By TRACEY ROXBURGH
While the Kingston Flyer’s future is still uncertain, its long-time lead engineer has his fingers crossed the historic steam train will soon be back on the tracks regularly.
On Tuesday about 180 people made history, becoming the first passengers on the train, which dates back to the 1870s, in more than eight years.
The tour group’s part of the first Great Southern Train Tour, organised by Pounamu Tourism Group, which is running two heritage tours, going in opposite directions, around the South Island.
Invercargill engineer Neville Simpson’s smile couldn’t have got much bigger on Tuesday morning when the engine fired up to make the 30-minute trip to Fairlight, where it was greeted by a sizeable bunch of trainspotters.
‘‘It was fairly special coming in and seeing the coaches and all the people — it’s a long time since I’ve seen that.’’
Getting the train to that point has been a four-year mission.
Fellow engineer Myles Manihera started working on it about 2017, Neville Martin started dealing to the tracks and vegetation at the beginning of 2018, and carriage restoration got underway at the beginning of last year.
While Simpson’s hopeful all that work won’t be in vain, the Flyer ops team’s got to wait for Queenstown’s council to grant resource consent before it can run public trips — though the majority of them are pegged to be for private charters.
Simpson says they’re not sure how far off a decision might be.
‘‘But, fingers crossed, that comes through.’’
Meantime, trainspotters hoping to see the old girl in full flight will get another opportunity today — the second tour group will board at Fairlight, bound for Kingston, around 1.45pm.