Open Carriage – The Alpine Train
The Alpine tourist train Christchurch - Greymouth travelling across the middle of the New Zealand south island is surely one of the great scenic rail journeys says Footplate Padre Dr Mark Tronson.
Last month having completed the New Zealand young writer mini-conferences in Auckland and Christchurch, he and his wife Delma took the opportunity to take this well publicised alpine tourist train on Monday 11 March.
Leaving Christchurch at 8.15am, there are three stops enroute to Greymouth where passengers might alight, stretch their legs and as a photographic opportunity.
Springfield is the first at the base of the mountain range, then comes Arthur's Pass mid journey the Alpine Ski Resort community (winter) or Mountaineering (summer), and the third is Otira which is another mid mountain community after the 8 kilometre tunnel.
Along the journey each passenger is given a set of ear phones whereupon they might plug into the ongoing commentary. According to the commentary, this 8 kilometre tunnel when first constructed just prior to WWI was the world's third longest tunnel, now it is about the 42nd longest rail tunnel, the longest of 42 kilometres in through the Swizz Alps.
The track was fully completed shortly after WWI having five tunnels prior Arthur's Pass and seven after. Seven men died in construction. It is surely one of the most superb rail engineering feats of the early 21st century. It linked the east and west coasts of New Zealand, particularly as coal production on the west coast was prolific.
Greymouth 1 hour
The Alpine train arrives in Greymouth 12.45pm and one hour later 1.45pm the train starts its return journey and arrives in Christchurch at 6.10pm, a 10 hour total journey. This train was hauled by steam engines and in more recent years it has been hauled by two large Kiwi Rail diesels.
It is now a much longer train as it is made up of two sets of carriages. Each set has three saloon passenger cars, lounge come refreshment car (hot and cold food), and an open secure viewing carriage which is ideal for photographic images and finally a baggage light freight car. The diesels allow the train to run with two sets of these carriages.
Upon arrival at Greymouth and the passengers alight and collect their baggage from the light freight carriage, the train runs ahead to a siding loop. The two diesels are detached from the train, they run around the train and attach to the train at the other end for the return journey.
The one hour Greymouth stop over provided time to check out the main street (adjacent to the railway station) and the Coal Mining Monument naming every mining death from 1869 to the recent tragedies of 2010. It's huge waterways and its typical country town architecture and facades make Greymouth a very attractive community.
There are viaducts and tunnels, spectacular deep valleys and wide rivers, steep mountains and ravines. It must be a wonderful winter wonderland with the snow and then with the spring thaw as water flows with melting snow it all must be quite stunning.
This must be one of the greatest scenic rail routes anywhere, and the views are not only immediate, rather one can see for what seems to be huge waterways from the mountains all the way to the east coast back towards Christchurch.
The saloon cars have windows above the seats to ensure the passengers have a full mountain view. The seats are comfortable, many have tables set up between them for family groups and there is a wide selection of food and drink available for the whole family.
It all reminded me of the majesty of the Almighty as my eye cast over such spectacular viewing and Psalm 19 verse 1: “The heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament shows his handiwork.”
Coal hopper at Greymouth
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at