Overlander Success


More proof that rail is on the roll - this time tourist trains.

The DomPost reports today that the Overlander has had a 24 per cent increase in the last 12 months.

Remember it was threatened with extinction and many said it was a waste of time even trying to keep it going.

Figures from KiwiRail show there were 340,000 passenger journeys on the TranzAlpine, TranzCoastal and Overlander in the past financial year, up from 306,000. Of those the TranzAlpine – from Christchurch to Greymouth – was the most popular, with 193,000.

That’s an 11 per cent increase.

Makes you wonder what other long distance services they should be trying.

In July, 2006 it was announced  that the Overlander would be axed after the Government turned down a subsidy request from Toll NZ saying the market place should dictate whether it could run.

Toll Holdings announced that the Labour government refusal to help meant it would have to close the Auckland-Wellington service which has been running for about a century as it wasn’t viable.

The ARC led by chair Mike Lee, Environment Waikato, Horizons Manawatu and the Greater Wellington Regional Council rallied to ask for more time  -until September 2007 to work with the government and Toll Holdings, for a joint financial rescue.

They were especially concerned about the effect on the central North Island and the ski fields.

The Greens started a campaign to give the Overlander a two-year stay of execution.

In September 2006, just three days before the service was due to end, Toll announced that it would continue on a schedule reduced from daily year-round to Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in the off-peak winter season, and daily in the peak summer and Easter period.




  1. William M says:


  2. Ian M says:

    Great to hear. It would be another good step to try and improve the service further by bringing the journey down. I feel that 12hrs from Akl-Wel is still too long.

  3. Matt L says:

    One service I would like to see is tried Auckland to Tauranga, that could be popular in Summer and seeing as it has to go through Hamilton could help to form part of a renewed Auckland - Hamilton service.

  4. Stranded on the North Shore says:

    They’ve done an amazing job marketing and setting a realistic price for the Overlander service. Seriously. That’s all that was lacking before. I never recommend the Overlander as a pure commuting service, instead, I tell people to think of it as a scenic and relaxing trip - so 12 hours is not something I worry too much about. With $49 anywhere fares (to Wellington), it would be nice to see the Auckland->Hamilton fare dropped from the current $31 to something more realistic like $20, but maybe they don’t want to encourage that too much in fear of people actually using the Overlander service for AKL->HAM travel??? … any way, congratulations!!! ;-)

  5. karl says:

    “I feel that 12hrs from Akl-Wel is still too long.”

    The overlander is NOT a transport service in my mnd at all. It is a (very worthwile) tourist service, that I’ve used several times. I don’t think it would be worth spending a lot of money to, say, bring the journey time from Auckland to Wellington to 8 hours. Still not competitive with a plane, really. Kiwirail should spend the money on getting better freight efficiency, or on commuter services.

    BTW, those comments don’t apply to a Auckland-Hamilton service. But short of spending big to create a high-speed rail connection between Auckland and Welly, I think it is fruitless to ever expect much commuting use on that route.

  6. Ian M says:

    Whilst a service to Tauranga would be great (up to 7 days a week during summer I feel could be sustained), I dont think it should be targeted as a commuter service to Hamilton. We need a much more frequent service to Hamilton (3x return daily min), otherwise we will end up back with the Waikato Connection failure.

  7. Matt L says:

    Ian, I agree it shouldn’t be the only service to Hamilton but it could form part of the overall service. To provide an overall better level of service for the public.

  8. Ian M says:

    If it were part of the service then what would likely happen is that all the seats are taken on that leg, ie booking the train out, and then a mass exidous at Hamilton. It could potentially make it a lot less appealing for tourists wanting travelling the whole route.
    12hrs is a very long time to sit on that train, even if there is a stop to stretch the legs along the way. By the time you reach Akl or Wellington and checked into accomodation the night is half gone, which isnt very good for tourism. Also you cant say use the service if you wanted to attend a sports game. Even if they could drop 2 or 3 hours of tthe trip, that would be great.

  9. Anon says:

    Bring back an 8pm to 8am sleeper service, with decent sized private cabins & bed.

    There is a certain notion involving the motion of the locomotion.

  10. Chris J says:

    I understood it is part of KiwiRail’s grand plan to significantly reduce the transit time on the main trunk, so presumably this will be of benefit to the Overlander as well?

    Good to see the comments on the idea of an Auckland-Tauranga service. Of course, just how much interest KiwiRail has in developing new long-distance passenger services is anyone’s guess, but let’s hope the success of the Overlander gets into someone’s head, somewhere in the organisation. For what it’s worth, this is what I’d like to see considered…

    The terminus of the journey should not be Tauranga but Mt Maunganui. For those who don’t know, the Mount railyards are very close to the CBD area, and close to the main beach (a few minutes walk). At the northern end of the railyards, a stone’s throw from the cafes, apartments, shops etc, and also just 100 or so metres from the Port of Tauranga cruise ship terminal, is an old derelict fire station. At the moment an eyesore, but an ideal site for a passenger terminus, and could be developed at a reasonably modest cost.

