Feasibility Study Completed

  • Thursday Nov 16 2023

The Otago Central Rail Trail Trust has recently contributed to a feasibility study to investigate the Economic impacts of a Taieri Gorge extension to the Otago Central Rail Trail by Benje Patterson.  

The key findings from the report highlighted:

$25.9 million of visitor spending that accrues annually from the existing Otago Central Rail Trail between Clyde and Middlemarch, and that there is realistic demand potential for these benefits to grow further in response to a Taieri Gorge extension to the trail from Middlemarch to Taieri.

The additional spending associated with visitors to the Taieri Gorge trail extension have been modelled at ranging from $6.9 million to $11.4 million per annum, depending on whether a low usage (23,009 trail users) or high usage (39,306 trail users) scenario is reached.

Read the full report

Related media release:

Taieri Gorge Feasibility Study

Since the start of the Otago Central Rail Trail the Taieri Gorge Railway was a key experience and a great finale to the ride. At peak, I understand 8000 riders used the train in one season.

However, with fewer services connecting Dunedin to Middlemarch the railway experience became less reliable. Operators filled the gap offering alternative competing services.

With Covid ceasing services, and the trips mainly extending just to Hindon for cruise ships the Trust have considered the opportunities to maximise tourism benefits in Middlemarch and a railway connection.

They have worked with Project Steam to ensure the heritage line between Middlemarch and Sutton (and hopefully to Pukerangi) can be available. But having assessed the line between Pukerangi and Hindon there is no opportunity to have both a train and safe cycle service that could operate together. At present, we have not extended the feasibility between Hindon and Wingatui as we consider it preferable to connect with and other trails at Outram, maximising opportunities for it and Mosgiel.

The Trust would prefer that a regular train service to Middlemarch is available in the future honouring the founders of Taieri Gorge Railways aspirations. However in order to ensure that DCC have all the facts when making decisions on train assets the Trust has offered to undertake the feasibility to ensure all the information on the options is available. This is consistent with undertakings we made and Council approved at the last Long Term Plan process. We had to delay the work as Department of Conservation reviewed its conservation management strategy to allow for more cycling tracks through land it manages.

The Trust view is that the Gorge is a fitting finale/start to the Rail Trail and want it accessible to those experiencing the trail. The Trust does not have a preference how that is provided. It too needs to assess the evidence.

A headline suggesting that the Trust could derail services is fundamentally incorrect. The Trust wants to give its users the best experience it can, connect the Trail with Dunedin and benefit businesses in Middlemarch and the wider area. That may well include more trains than before for a broader range of users like fishers or walkers to the Jubilee Hut. The trains financial success was once determined by the number of bikers using it. Perhaps train enthusiasts, of which I consider myself one, need to look anew at how the train and cyclists, trampers and other recreationalists can underpin the train(s) in the future.

Kate Wilson
Otago Central Rail Trail Trust 0274438134