THE BREAK-UP of Wisconsin Central’s overseas operations moved ahead at the end of June with the selection of a preferred bidder for the Tranz Scenic long-distance passenger services in New Zealand. Tranz Rail has signed non-binding heads of agreement with Australia’s West Coast Railway, which operates services between Melbourne and Warnambool in Victoria, and expects to complete the transaction in two or three months.

Under a deal valued at between NZ$20m and NZ$30m, WCR is expected to take over five of Tranz Scenic’s services. These are the Auckland - Wellington Northerner and Overland, the Picton - Christchurch and Greymouth - Christchurch routes in South Island, and the Palmerston North - Wellington Capital Connection commuter service. However, the loss-making services from Auckland to Tauranga and Rotorua will be discontinued, and the Wellington - Napier Bay Express and the Christchurch - Invercargill Southerner are also excluded from the sale.

The company is expected to acquire 15 to 22 diesel locos, three railcar sets, 57 operational coaches, and up to 50 stored ex-British Rail Mk II coaches bought by Tranz Rail for conversion to 1067mm gauge (RG 11.99 p732). Around 100 Tranz Scenic staff would transfer to the new operator.