    Mt Maunganui is one of NZ’s highest profile tourist brands, and the whole Tauranga/Mount area one of the favourite escapes for Aucklanders. Surely an Auckland-Mt Maunganui train service would be highly marketable.

  11. Diego says:

    This are great news. I wish they would shortened a bit the length of the journey though. I believe a realistic timing could be around 9.5 to 10 hrs trip. And we could manage with a bit of better catering on board and slightly better facilities, i.e. new seats if not new carriages altogether. Still, I guess is good news :)

  12. Paul says:

    Yes very good news.

    Journey times should improves as KiwiRail focuses on its core route – Auckland-Welly-Chch, how soon this happens is the big question. Any new on this front? More and longer passing loops, curve easing etc…

    Some more MKII’s wouldn’t go a miss on the Overlander, the current stock isn’t that bad, last time I journeyed.

    @Chris J
    Auckland-Mt Maunganui train service, The Mount would be a very sound extension to land at the door of all those cruise ships

  13. Nick R says:

    I think getting down to ten hours would be ideal, but I do realise it is a tourist train. When I took it earlier this year we broke it up with an overnight stay at National Park and a little hiking, that made it very comfortable.
    Plus the seven day pass for $400 is a very good value way to tour the country as it includes the Overlander, a Cook Strait crossing, the Transcoastal and the Transalpine, plus you can hop on and off as much as you like. I spent one night in National Park, two nights in Wellington, one in Kaikoura and two in ChCh on the way between Auckland and Westport.

    I think an overnight train would be very popular with tourists, particularly with sleeper bunks. You obviously miss the scenery through the middle but you get a couple of hours of it over breakfast and dinner.

    In the upper north the other obvious train is a regular link from Auckland to Rotorua. Rotorua is supposed to be the premiere tourist destination in the North Island right? Why not capture that market?

    With two silver ferns in service (with the third as a backup), they could run a good daily service to Hamilton, Tauranga and Rotorua.
    Two Ferns would allow hourly service between Auckland and Hamilton during the early morning and late evening peaks, while during the middle of the day (say between about 10am and 3pm) two of those services could be extended from Hamilton to Tauranga and Rotorua respectively before returning to Auckland.

  14. Anthony M says:

    Auckland-Mt Maunganui Service sounds fantastic!
    since it is right next to a cruise ship terminal, If i were a tourist, the idea of going to auckland on a train from the mount would be fantastic!
    another reason why they should reopen Hamilton Central.

  15. Andrew Miller says:

    There was an Auckland to Rotorua and Tauranga service via Hamilton in the 80s using the Silver Ferns and very pleasant it was too.What would also be a good touristy trip would be Chch-Dunedin in a day similar to the TranzAlpine. The Otago coastline that the train goes past is rather spectacular and most is not visibale from the raod.

  16. Ian M says:

    Chc-Dunedin is a great idea, the scenery would be great and seems pretty obvious..Could even be useful for those wanting to get to chc for the airport, since it a large gateway.

  17. Kel says:

    Probably half of the problem is that NZers don’t really think of trains when it comes to travelling; instead we see them a ‘touristy’ experience instead of a real way of actually getting to where we want to go.

    Maybe I am showing ignorance, but I haven’t seen any marketing campaigns to attract normal people wanting to travel to Wellington cheaply (or vice-versa), conveniently and environmentally more sustainably. Keeping in mind, tourists will still use it no matter who it’s marketed towards.

    Cheap, fast, clean and efficient = big success when it comes to train travel. The Chinese have it well sorted!

  18. Carl says:

    I’m suprised it’s not economic to run a night sleeper service over the weekend at least. I know a few people who work the week in Wellington and spend the weekend in Auckland or vice versa. A 10 or 12 hour journey time would be perfect. It would also be popular for people heading to Ohakune or National Park for the snow on a Friday night.

  19. Scott says:

    Kel, Using the overlander as an example it’s easy to see why. The Trains we have are not really a good transit choice.

    I just organized transport Auckland to Wellington for a concert early next year.

    Overlander: 12 hours, $49
    Plane: 1 hour: $61 (early morning planes were cheaper)
    Bus: 11 hours, 5 mins, $18
    Car: about 9 hours, about $80 in petrol, between 2 = $40

    You can see that from a pure transport perspective you would be mad to take the train. However I just booked train tickets for the trip south because of the scenic/tourist aspect. I think it is important it is market as a premium service not just simply cheep transport, as it will be hard. It will be very hard to compete with the faster, cheaper bus, the faster, marginally more expensive train, and the leave when you feel like it private car.

  20. Nick R says:

    Plane is going to beat just about anything in NZ for travel time, Although at about 3.5 hours from Auckland to Tauranga by rail it’s starting to get competitive once you factor in travel to the airport and mucking around time.

    Train is perhaps superior to bus and car due to the fact you can do stuff while you’re on it. Buses tend to be too cramped for laptops and to much motion for reading, while cars you’re stuck behind the wheel for 9 hours. On a train you can read, write, use a PC, have coffee or lunch at the buffet car and of course pop to the loo whenever you feel like it.

  21. Scott says:

    woops where i said train in the last sentence above I meant plane.

