It’s impossible to keep keen trammies away from the rails and over the past few days Ken Henderson and myself have had a feast, beginning with a Mainline Steam excursion to Arthur’s Pass with the magnificent giant Ka 942. The day was extremely well run with us rail buffs being treated to four photo stops when our train backed up before performing a spirited run past with driver Mark Scotson brilliantly showing off the big Ka 942 for our cameras. What a crescendo of railway sounds bouncing around mountain tops. We were both invited to ride a few kms on the footplate, a thrilling, albeit rollicking experience. A great day was reminisced over a bottle of red and a cheeseboard from the café carriage during the return journey.
Three days later we were kindly invited by KiwiRail to join a promotional run of the TranzAlpine comprising New Zealand-built AK carriages that will soon be an everyday TranzAlpine event, bringing New Zealand scenic rail journeys in line with the best anywhere. In fact, we are arguably better than the best. KiwiRail Scenic staff are superior to most encountered on my world travels. It’s that dinkum friendly Kiwi attitude to the fore I suspect. Ken and I were able to compare experiences with Tom Evers-Swindell, manager of Kiwi Rail’s Passenger Group. Tom, an affable guy, discussed the difficulties of boxing on during an international economic downturn and New Zealand been additionally hit owing to almost two years of Canterbury seismic woes. Interestingly, New Zealand is the only country operating long-distance rail journeys without direct Government subsidies. And potential rail travellers need to accept the reality of paying more for a superior experience compared with, say, bus travel which is remarkably inexpensive in New Zealand.
Tom, also a discerning rail traveller, was enthusiast about New Zealand’s variety of landscapes, especially on the TranzAlpine route. Amongst other travellers were reps from a variety of tourist-related organisations. All appeared suitably impressed. Ken and I spent a good part of the journey on the open AKV observation carriage ever hopeful of capturing that memorable moment as the train wraps around a tight curve, hopefully with snow and mountains as a backdrop. As you may have guessed, we finished the journey reminiscing over a Café carriage purchased bottle of red and cheeseboard. The superior riding, quietness, and comfort of the new AK carriages certainly enhanced the experience.