Rail travel by golf cart proves popular for new business
BUSINESSDESK: Bookings are ahead of budget for a small tourism venture which has adapted golf carts to drive on the mothballed Stratford to Okahukura rail line from Taranaki to the King Country.
Forgotten World Adventures secured a 30-year lease on the line and has modified used golf carts imported from Georgia to run on the tracks.
The issue of signage on the line was raised by a member of the public concerned about safety at the KiwiRail annual meeting on Friday but chief executive Jim Quinn doubted the potential of golf carts to do damage.
Operator Ian Balme says his company is determined not to have accidents and had put in barriers to the golf carts at rail crossings to ensure a "low-speed environment".
The so-called SOL line took 32 years to complete and is notoriously difficult to maintain.
It follows the valleys in the remote farming region served by the so-called Forgotten World Highway.
People can drive the modified golf carts both ways between Stratford and Okahukura. The 144km line has 28 hand-dug tunnels, two viaducts, dozens of bridges and passes through a number of historic sites.
Mr Balme says tours started at Labour Weekend and are operating in the next few weeks in connection with the Taranaki Garden Spectacular.
The company has about 380 customers set to take tours as of last Friday and has already carried about 300 people, mostly New Zealanders. This is ahead of budget.
The petrol-driven rail carts are either two or four seaters and have a maximum speed of 20kph. They are self-driving, and can carry bicycles.
The cart's rail wheels fit on the tracks so steering is not required. The driver controls acceleration and braking.
Mr Balme is hoping to replicate the success of the Otago Central Rail Trail.