You see the Overlander is unprofitable because most people travelling between Wellington and Auckland, or points in between, would rather save time flying, save money catching the bus or enjoy the convenience of driving. Only some tourists and others who prefer the train catch it – and it isn’t enough to make money. Like I said before, it is doomed because it simply isn't economic and the environmental arguments don't stack up.
However, the Greens have a fetish for trains. Odd when you consider that a train pollutes (it doesn’t become more fuel efficient or environmentally friendly than a bus until it is carrying more than 3 full bus loads, whereas the Overlander is carrying at best just over 1). Jeanette Fitzsimons says “It is easy to forget how essential the Overlander is to the communities along the route.” Well that’s because it is not. I doubt Jeanette ever took the Overlander when she was going from Wellington to Palmerston North, Auckland to Hamilton or Auckland to Wellington, with good reason – it is a one off scenic trip, kind of convenient if you ever go to Otorohanga from Wellington, but hardly enough to sustain a train service.
You see lots of communities survive and thrive without passenger train service. Here are some of the largest ones:
North Shore City
How have THEY survived? The answer is that most people have a car or access to a car. In a small community, you can get around on foot or bike. If you want to leave and you’re on a major highway (in other words every stop of the Overlander) there is a bus service.
Jeanette’s suggestion that it will be more successful when the track is “fixed up” is hardly on the ball. At best, the service can run no faster than 10.5 hours Wellington-Auckland, hardly a difference compared with flying or driving. You can give up ideas of French or Japanese style high speed trains unless you have a good $10 billion to throw away (cheaper to buy everyone a car or free plane tickets for life). The idea that marketing it would help assumes this hasn’t happened before. The service as a scenic trip has been promoted, in one form or another for decades. It is NOT the most scenic trip in the country, the profitable TranzAlpine from Christchurch to Greymouth through Arthurs Pass is. It bypasses the tourist spots of Rotorua and Taupo, and for at least half the trip passes through rather unimaginative countryside between Auckland and Te Kuiti, and Hunterville and Paraparaumu. That’s all dead boring.
There should be no subsidisation of the Overlander – as I said before, if you want to support this service – use it NOW! Ride on it several times before it ends, and make demand for it so significant that Tranz Scenic will want to keep running it. If it matters so much to you, forget the car, bus or plane next time you travel on the route – catch the Overlander, and if it isn’t convenient or cheap enough, then you’ll know why others don’t do it.