    What i was getting at nick was that it is difficult for rail to compete directly against the other methods over the Auckland wellington route.

    Plane wins hands down for speed.
    Bus wins for lowest price.
    Car has lots of situations where it is the best choice (even if somebody has to drive it).

    I think the train service should be designed and marketed to compete in a different place in the market. By trying to be more transit like it is only really competing with bus services. By providing a premium service it the only way it will be able to get people who would have otherwise flown, taken a car, or not traveled at all.

    Anybody know about how many people you need in a train to compete with a bus on price?

  22. Matt L says:

    Carl - I agree that snow trains would surely be very popular in Winter. If the time could be cut down a bit you could have a train that leaves Auckland on a Friday night at around 5:30/6 and getting to Ohakune about 11/11:30 would be quite good. It would probably be quite a good atmosphere on the way down as everyone would be excited.

    Coming back on a Sunday evening everyone will probably be a bit tired and many will probably have a sleep, its probably a lot safer than driving home after spending a day on the mountain.

  23. dj says:

    In the 1980′s there used to be a train that ran Auckland-Ohakune on friday & return sunday. It was sponsored by Kiwi Lager. The loco & cars were painted in their company colours.

  24. Matt says:

    As has been observed, getting the trip time down will happen with other work that KR’s doing on the NIMT. One big reason that road freight is more attractive than rail is that in the past 25 years it’s gone from roughly equal time for road and rail to rail remaining at 12-13 hours while road is down to 10 hours (for a truckie who’s obeying all the rules about speed and driving hours). That’s what chronic under-investment in rail has lead us to. KR’s looking to fix that, but it’ll take a while and until the work is done passenger trips on NIMT won’t get faster. It’s just not possible.

    The idea of a “snow train” is a cool one (thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week), especially if they run from both Auckland and Wellington. And if the Wellington one left around 7, 7:30, people could fly up from Christchurch and catch it after work.

  25. Matt L says:

    Matt - I don’t know why you would want to fly up to the north island to ski. The snow is much better in the south island and the weather is more stable, I would much prefer being there than on Ruapehu (although I am going this weekend)

  26. Nick R says:

    I agree that trains cannot compete on speed with planes (in NZ at least) or price with buses, nor can they compete with point to point convenience of cars. However there are some niches where train travel is competitive:
    1) Scenery is usually most spectacular and easiest to view from the train, so it gets the tourist card.
    2) Comfort: Beats a bus and plane hands down, but naturally that has to be weighed up against cost and time. Again probably a draw card for the leisure travellers rather than business
    3) Space to work: This can be a biggie for business customers. While you can drive to Tauranga in 2.5 hours that is 2.5 wasted hours behind the wheel. The old Kaimai Express took 3.5 hours but that was 3.5 hours you could be productive, relax or even snooze.
    4) Directness, in that they go from city centre to city centre unlike air travel which requires accessing airports that tend to be far away and expensive to travel to and from. Also this could pip the private car at certain times if it means avoiding rush hour traffic.
    5) Space to sleep on overnight trains, either in a relatively big and comfortable chair or in a couchette. On the right routes this equals a big time saving and often a cost saving too, as you do your travel at the time you’d normally be asleep in a hotel bed. The length of Auckland to Wellington is ideal for an overnight sleeper, leave Britomart just after dinnertime and wake up at Wellington in time for breakfast.

    How much of these NIMT works will be between Auckland and Hamilton? That could mean quite a time boost for any Waikato Connection, plus any to the Bay of Plenty.

  27. Scott says:

    What i was getting at is i think rail should target its competitive strong points in marketing. From a pure transport perspective there are better options but due to the advantages you list above many people are doing like i did and buying train tickets instead.

    I think the intercity trains in NZ should play the green card more. There is growing concern about the environment impact of air travel (and car travel).

  28. Anthony M says:

    Introducing the Southerner again is also a great idea, many people tend to forget about South Canterbury as a good destination, sure it might not be Queenstown or Milford, but during the summer time we have a massive canaval at Caroline Bay which is very popular to people all over the South Island it has rides compititions, markets and a talent show, also, another big factor is that the canaval is a walking distance to the train station, and dispite no trains going there, it is in a good condition as the council keep it maintained since they have hopes of the trains running again, they even have a cafe there and use the station as a stopover for Long-Distance buses e.g. Inter City, Naked Bus and Atomic travel, not to mention a massive Pool complex being built there as well.

    There currently a big problem with traffic from the amount of people heading to and from the Bay. the last time I went it took 25 minutes to get from the Car Park to the Intersection that connects the Bay to the Evans Street (SH1)
    there is currently no traffic lights and dispite the councils purposals the public refuses to allow them to build them since Timaru (27,000) already has at about 15.

    so introducing a train service would make it easier for people to access the bay without to much problems.

  29. Marsoe says:

    The Southerner could be trialled on special-event days. The Overlander certainly is a success, as are the other Tranzscenic trains (last year TranzAlpine had 49% patronage growth, and the TranzCoastal 30%), and there’s not much more space to be filled.

    Losing the Overlander would have been a crime against the nation I think.


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