Hope Remains

One Door Closes, But Hope Remains

A project to create a cycle trail through old train tunnels between Dunedin and Mosgiel has just been set back once more because of a lack of funds. However, Dan Hutchinson discovers the freight train of government funding could be just around the corner.
A light at the end of the old Chain Hills Tunnel has turned out to be a closed iron gate for a trust seeking to turn a piece of history into a cycle link between Dunedin and Mosgiel.

Members of the Dunedin Tunnels Trail Trust have had years of frustration in their pursuit to re-open two disused train tunnels — creating a flat, 9km cycleway from Caversham to Wingatui.   

The project has been plagued by complications during the past nine years and now trustee Gerard Hyland said the owner of the land at the Wingatui end of the 158m Chain Hills tunnel had decided not to allow open access. Owner Mark North said it had been a ‘‘rather difficult’’ decision to make because the trail would be great for the community. They would not mind people going through the tunnel if they could arrange ‘‘appropriate access ahead of time’’. They would also consider selling the property. The main issues were privacy and any negative effect on the property’s value, although he accepted there could be positive effects, too. ‘‘It could be quite good but it is a bit of a gamble. We have thought long and hard about it but that is where we are at at this stage.’’ Mr Hyland said the trust did not have the funds to buy the property and was pushing ahead with other work in the meantime.   

Funding had been the big problem for the project but there was growing enthusiasm from the Dunedin City Council, New Zealand Transport Agency and the Government, which recently announced a $100 million national fund for such projects.   

Key stakeholders in the project, including a council engineer, councillors, an NZTA representative and others, will be walking through the Chain Hills Tunnel this week to assess its potential. Councillor Kate Wilson said there were multiple benefits from the project, including providing a safe transport route to school for children in the Abbotsford area, cycling commuters in Mosgiel and Abbotsford and for recreational cycling or walking.   

The longer Caversham Tunnel (865m) has the bulk of the challenges with hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to cover or shift power and gas pipes, to seal the walls, install lighting and the track itself.   

In the meantime, the trust planned to push ahead with building a cycle path between the two tunnels, with work set to begin next week. ‘‘We are going to try to do what we can, get as far as we can and then make an amenity at least people can use and go along even if we can’t join the whole thing up yet,’’ Mr Hyland said.   

The land owner at the Abbotsford end of the Chain Hills Tunnel has agreed to allow the path through her property and a contractor will start clearing a 200m path from the tunnel to nearby KiwiRail land next week. Mr Hyland said an agreement with KiwiRail was needed to allow the cycle track next to the railway lines, with a fence in between — similar to the Ravensbourne cycle and walkway.  That work would be done over time and would eventually link the Kaikorai Valley Rd end of the Caversham Tunnel at Burnside.

From The Star, Dan Hutchinson