WEST COAST Railway, which operates passenger trains between Melbourne and Warnambool in Victoria, has a new partner. Last month Connex, owned by the French Vivendi group and already operator of Hillside Trains in Melbourne, took a 50% stake in the company. This has implications for several operations in Australasia, not least in New Zealand, where WCR is the preferred bidder in Wisconsin Central’s sale of the Tranz Scenic long-distance passenger services (RG 8.01 p497).

Predictably, WCR’s intention not to take on four Tranz Scenic services, including the Southerner between Christchurch and Dunedin, generated an outcry, and the mayors of Christchurch and Invercargill were among those who supported a campaign to retain the trains. Subsequently WCR indicated that it would be willing to continue running them if adequate financial support were forthcoming.

Wisconsin Central-owned Tranz Rail is eager to improve its financial performance after profits fell from NZ$47m to NZ$5·6m for the year to June 30, and it is keen to get out of the passenger business quickly. West Coast Railway may just prove to be what is needed.