Dunedin Railways to Mothball Historic Rail Line and Equipment Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Pukerangi, New Zealand. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

New Zealand’s Dunedin Railways Limited is mothballing its track and equipment as the COVID-19 pandemic compounds “the company’s existing financial challenges,” officials said.

The Dunedin City Council (DCC) has agreed to cover the costs of mothballing the operation. Mothballing will preserve DRL’s assets, and officials will explore “future options” for the company after the world emerges from the pandemic.

“Sadly, mothballing the company will have an impact on staffing. Consultation with staff and the union has commenced today on proposals which would result in 51 job losses,” DRL Chair Kevin Winders said in a news release.

“We deeply regret the impact on our staff and their families,” Winders added. “This is a very difficult time for them and we will work hard to do everything we can to look after them.”

Dunedin City Holdings Limited, owned by Dunedin City Council, owns 72 percent of Dunedin Railways. The Otago Excursion Train Trust owns the remaining 28 percent.

“The impacts of Covid-19 exacerbate these challenges severely because the company is largely reliant on international tourism which makes up 80% of DRL’s total passenger numbers,” Winders said.

“We are unlikely to see international visitors return in the 2020/21 summer and the outlook beyond that is uncertain at this time,” Winders added. “With this outlook, it is simply not possible to keep the business operating as normal.”

Dunedin Railways operates excursion trains from the historic Dunedin railway station, nicknamed “Gingerbread George,” New Zealand Railways Architect George Troup designed. When completed in about 1921, the Otago Central Railway stretched a total of 146 miles, but a portion of the line was converted into the Otago Central Rail Trail.

“Mothballing the company was the only realistic alternative to full closure,” Mayor of Dunedin Aaron Hawkins said in a news release. “However, this still a heart-breaking outcome because under the proposal a number of jobs would be lost, which is devastating for those impacted and their families.

“It is also a significant blow to an iconic and long-standing tourist attraction,” Hawkins added. “Dunedin Railways, and particularly the Taieri Gorge Railway, is much loved by the Dunedin and wider Otago community.”

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