Monday 11 May 2020

NZ Rail Maps Project Development Report [2020F]: Website Hosting Options [1]

Good morning. Here is our sixth project development report for 2020.

We spent the last day looking at possible web hosting options for NZ Rail Maps This meaning that there would be a paid site instead of wholly free ones, although some free hosted content is likely to remain. There are a number of possible options ranging from sites specialised for various types of content, through to full web hosting.

At the moment we are going down the specialised track, which is of course the simplest to set up by far, but does have some limitations, naturally. For example if we chose to stick with, we would have the problem that to get a photo gallery plugin to be used in our site would require us to purchase the most expensive hosting plan. Or another example, we are currently on 14 day trial with SmugMug (the company that purchased Flickr). Their hosting is reasonably low in cost, and easy to set up, but would require us to continue hosting the development blog and PDF files on another site such as WordPress.

Going down the full website route, it could be moderately easy to set up a WordPress site but there is a lot of work involved. We have had sites previously hosted with a particular company in NZ before now and their fee of $15 per month is probably quite reasonable for a site with WordPress available, although a gallery plugin could have an extra cost associated with it. We also have had sites previously hosted on TrainWeb, and still maintain an empty site there. It is possible we could continue to have the blog hosted on WordPress (replacing this Blogger blog), some content appearing on TrainWeb (PDFs) and the image based maps appearing on SmugMug. The latter would be the only paid site hosting. We would have subdomain redirection to the three sites in operation, but the SmugMug site would be the only site that would remain in-domain when accessed, the other sites would redirect to the local free site domain when the domain based URL is selected.

It had been hoped for some time that TrainWeb would convert their site to be a WordPress host, which would have allowed us to continue hosting content on the TrainWeb site and done away with the need for a separate site as we have now, but TrainWeb have not made any progress with the WordPress conversion idea.

So for the next 14 days we will be trialling SmugMug and might well continue with it after the trial as a paid option, unless a better option comes up before then.

Sunday 10 May 2020

Wairarapa Line [0NN]: Volume 6 Progress Update 40

Good morning. As noted in our last update, the bulk of Volume 6 has been completed and is ready to be released. We have to complete four sections only. These are:

  • Hutt Park Railway
  • Gracefield Branch
  • Featherston Camp Siding
  • Greytown Branch
These are all relatively short lines and all aerial tiles have been completed already in previous work so it is just mapping that is required to ensure completion. We expect to complete this today.

We are aiming to complete the entire Volume 6 for release today and the next update is probably going to announce the release.

Saturday 9 May 2020

Dunedin City Council Votes To Mothball Dunedin Railways As Complete Close Down of Business

We have already blogged twice recently about the direction Dunedin City Council is taking with Dunedin Railways, which has suggested the closure of Dunedin Railways in its current form. This week we obtained the minutes of the DCC meeting a month ago where they discussed the options for Dunedin Railways and made the decisions.

Dunedin City Holdings Ltd (DCHL) prepared a special report for this meeting and presented it to the full Council. The meeting was conducted via audio visual link due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The report has stated that DRL's revised financial forecasts for the year ending 2020 show a net loss of $1,332,862, compared with a pre-Covid forecast loss of $578,579. DCHL had investigated future business prospects with the view that the impacts of both international and domestic tourism market collapse would be substantial. It determined that the Council should consider 3 options as follows:

  1.     Close the business (DCHL Recommendation)
  2.     Mothball for around 18 months with a view to re-opening train services on the Taieri Gorge line.
  3.     Mothball with  view to exploring alternative options for company assets.

Option 2 would entail retaining only 7 staff, to maintain track and rolling stock assets and perform administrative functions, at estimated cost of $900,000 per year, which shareholders would have to fund

DCHL expressed its concern that Option 2 did not address the significant deferred maintenance bill on the Taieri Gorge line, estimated at $1 million per year for all of the next 10 years (total $10 million). This would also have to be funded by shareholders.

Option 3 would see the Taieri Gorge line closed permanently to heavy rail trains. This removes the need to fund the $10 million maintenance bill. Five staff would be retained in the short to medium term for asset maintenance.

The report clearly states with Option 3 that "A key component of this option is to discontinue rail activity on the Taieri Gorge line in view of the cost of deferred maintenance".

The Council voted for option 3 on a 14-1 division, committing to provide the ongoing funding for the next 18 months to support the close down of the company. DCHL indicated that their next steps included engaging with OETT. Following that conversation, OETT chose to sell their shareholding of the company to DCC. We do not know anything at this time as to the significance of the OETT decision but it would appear likely they wished to recover some of their investment in DRL and exit their involvement in the business. It is not clear whether they recovered their full equity or capital from the sale or took a loss.

The question now is as to the future of the operation. We expect that DCHL will look to dispose of most of its existing rolling stock on the open market, or as scrap. There is likely to be little interest in Dunedin in any other organisation acquiring this rolling stock, given the small rail heritage community there.

The bigger questions relate to the in ground assets - the Taieri Gorge track and structures, the stations at Pukerangi and Sutton, and the railway precinct at Middlemarch. We are of the view that there is a future possibility for an alternative ultralight rail tourist operation over the Taieri Gorge line, similar to Forgotten World Adventures' business on the former SOL. Since sections of the DCHL report that was released have been redacted, we do not know if this has been one of the alternative options DCHL is exploring. And since OETT has sold their shareholding in the company, we do not know if they have an interest in any alternative uses of the Taieri Gorge line. If an ultralight rail operation is not possible, then converting the corridor to an extension of the existing Rail Trail is a possibility that will keep it accessible to the public forever. The railway precinct at Middlemarch is well developed and it should be possible to retain it as part of Middlemarch as a whole. Our impression is that DCHL are focused on future options for Dunedin Railways whilst at the same time closing down Taieri Gorge, so we do not think they are looking at any particular option for the TGR.

Currently DCHL / DRL are still going through a staff consultation process and discussing possible options for the future of the line and it is difficult to know if any of the alternatives that are being considered will become viable. We are not commenting on these for now.