The high price of travelling by train

For some time I have been wanting to travel on the Tranz Alpine rail journey from Christchurch to Greymouth, spend a day or two on the Coast, then return to Christchurch. I priced out a trip last night – and found that the return trip for two would be $480, plus accommodation in Greymouth, plus travel to and from Christchurch, plus a night or two accommodation in Christchurch. So the trip would cost $1000+ – I decided that was two much for a few days of holiday.

I recently flew from Dunedin to Auckland return, virtually one end of the country to the other, for about the same prices as across the South Island and back.

Coincidentally from Stuff: KiwiRail has priced Kiwis off its trains, yet taxpayers fork out to subsidise it

Our rail is subsidised by you, but most New Zealanders will never experience it because of the thankless and short-sighted management at KiwiRail.

​KiwiRail, the beneficiary of a $1billion bonus in the Wellbeing Budget, denies some everyday New Zealanders the opportunity to travel on its trains. The carriages of trains such as the Northern Explorer, Coastal Pacific and Tranz Alpine are packed mainly with two types of people: tourists and rich elderly folk.

on Saturday I, too, stood aboard one of the Great Journeys of New Zealand.

I got on at an almost deserted train station in Auckland, with a bag full of books, headed for Wellington. The 11-hour journey was beautiful, there’s no doubt about that. The tracks cut through sheep-filled paddocks, jump past waterfalls and curl their way up the 121-year-old Raurimu Spiral.

You can’t get on board the Northern Explorer or TranzAlpine for under $99. Tickets generally cost between $119 and $219. You can’t even get on the Coastal Pacific, between Picton and Christchurch, which is booked out almost every day.

KiwiRail’s pricing is obscene.

It’s a great journey, yes, but why does it cost so much? Most days you can fly Wellington to Auckland for $49 on Air New Zealand.

I’ve also thought of doing the Northern Explorer – fly to Auckland, take the train from Auckland to Wellington, then fly back to Dunedin. The train trip, about a quarter of that distance, is going to cost about the same as the air travel.

The local Taieri Gorge Railway trip costs ‘from $105’ per person – it’s much shorter, but at least that’s return. But I haven’t done that trip for a long time (I last did it over 15 years ago), and the price is a major factor.

In checking this out I see that there’s a special offer for locals (Dunedin residents), half price in June. It’s tempting at that price.

Dunedin to Waitati return, a nice scenic coastal trip but quite short, is ‘from $70’. Reasonable at half price.

Trains can take an almost endless number of people. Add on another carriage, hire a few more train guards and go. Unlike with planes or buses, increasing the price of tickets to equal demand cannot be justified with trains.

The only forseeable reason KiwiRail has decided to set its price so high is to remain exclusive. It’s expensive for the sake of it. The people at the state-run rail company have made a decision to price New Zealanders off our trains.

This isn’t just bad for travellers. It’s bad for regional New Zealand and the environment, too.

The Wellbeing Budget was meant to put New Zealanders at the heart of spending. From what I can see, it has given KiwiRail the green light to keep running a business that does not serve everyday Kiwis.

An affordable railway system could reduce our carbon emissions. It could encourage people to live in places like Taumarunui and other towns Air New Zealand can’t service. Instead, KiwiRail has decided to forget about the hand that feeds it. It has abandoned towns and priced out most Kiwis, yet we just gave them a $1b bonus.

I’m more likely to drive around for South island trips, and fly north, because the pricing is far from tempting.