Ōtira Tunnel Reaches Milestone, Celebrates 100 Years

Current and former rail workers will join the local community on Friday, Aug. 4, to celebrate the centenary of the Ōtira Tunnel, which has linked the West Coast to the rest of the South Island for the past 100 years.

The 8.5 kilometer-long tunnel opened in 1923 and  travels through the Southern Alps, completing the Christchurch to Greymouth rail link.

Although the rail tunnel is now only the third longest in the country, it remains an engineering marvel. During its construction, tunnelers contended with harsh conditions, using basic tools to drive through wet shale and rotten rock, and with the steep track grade required (ascending 1 in 33 from Ōtira to Arthur’s Pass).

As part of the commemoration events planned for Friday, a special themed TranzAlpine service will be taking guests to Ōtira township and tunnel.

KiwiRail’s General Manager for Scenic Journeys and Commuter Rail Tracey Goodall says guests are being invited to step onboard the scenic TranzAlpine train and embark on an adventure that will take them back in time to 1923.

“The journey departing from Addington Station in Christchurch will, of course, include the trip through the tunnel by train, retracing the journey through the heart of an alpine mountain made by those who built the tunnel.”

“We are also, for this one day only, offering a handcrafted three-course menu to honour the legacy of this remarkable part of New Zealand’s rail history.”

“We have planned festivities onboard TranzAlpine and at Ōtira, which include special trips to the tunnel, speeches, guided walks, lunch, historical displays and celebratory cake, along with live entertainment.”

“Ōtira township itself is steeped in rail history. During the tunnel’s construction, more than 600 men and their families were housed at Ōtira village, with some of the original rail cottages still dotted along the roadside today.”

“Guests will also be able to purchase a limited edition minted commemorative coin from TranzAlpine’s onboard gift shop, as a way to remember this historic day.”

KiwiRail Chief Executive Peter Reidy says the significance of the Ōtira Tunnel is enduring and is a testament to the hard work of staff past and present.

“The tunnel remains a vital link on the Midland Line and a gateway to the West Coast. Each week, around 70 trains travel through the tunnel, carrying freight for our customers and visitors on TranzAlpine.”

“KiwiRail connects West Coast producers with Lyttelton Port and overseas markets and provides a sustainable transport solution for the region’s supply chain. TranzAlpine is a world-class scenic rail experience that brings tourism to the Coast with our Great Journeys New Zealand packages encouraging visitors to spend two to four days enjoying the region’s best attractions.”

“KiwiRail continues to invest in the tunnel and over the past four years we’ve carried out considerable work to improve the condition and safety of the tunnel.”

KiwiRail currently employs 14 permanent staff based at Ōtira who support ongoing maintenance and upgrades to the tunnel and rail operations on this section of the Midland Line.

“When speaking with our current staff at KiwiRail, you hear the immense pride they feel about their work to maintain the tunnel in all sorts of weather conditions to ensure that we are able to provide a safe and reliable service for our customers.”

“I want to acknowledge the great efforts of our infrastructure, operations and scenic teams who, day in and day out, complete their roles in the most professional manner. Their hard work and commitment to high standards keep trains running safely through Ōtira.”

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