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Back on track: The Kingston Flyer's got commercial consent. PICTURE: STEPHEN JAQUIERY

By PHILIP CHANDLER

The famous vintage Kingston Flyer is officially back on track.

The steam train’s owners can now commercially operate on the 14km Kingston to Fairlight
railway line for the first time since the last owner mothballed it in 2013.

The train, which dates back to the 1870s, took two tour groups over April-May, however the council resource consent, issued last Friday, allows public trips as well.

‘‘This is a massive step for ward,’’ Kingston Flyer Ltd director Neville Simpson says, ‘‘and has been the result of an incredible amount of work behind the scenes by some really committed people.’’

Simpson, who started with the Flyer in ’83, says it will probably operate only for group bookings this summer, rather than run to a schedule.

However, if it’s booked on a Saturday, ‘‘we would probably do a run for the public on the Sunday as the engine’s still warm’’.

It’d also be hired out for TV adverts or filming.

Whatever happens, Simpson’s keen for a special excursion around December 20 to mark 50 years since the then-government-owned New Zealand Railways first ran the Flyer as a tourist venture.

‘‘It’s just baby steps, but when we reach a milestone like this, it’s something to celebrate.

‘‘Bringing it back from the brink has been a huge task, and to be able to begin this summer
has made it all worthwhile.’’

Flyer might add purpose-built bike wagon

The Flyer will use its one operational locomotive, AB795, which first entered service in 1927 — the other, AB778, launched in 1925, still needs ‘‘a complete restoration’’.

The loco will haul four out of the Flyer’s seven wooden carriages, providing capacity for about 150 passengers.

Three carriages have been restored so far and the fourth’s halfway there, Simpson says.

Big plans: Kingston Flyer Ltd director Neville Simpson in front of the Flyer during its outing in April. PICTURE: STEPHEN JAQUIERY

‘We’ve still got quite a bit of track work to do, which hopefully in the next couple of months we get completed.’’

There’s a pool of people keen to staff the train, who’ll be put through training, as well as trained drivers standing by.

Simpson refutes suggestions it won’t be economic because the last owner, the late David Bryce, only ran it for two summers before mothballing it.

‘‘The economics of it were actually going quite well, there were a lot of other factors.

‘‘David Bryce’s health was a big factor, and it all became just a little bit much for him.’’

The current owners, who bought the train and about 80 adjoining hectares in 2017, have also refurbished the Fairlight railway terminus, adjoining the world-famous Mataura River.

Simpson points out the Around the Mountains Cycle Trail now also adjoins the rail corridor.

‘‘We’re looking at building a purpose-built wagon all the bikes can go on, so they can ride [the Flyer] from Fairlight to Kingston, or the other way, and then cycle on from there.’’

Down the track, as the borders open, Simpson says they’d look at running a regular service again — the consent allows up to six return trips between Monday and Friday and six at the weekend.

To mitigate the fire risk from loose sparks, the consent also specifies a light rail vehicle with a 400-litre water tank and pump follow the Flyer when the fire danger rating’s ‘high’ or above.

Simpson says the issue was also addressed when Bryce had the locomotive boiler rebuilt and new ash pans and hoppers built onto it.

‘‘We have our own fire fighting equipment as well,’’ he says.

He adds that though his team’s passionate about getting the Flyer back under steam, their main motivation’s been ‘‘ to give a great experience to people’’.

scoop@scene.co.nz