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Retirement right on track

Graeme Twist boards the 6.45am train at Masterton on November 5, his last as a driver on the Wairarapa line after 23 years, and 46 years as a locomotive engineer. PHOTO/TANGIWAI HANEY

John Lazo-Ron
[email protected]

Early on Friday morning, November 5, Masterton locomotive engineer Graeme Twist said, “choo choo – all aboard” on a Wairarapa train line service for the very last time.

Twist, 66, is choo-choo-sing to hang up his conductor’s hat, retiring after 46 years working for KiwiRail, 23 of them driving trains to and from Wairarapa, and move on to the next chapter of his life.

Twist, who moved to Masterton in 1998 from Greymouth where he started his career as a locomotive engineer, has been a popular figure among his colleagues and Wairarapa commuters over the years.

That strong rapport he built with train managers and the hundreds who use the train to travel daily to Wellington and back earned him a standing ovation as he got off the train at Wellington Train Station that Friday morning.

Many also stopped to shake his hand, take selfies, and thank him for the many years of service and safety he brought to them.

He was also flooded with farewell messages on the day through social media.

One post said: ‘Thank you for keeping us safe all these years Graeme, happy retirement!’

Another post said: ‘Fantastic driver. Always chatted to me. Looked after grandson on his train. Now you can relax Graeme and maybe take a train trip around your old stomping grounds, the West Coast! Many thanks and enjoy your well-deserved retirement’.

Twist said he was overwhelmed by the reactions to his retirement.

“It was amazing.

“People were taking selfies with me, thanking me and congratulating me on my retirement. I didn’t see it coming. Some were saying they felt they were always in safe hands with me, which meant a lot.”

Twist said he’s loved every moment driving trains but wasn’t at a crossroads about when it was the right time to retire.

After buying a motorhome in 2019, he hasn’t had much time to make use of it due to the shift work that came with his role and felt it was time to look at life post-trains.

“I honestly felt after this long in the job, I wanted to start the next chapter of my life,” he said.

Graeme Twist has hung up his conductor’s hat after 46 years as a locomotive engineer. PHOTO/JOHN LAZO-RON

“I bought a motorhome and I want to explore New Zealand. But because of shift work and having children and all that, I haven’t been able to. Shift work can be very anti-social because you work a lot of weekends when there’s social stuff on with family and you can’t make it.

“Now, I plan to get back to what I used to do when I was younger. I’ve got outside interests like gardening and road cycling. I’ll also get back to trout fishing, surfcasting, and I’ll get the golf clubs out all again.”

Twist said one of the most significant aspects of his time working on the Wairarapa line was seeing the region’s natural beauty all year round.

“Basically, in a locomotive cab, it’s my own office, so I’m my own boss,” he said.

“But what I do love is getting to see the change of seasons in Wairarapa. From the brown of the Wairarapa summer right through to the lush green in the springtime. You also get to see all the lambs and calves born, while you also see lots of wild animals like goats, deers and pigs on the side of the track by the Remutaka tunnel. It’s amazing.”

Although happy how he’s signed off, Twist said there were plenty of downs that came with many ups throughout his time on the Wairarapa line.

“With the Wairarapa line, it’s been quite challenging at times because it’s been run down a wee bit,” he said.

“I was always trying to keep the trains to scheduled times because of the amount of repairs and heat restrictions in summertime, but in the next 18 months that should be all sorted.”

But the main concern Twist had to deal with was the many near-misses he encountered.

“The biggest issue for me was the hazards with motorists crossing the tracks, running the bells and alarms in front of you.”

Asked how often that would happen, he said, “too often”.

“A lot of the country crossings are protected by stop signs, but many of these country folk would run the stop signs, not even slowing down. Sometimes they see you because we’ll only be 400 metres away, other times they misjudged it, and a few times I’ve seen the roofs of their cars going across.”

While he experienced a few vehicles running into the side of his locomotive and carriages when driving, Twist said he was lucky enough not to have encountered death.

“I’ve had colleagues who have dealt with fatalities, and it’s been traumatising for them, so I’ve been lucky to not deal with that,” he said.

“However, I don’t know how many times I’ve had to get on the horn with people walking down the middle of the track and they just get off in time. I’m very fortunate it hasn’t happened to me in my time doing this.”

Twist kicked off his retirement with a party where family and colleagues joined him. He said he valued the time with his work comrades and would miss that the most about the job.

“KiwiRail has been a great company to work with,” he said.

“There’s a really good culture here hence that’s why so many people do 40 to 60 years on rail. It’s just a really good environment to work in.”

KiwiRail Operations Manager for the Lower North Island Paul Ashton said Twist provided an invaluable contribution to KiwiRail in his 46 years with the company.

“He always had time for the public and answered all their train enthusiast questions and he was very safety conscious. He was involved with the Remutaka tunnel focus group improving safety outcomes for passengers as well as staff and helped out with safety whenever he could. He was a great part of the team and always had a good laugh.”

Most won’t know, but driving a locomotive in Wairarapa is a lot harder than it seems, and it is evident that Twist’s personality and experience will be sorely missed by many.

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