We checked our booking at Picton station on arrival from North Island on the ferry in March only to be told that the train was not running for at least a few days because of mechanical failure. It might be running in 4 days time when we had booked for but it might not. If not there was a bus alternative.
Our NZ tour agents ATS Pacific knew nothing of the problem but we soon learned from others that this failure to run the train was pretty common and had persisted for at least 12 months.
On theory was that the train only ran when full and was often swapped for a bus at the last minute if it was not full.
Another theory was the new carriages had been bought from China and has been found to contain asbestos so they had been withdrawn!
Whatever the truth of the reason for the failure, the train did not run so we obtained a refund and drove our hire car to Christchurch along pretty much the same route as the tracks.
Our tour companies in NZ and in UK were dismayed that the train operators had not felt it necessary to tell passengers or tour operators of the problems.
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