The Coastal Pacific is a long-distance passenger train that runs between Picton and Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand. It is operated by The Great Journeys of New Zealand division of KiwiRail.[1] It was called the TranzCoastal from May 2000 until temporarily withdrawn in February 2011.[2] It was the first train to use the new AK class carriages.

Coastal Pacific
Coastal Pacific on Kaikoura Coast.jpg
The Coastal Pacific on the Kaikoura Coast
Service typeInter-city rail
LocaleUpper South Island, New Zealand
First service1988
Current operator(s)The Great Journeys of New Zealand
Former operator(s)InterCity Rail (1988–1995)
Tranz Scenic (1995–2012)
KiwiRail Scenic Journeys (2012–2017)
Distance travelled348 km (216 mi)
Average journey time5 hours, 13 minutes
Service frequencyDaily each way, "summer" season only
On-board services
Class(es)Tourist Class
Disabled accessWheelchair hoist in café car
Seating arrangementsAirline-style
Alcove with table
Catering facilitiesOn-board café
Observation facilitiesLarge windows in all carriages
Open-air viewing carriage
Baggage facilitiesOverhead shelves
Baggage carriage
Other facilitiesToilets
Rolling stockDX locomotive
New Zealand AK class carriages
Track gauge1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in)
Operating speed66 km/h (41 mph) average
KiwiRail passenger trains in the South Island, Coastal Pacific (interactive map)

The service was suspended after 14 November 2016 due to damage to the rail line from the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake, but, in 2018/19 will run from Saturday 1 December to Sunday 28 April.[3] In November 2018 Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that KiwiRail is to get $40 million from the Provincial Growth Fund, to provide a year-round service and to upgrade the Kaikoura, Blenheim and Picton stations.[4]


Before the Main North Line was completed, the open sections were served by mixed trains and the Culverden Express. On 15 December 1945 the line was completed and the Picton Express began operating, providing a daily service between Picton and Christchurch. In January 1946 the express was cut to thrice weekly, and its popularity and profitability declined. In February 1956 it was replaced by a more frequent railcar service, using RM class 88-seaters. Falling patronage led to smaller Vulcan railcars being used from 1968 to 1975 with small trains, in summer, sometimes known as the Picton Express. In 1976 at the suggestion of Rangiora MP Derek Quigley, the old former first class cars previously used on the overnight Picton–Christchurch 'Cabbage Train' were transferred to the day express to provide train heating, and several other 56 ft carriages were fitted with heaters to make an economical train. Progressively the old carriages were updated and a buffet carriage was eventually added to replace the Kaikoura pie and tea stop, at the last traditional NZR-style refreshment stop.

In April 2006, Toll NZ announced its intention to sell the TranzCoastal and the TranzAlpine.[5] However, with the purchase of Toll NZ's rail assets in 2008 by the government, these plans never came to fruition. KiwiRail has upgraded the remaining three long-distance passenger services.

Following the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that struck Canterbury on 22 February 2011, KiwiRail suspended the train, replacing it with a bus service until 10 April 2011.[6] They announced that it would return on 15 August 2011[7] under its original name, the Coastal Pacific.[8] Since 2013 the train has been run as a seasonal service, serving the peak tourist season between about September to April, with no services in the winter months, to offset operating losses.[9]

The 7.8 magnitude North Canterbury earthquake on 14 November 2016 caused numerous landslides that destroyed parts of the railway line in the Kaikoura district. KiwiRail suspended the train service, which had been due to operate until May 2017, for the rest of the 2016–17 season.[10] It was announced on 1 August 2018 that the service would resume on December 1.[11][12]

Route and stationsEdit

The train runs daily between Christchurch and Picton, stopping at Rangiora, Waipara, Mina, Kaikoura, Seddon and Blenheim,[13] along the Main North Line. It was introduced on Sunday, 25 September 1988 and took 5 hours 20 minutes. In the present timetable the northbound journey takes 5 hours 13 minutes, the southbound 5 hours 21 minutes.

Rolling stockEdit

From 1982 until 1988 the Picton Express and the Greymouth and West Coast Expresses shared a pool of 12 former second class NZR 56-foot carriages and guard's vans with six 50-ft wooden box wagons/parcel vans, all painted bright red with wall-to-wall carpet, fluorescent strip lights and later, a new design of seat from Addington Workshops. Cars with luggage space seated 46, passenger-only cars seated 52.

In 1984–1985, while the cars were being fitted with new seats, three Southerner cars and a modular van for baggage were used.

The TranzCoastal crossing the double-decker rail and road bridge near Seddon in April 2007

Refurbishment of serviceEdit

In 1987, due to the need to re-equip the deteriorating yellow Northerner trains, cars were reallocated and refurbished to cover.

