Kiwirail is cancelling bookings on its three scenic trains until mid-January as it is "not prepared" to operate without requiring proof of passengers' vaccination status.
By Mildred Armah
The state-owned enterprise on Saturday confirmed it had begun the process of cancelling forward bookings on its Northern Explorer, Coastal Pacific and TranzAlpine train services until January 14 2022.
Under the new traffic light system, the three train services are classed as public transport, which means there are no requirements for passengers to be double vaccinated.
Todd Moyle, acting chief executive, said KiwiRail is "not prepared" to operate the three services without proof of vaccination as the risk of Covid spread is "too great."
“Our scenic trains are for travellers and holidaymakers, rather than commuters, and we are not prepared to operate them without requiring proof of passengers’ double vaccination.
"This is the same way many other tourism businesses operate, and is similar to the system we are introducing on our Interislander ferries.
"Given people will be in a confined space for long periods of time, even with masks, we believe the risk of Covid spread among passengers and to our staff is too great."
He said KiwiRail is working closely with agencies to try and resolve the classification situation.
"We apologise to those who have made bookings over this period and want to give them as much notice as we can before the holidays, so that they can make other arrangements."
Any who has bookings will be refunded their full fare.
"To date we have been cancelling forward bookings two weeks in advance of travel. Cancelling bookings until January 14 will disappoint our customers but will at least provide holidaymakers certainty. In the meantime we will continue working on a viable re-start, likely focussing first on TranzAlpine’s return," said Moyle.
“The Northern Explorer (Auckland – Wellington), Coastal Pacific (Picton – Christchurch) and TranzAlpine (Christchurch - Greymouth) have not run since the Level 4 lockdown in August as KiwiRail, like other tourism and events providers, copes with the difficulties of planning viable services in a pandemic."
One man told 1News he felt “tricked” by the cancellation.
“We were booked to travel by Northern Explorer from Auckland to Wellington on December 16, but have just had our holiday plans cancelled. I have been double vaccinated plus had a booster shot. I have my vaccination passport and mask ready," he said.
"I can fly or drive from Auckland to Wellington but I can't go by train.”
The cancellations only apply to the three scenic trains into January and won't affect any of KiwiRail’s other trains, including freight.