The Otago Excursion Train Trust is the founder of the Taieri Gorge Railway and is now the joint owner of the company with the Dunedin City Council. The Trust is an active participant in the operation of the Taieri Gorge Railway with its award winning volunteer members hosting passengers on the cruise ship excursion trains.
The Trust was formed in 1978 but its genesis goes back to the 1950's when the Otago Branch of the New Zealand Railway & Locomotive Society (NZRLS) began running excursion trains both into Central Otago and on other New Zealand Railway (NZR) lines out of Dunedin. The decision of NZR in 1976 to cease operating excursion trains led to the formation of the National Federation of Rail Societies and an agreement with NZR to allow operation of privately owned carriages on their tracks.
The Branch (nowdays the Otago Railway & Locomotive Society, operators of the Ocean Beach Railway) accepted the challenge, purchased a number of veteran carriages in conditions ranging from fair to derelict and commenced the long task of restoration. To encourage community support for the project, the Branch promoted the formation of the Otago Excursion Train Trust to take over the carriage rebuilding and eventually administer the operation of the train.
The Trust was inaugurated at a public meeting in Dunedin in April 1978 and operated its first excursion from Dunedin to Cromwell in October 1979. Over the next decade the Trust carried many thousands of passengers into Central Otago and through out New Zealand.
By 1996, the Trust was faced with a need for more capital to finance expansion which was difficult to raise under the structure of a community trust. Once again the Dunedin City Council was approached and an agreement was made to form the Taieri Gorge Railway Limited as a Local Authority Trading Enterprise (essentially a company owned by a local government authority).
The Council and the Trust sold their railway assets to the new company in exchange for shares and both appoint directors to the company's board.
Members are kept in touch with the Trust's operations by the Taieri Gorge Telegraph (the Trust's newsletter) and new members are always welcome. In 2012 the volunteer staff were nominated for and were the regional winners of the Heritage and Environment section of the Trust Power community awards in addition to being the Supreme overall winner.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer on the cruise ship trains the first step is to become a member of the Trust. Membership application forms are available at the Dunedin Station or you can email Sarah.