A history of The Otago Excursion Train Trust

The Otago Excursion Train Trust is the founder of Taieri Gorge Railway and is now the joint owner (along with the Dunedin City Council) of Dunedin Railways. The Trust is an active participant in the operation of the Taieri Gorge Railway with its award-winning volunteer members staffing many trains as well as assisting with maintenance of the railway.

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 (nowadays 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. Highlights have included:

  • Regular Taieri Gorge excursions, mostly running to Pukerangi
  • Annual excursions to the Alexandra 'Blossom Festival' in Central Otago
  • Excursions for members and public from Dunedin to Hawkes Bay (in the North Island) and the West Coast of the South Island
  • Dunedin to Hastings charter train carrying scouts to their national Jamboree
  • Bluff to Okaihau charter train (from the furthest south to the furthest north on NZR lines) to carry members of the Young Farmers to their annual conference
  • Trains from ship side in Port Chalmers to carry cruise ship passengers into the Taieri Gorge
  • Last passenger train to Cromwell in 1980 before the Clyde to Cromwell section of the Otago Central Railway was closed to allow construction of the Clyde hydro-electric dam
  • Last passenger trains to Clyde before the Middlemarch to Clyde section of the railway closed in April 1990