK: Passengers prepare to board the Bay Express in Napier
BILL KEARNS/The Dominion

With the threat of closure looming over the Wellington-Napier rail service, its supporters are hoping to reinvent the Bay Express as a tourist experience, writes Bernard Carpinter

The Bay Express passenger train, threatened with closure in the next few months, has a dual identity.

On one hand, it has a loyal clientele of travellers who use it regularly as their preferred method of transport between Wellington and Hawke's Bay, and points in between.

On the other hand, leaders in the Bay are coming to view it as a tourist attraction in its own right. The suggestion was made at the Napier City Council meeting last week that it should be renamed the Art Deco Express. Perhaps the Wine Train would be equally apt – or even the Bay Espresso.

But at the moment, the two groups of passengers – commuters and tourists – are not quite big enough to make the service profitable.

The Bay Express is not one of the long-distance services the Australian-based West Coast Railways (WCR) is seeking to buy from Tranz Rail, which operates the services under the Tranz Scenic banner.

However, WCR has indicated it is open to persuasion about buying the Bay Express and the Southerner (from Christchurch to Invercargill). If it can be convinced the lines are viable, it would be prepared to invest in them to make them work.

Late last week it told local government representatives it would reconsider the viability of the line if, within two months, someone could come up with between $200,000 and $300,000 a year for the next three years.

Tranz Rail says the average passenger load on the Bay Express, which runs one way each day, is 45. That's not enough to make it profitable, but it's not disastrously far away from viability.

Last Thursday's service arrived in Napier with about 20 passengers on board, more having left the train at Hastings and other stations en route. They left Wellington at 8am and arrived at Napier's brightly muralled station shortly before 1.30pm.

The passengers disembarking at Napier and those joining the return service to Wellington included many regular travellers who expressed dismay about its possible demise.

"It's a million times better than the bus, there's more room and it's more relaxing," said Victoria University student Annette Cooper, who travels by train regularly to and from her Hawke's Bay home.

Candessa Pask and her daughter Laura, who was travelling back to school in Palmerston North, are also firm supporters of the train.

"The train's better than the bus – you can walk around," Laura said. "It'll be a pity if it goes," her mother added.

MOST of the passengers that day were young. "Good luck with the exam," one father said to his daughter as she climbed aboard.

The Bay Express costs $75 each way. There are two competing bus services, Newmans and Inter City, charging $62 and $60 respectively and each running one service a day. These are independent companies, not part of Tranz Rail.

The bus trip is not significantly quicker than the train, which takes nearly 5-1/2 hours. You can drive a car from Wellington to Napier in four hours.

There seemed to be few tourists on the train on Thursday, but an English couple who had travelled by train from Christchurch said they were quite satisfied with their experiences. "It'll be a loss to tourism," they said.

Tourism is where Napier Mayor Alan Dick sees the future of the train.

"It has to be an attraction in itself," he says, adding that the carriages are so old an art deco theme would probably be appropriate.

Mr Dick says the train needs sprucing up, and indeed its dull blue exterior could do with some fresh paint and perhaps a zappier colour scheme.

However, the air-conditioned interior is tidy, with brightly patterned fabrics, tables between the seats, a buffet and a big observation window at the back of the rear coach.

Mr Dick was planning to take the bus from Napier to Wellington on one day and return by train the following day, to get a feel for the competing services.

With tourism an ever-more important part of the Hawke's Bay economy, Mr Dick is loath to see the end of both a tourist attraction and a means of bringing tourists to the area.

People who have taken the train trip say the scenery is well worth seeing, and the views are surprisingly different from those you get when travelling by road.

Dominion reporter Philip Kitchin says that he and his wife thoroughly enjoyed the Bay Express the last time they travelled to Wellington on it – even though seats had been double-booked, he says, and there was not enough room for a horde of schoolchildren who boarded at Waipukurau to sit down. The Bay Express is the sole survivor of what was once a much more extensive passenger rail service, which continued on to Gisborne. There are now no passenger train services to Gisborne, but buses bound that way depart from the railway station/travel centre in Napier.

Train driver Alan Brabender notes that in the old days, when NZ Rail ran its own buses, travel times were organised so that connections could be made between the buses and trains.

This is no longer the case, and there has been a drop-off in train travel for this reason, he says.

Mr Dick has arranged a meeting with WCR managing director Don Gibson on July 9, which will also be attended by other stakeholders from Wellington through to Gisborne, including mayors, MPs, regional council chairs and tourism operators.

On Wednesday, Mr Dick will discuss the issue with the Minister of Transport, Mark Gosche, Hastings Mayor Jeremy Dwyer, Hawke's Bay Regional Council chairman Ross Bramwell, and Hawke's Bay Tourism chairman Graeme Avery.

Hawke's Bay Chamber of Commerce chief executive Richard Heath says it is important that all transport services into the bay should be available.

However, the chamber would not be in favour of subsidies to keep a service going, he says.

The general manager of Hawke's Bay Regional Council, Andrew Caseley, says it would be disappointing if the rail option was removed, especially if it impacted on the economics of freight services using the line.

Critics of Tranz Rail say the Bay Express has not been promoted or marketed properly as, for example, the TranzAlpine from Christchurch to Greymouth has.

