Video: Thirty years of KiwiRail’s TranzAlpine celebrated

New Zealand’s iconic TranzAlpine train journey has marked 30 years of operation with celebrations in Christchurch and Greymouth.

KiwiRail yesterday hosted tourism industry figures, local dignitaries, KiwiRail staff, passengers and members of the public and some of those who were involved in the TranzAlpine’s beginning in 1987.

KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy said that the idea for the tourism experience was born more than 30 years ago, after it became clear how much passengers on our Christchurch-to-Greymouth service enjoyed the scenery on their journey.

In November 1987, the first TranzAlpine Express began running and now carries around 55,000 passengers a year into Greymouth, which West Coast Tourism estimates brings in excess of $15m annually to the region.

Ready said: “We’ve come a long way since [1987], and today our passengers also enjoy an open-air viewing platform and commentary which regularly garners rave reviews. The service has become a New Zealand icon that has been named among the world’s top train journeys by publications including National Geographic and The Travel Luxury Expert.

“What hasn’t changed is the stunning scenery they pass on their journey, including the Canterbury Plains and their famous ‘braided’ rivers, dramatic gorges and river valleys, High Country sheep stations, beech forests and the Southern Alps themselves.

“Over the years, the TranzAlpine has gained a firm following both nationally and internationally, and it’s become a must-do for many Kiwis as well as overseas visitors.”

Yesterday’s event kicked off in Christchurch where a birthday cake was served and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra entertained guests as they boarded the train.

John Bennett, who was then Southern Regional Manager for New Zealand Railways and was a driving force behind the TranzAlpine, shared some history of the train’s beginnings.

Following the 223km five-hour trip to Greymouth, the  TranzAlpine received a warm welcome when it arrived in Greymouth this afternoon, where it was greeted by a large crowd of locals who turned out to wish it a happy birthday.

Passengers who travel from Christchurch to Greymouth or vice versa on the TranzAlpine on 1 and 22 November will receive a special limited edition gift. On-board the TranzAlpine is also serving a special Monteith’s TranzAlpine beer which has been brewed just for this occasion.

The first TranzAlpine service departed Christchurch on 22 November 1987.

  • The journey between Christchurch and Greymouth covers 223km one-way, taking just under five hours.
  • During the TranzAlpine journey, passengers pass through 16 tunnels, the longest of which is the 8.5km Otira Tunnel. They also cross four viaducts, including the 75m Staircase Viaduct.
  • The first open-air observation platform was added in 1991.
  • TranzAlpine was recently named one of the world’s top scenic train journeys by National Geographic Traveler.
  • In the 12 months to June, the TranzAlpine carried approximately 110,000 passengers, who consumed around 45,500 hot drinks, 6300 Monteith’s beers and 2150 cheese plates. * This year’s service was impacted by the Midland Fire, which meant the train was not operating 4 February – 21 March.
  • The TranzAlpine has travelled approximately 5 million km in the last 30 years.
  • Famous people who have travelled on the TranzAlpine include John Travolta, Kate Winslet, numerous All Blacks, Bart and Homer Simpson, Chris Cairns, Op Shop, What Now, Sticky TV, Helen Worth, Sue Nichols, Jax Hamilton, Phil Keoghan, Jenny Agutter, Kevin Milne, Billy Bush and Simon Barnett.
  • The most photographed parts of the TranzAlpine journey include Lake Sarah, Cass and Arthur’s Pass.
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