With this change, the last three original Southerner day cars remaining were refurbished to the same design as the three "big window" cars on the TranzAlpine and the sole Connoisseur car. Two cars seated 51 each in the seats designed by Addington Workshops, which were reupholstered and re-arranged, alcove-style, around tables. The third car became a 31-seat servery/observation car fitted out similarly to its TranzAlpine counterpart, but with detail differences in the buffet counter area. A Mitsubishi – built FM/AG van was fitted with an 11-kW petrol generator at the handbrake end for power/baggage duties.

The new Coastal Pacific became a favourite with travellers, but it did not attract the same level of popularity as the TranzAlpine. In 1993, a "backpackers" car (a former red Picton – Greymouth car with luggage space at one end) was introduced, for a cheaper option. This premise proved popular, as did adding up to five wagons authorised to travel at 100 km/h conveying priority freight for the North Island or deep South.

In the early 1990s, the cars were equipped with pressure ventilation like the Bay Express cars and the TranzAlpine rear observation car.

Connoisseur serviceEdit

On 19 January 1987, a private tourism firm leased a 29 (later 45) seat single-lavatory South Island Main Trunk first class car refurbished in 1970 for the Southerner and attached it to the Picton train initially, before expanding its operation to Greymouth and later Invercargill. It was marketed as a luxury carriage: it offered the same level of comfort as other Southerner cars, but the service was to a higher standard. Originally named the Connoisseurs' Express car, it was heavily refurbished to offer a superior quality service and renamed The Connoisseur car.

Rebranding and re-equippingEdit

A Picton-bound TranzCoastal departing Christchurch
Heading north through Christchurch

During 1996, the original TranzAlpine observation car was thoroughly overhauled and air-conditioning installed, and this car, along with the two former Lynx Express cars and the car with luggage space, were permanently assigned to this train. The backpackers' car was later replaced by the only former Southerner (later Northerner) car to escape rebuilding as a panorama car or scrapping. It was fitted with 47 of the same type of Addington seat that it had had in the mid to late 1980s, all seats facing toward the two centre tables, one on both sides of the aisle of the car, and became the new backpackers' car. The former Connoisseur car, thoroughly refurbished the year before with air conditioning installed, assumed regular duty. The Lynx Express baggage van and later the first of the NIMT baggage vans were also allocated to this service. Later, the second backpacker car had air conditioning installed, and in late 2003, was transferred north for the Overlander or Wairarapa Connection'.

The baggage van fitted out for the initial third NIMT passenger trainset in 1992 had its central and one end module converted into an open viewing area, while the other end module remained for luggage.

New rolling stockEdit

Coastal Pacific at Christchurch with new AK cars in December 2011

At KiwiRail's Hillside Railway Workshops, building had commenced on new carriages for the Coastal Pacific and TranzAlpine services, classed AK. The new cars for the Coastal Pacific entered service toward the end of 2011.[8]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "The Coastal Pacific: Between mountains and sea". The Great Journeys of New Zealand. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  2. ^ Wheeler, Bob (11 October 2000). Chairman's Address to Shareholders, 2000 Annual Meeting. Wellington: Tranz Rail Holdings.
  3. ^ "The Coastal Pacific train is coming back!". Great Journeys of New Zealand. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  4. ^ *"$40 million for Coastal Pacific as first post-quake service marked in Kaikoura". Stuff (Fairfax). 23 November 2018.
  5. ^ "Tranz Alpine journey up for grabs". Television New Zealand. 22 May 2006. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
  6. ^ BUTTERFIELD, TANIA (5 April 2011). "East coast rail service is stopped". The Marlborough Express. Blenheim: Fairfax New Zealand. Retrieved 22 July 2011.
  7. ^ GORMAN, PAUL (5 April 2011). "TranzCoastal off rails till August". The Press. Christchurch: Fairfax New Zealand. Retrieved 5 April 2011.
  8. ^ a b "TranzCoastal service resumes with new Coastal Pacific identity", Daily Express (104): 1, 2011
  9. ^ HERSELMAN, SVEN (5 May 2014). "All aboard for last run of the season". The Marlborough Express. Blenheim: Fairfax NZ News. Retrieved 5 May 2014.
  10. ^ "Disruption news". KiwiRail Scenic Journeys. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  11. ^ "Coastal Pacific train service to return from December" (Press release). KiwiRail. 1 August 2018. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  12. ^ "Main North Line rebuild (project timetable)". KiwiRail. 2018.
  13. ^ Coastal Pacific Stations

External linksEdit