Perhaps it just needs a little more effort to keep travellers, tourists and train enthusiasts happy.

Bid to save Bay Express goes online
14.07.2001 - Hawkes Bay Today, by Peter Gaston

A “Save the Bay Express” campaign has been launched on a Hawke’s Bay website from almost 9600km away.

The campaign was started yesterday by a former Hastings man, Murray Potts, now working in the Taiwanese computer industry.

He has linked the campaign to the Hawke’s Bay website www.hawkesbay.com, which he has been developing over the past year in partnership with Taradale volunteer firefighter and computer software designer Kerry Marshall.

Mr Marshall said Mr Potts was hugely interested in Hawke’s Bay and was very disappointed that the Bay Express, one of the country’s icons, faced an uncertain future.

He was using the internet as a forum and already five people, who supported the retention of the Napier-Wellington rail link, had posted their views on the site.

Mr Potts planned to give copies of the views of people visiting the “Save the Bay Express” site to Hawke’s Bay local body leaders to support their efforts to keep the service, Mr Marshall said.

Australian-based West Coast Railway, which is buying Tranz Rail’s long-distance passenger services, said it would only continue running the Bay Express if it could be made economic. 

(Ormondville Rail Preservation Group did its bit in this too, with our website [and website operator] participating in the overall coverage and research - hence some of the material now available on our website. Murray Potts has since sold the hawkesbay.com domain name - and returned to NZ.)

Wine, luxury plan to save Bay Express
Dominion - 23 July 2001, By BERNARD CARPINTER 

A luxury train connecting three leading wine regions is being proposed as a way to save the threatened Bay Express from Wellington to Hawke's Bay.

Regional tourism agencies have put forward the idea of rerouting the train through Wairarapa, so that wine-lovers could visit Martinborough, and then continuing the train to Gisborne. First-class food and wine would be provided on the train, which could be called the Wine Country Express.

The tourism groups' suggestions were prepared as part of an effort, coordinated by Napier Mayor Alan Dick, to persuade Australian company West Coast Railway to buy the service from Tranz Rail, which is quitting all its passenger services.

If West Coast Railway does not buy the Bay Express then the service, which runs daily between Wellington and Napier through Palmerston North, will die in a few months.

East coast leaders want to keep the train as a passenger transport service, but say its future can be assured only by adding a tourism component.

The submissions from the tourism agencies have been collated into a report for Mr Dick, which he has forwarded to West Coast Railway.

"In marketing terms, the linking of three great wine regions in one itinerary from an international gateway is attractive," the report says. "The scenic appeal of the journey is also fundamentally important.

"The stunning scenery created in the hilly, tunnelled native bush on the trip from Wellington through to the Wairarapa, changing to the vines and fields of Hawke's Bay and than back into the wonderful landscapes from Wairoa to Gisborne, provide a compelling series of scenic experiences for the visitor.

"We believe that a luxury train incorporating a first-class restaurant as a core component would be most relevant for our situation," the report says.

The train could still include a standard passenger section, and on the Gisborne sector possibly a freight car as well, it says.

The Wine Country Express could be marketed to international tourists, corporate hospitality, conferences, honeymooners, food and wine lovers and Wellington weekend "escapers", the tourism groups said.

However, they acknowledged that the Wine Country Express would need a new locomotive, purpose-built carriages and upgraded stations, requiring considerable investment.

East coast leaders are looking for subsidies to keep the Bay Express going for three years while West Coast Railway invests in improvements and marketing to revitalise the service.

Mr Dick has written to Deputy Prime Minister and Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton, asking that central government provide the whole subsidy for the first year, as local bodies have committed their funds for the near future and there is little time to prepare submissions to Transfund.

Mr Dick has also received a letter from the Bus and Coach Association objecting to subsidies for long-distance rail services. Executive director John Collyns said that long-distance bus operators received no subsidies, and subsidies for trains would give them an unfair advantage.

From an article in  'Rails' page 13, Aug. 2001, outlining the health of the various passenger rail services threatened with closure.

The Bay Express

The service runs from Wellington to Napier and back and requires just one train set. There is a long train riding tradition in Hawke's Bay as is indicated by the fact that the region never did lose its rail passenger services at the time of the great railcar cut-backs when both the Rotorua and Tauranga services ceased to be.

In the burst of activity in the early 1970s which saw the birth of the 'named' trains, the Hawke's Bay Line was alone among provincial routes in having its own locomotive-hauled refurbished carriage train, The Endeavour. Out of that was born the Bay Express, a train which employs the same-style panorama cars and observation car as used on the Overlander.

The threat of losing the train has generated interest in Hawkes Bay, especially Napier, which promotes itself as the Art Deco capital of the world. Train travel fits in well with that period (the 1920s and 1930s) and it is possible to imagine a promotion along the lines of "the Art Deco experience starts when you board the express at Wellington."

Scenery en route ranges from low-key to quite spectacular with the passage through the Manawatu Gorge and the series of high viaducts in southern Hawke's Bay and the train serves a number of intermediate points from which domestic traffic might be boosted.

Verdict: If any of the North Island's threatened services are to be saved this looks to be the front-runner.