NZ Herald - Jim Eagles

All aboard for NZ trip

PASSENGERS may soon be able to board a luxury Orient Express-style train to travel the length of New Zealand - at a cost of up to NZD1500 ($AU1181) a day.

Businessmen John Johnston and Dave Nixon, who are directors of South Pacific Express, are behind the planned venture that would cater to foreign tourists with a big budget.

The pair are looking to buy a train previously used by Orient Express in Queensland and are also in negotiations with KiwiRail over the deal, said Nixon.

If it goes ahead, passengers will be able to board the luxury sleeper train from early 2013.

The service would be "comparable to a five-star moving hotel" that would stop at tourist spots to allow passengers to do activities such as salmon fishing, golf and wine tours.

For NZD1000-1500 ($AU787 -1181), they would have access to all of the services they would receive in a hotel and some activities would also be included, said Mr Nixon.

The idea was proposed at a meeting in Whangarei last night that was held to discuss plans to consider closing the line.

The proposal could be the saviour of the Auckland-Northland rail line, say supporters, because KiwiRail is reviewing the future of the line along with several others that are unprofitable.

"We hope all rail lines will stay open so we can showcase New Zealand to its full potential," said Nixon.

Spokeswoman for support group Save the Auckland to Northland Rail Line Vivienne Shepherd said the luxury service would be "fantastic" and could save the line.

"It gives us a glimmer of hope that the line would be left open,' she said.

Rail was a more effective and efficient way to transport heavy loads and could investing in it would ease pressure on roads, she said.

A petition with 13,000 signatures from people protesting a closure of the line was presented to Parliament last week, said Miss Shepherd.

Labour's Tourism spokesman Kelvin Davis said the plan was a "brilliant idea" and one of a range of options KiwiRail and the Government should be considering.

"Keeping the line open and viable is something the community wants - because they say it is their line, not Steven Joyce's - and they have come up with a whole heap of viable suggestions to do just that," he said.

KiwiRail was expected to make a decision about the line's future in about six months.

The train would be pitched to high-value foreign visitors as a moving hotel that would show them the best of New Zealand and across all of the regions.

If the northern line was closed it would not stop the planned luxury service going ahead, said Nixon.

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