By Jake Beleski
One of Masterton’s most beloved attractions is set to re-open for the summer holidays, with the possibility of a surprise addition.
The miniature train that has run around an island in Queen Elizabeth Park since 1972 is on schedule to open once school holidays begin, and may be joined by the steam train that has been absent from the facility for several years.
Masterton Miniature Railway Society president, Gary Esler, said preparations had been delayed due to health and safety requirements.
“What’s happened is the train had to have an inspection, which was done in September, but we only got the paperwork approval from Worksafe in Wellington back last week.”
As was the case last summer, they are still searching for volunteers to ensure the train would run every day during the holiday break.
“We did end up with good numbers last year – we just need those people to come out of the woodwork again.
“We’re still looking for sensible, reliable people who are keen to help out.
“We do a police check of all our volunteers because it involves children.”
The steam train was found to have defects in its boiler when it was last inspected, and the process of getting the train up-and-running again had taken longer than expected.
“We’ve just spent about $25,000 having a boiler made,” he said.
“We decided to fully rebuild the steam train, and we spent nearly five years trying to get the plans certified.
“We were hoping to have it on the track at Christmas time last year, but of course we couldn’t get our plans approved.”
It was hoped the steam train would be out on the track this summer, but that was not guaranteed, he said.
“The boiler is being built by Ormond Engineering.
“They’ve done a lot of voluntary work for us, and once that boiler is on it will be brilliant – I hope it will be this summer that it comes back, but we’re so constricted now by health and safety that everything takes time.”
Mr Esler has been involved with running the train for 36 years. Getting the steam train going again was a major priority.
“When they toot the horn you can hear it all over Masterton – the kids love it.”
The train carries roughly 25,000 to 28,000 passengers per year, and the $1 ticket price that has been in place for about 26 years will remain the same.
Station master Barry Stroud said everything was finally falling into place with the holiday season fast approaching.
“We’re currently performing the track maintenance and we’ve also had to renew the operating licence.
“It’s mainly just getting the track and engine up to spec and finding a few more volunteers and we should be good to go.”
At this stage, the train’s customary opening hours would not be changing.
“It will be running from 11am-4pm every day with volunteers and weather permitting, once the holidays start. “That’s the plan anyway.”
Gary Caffell, chair of the infrastructural services committee at Masterton District Council, said the train was a big reason why people visited the park.
“The miniature train has iconic status in Queen Elizabeth Park – I am sure council would do everything possible to help ensure the continuation of the train, such is its importance to our community.”