By Glen Prentice
Ethne sad to see end of service
Train enthusiast Ethne Berkahn hasn’t missed too many stops at Waipukurau Station during the past eight years.
“There’s something coming now,” Ethne Berkahn says as she stands at Waipukurau Station waiting for the south-bound Bay Express to come around the bend and pull up alongside the station.
It’s 3.18pm, “it’s running a bit late today,” 72-year-old Ethne mutters before digging deep into her white plastic shopping bag.
She produces a can of lemonade wrapped in a plastic bag – a “little something for the driver so he doesn’t get thirsty,” she tells us.
Looking down the tracks there’s still no sign of any train, but Ethne assures us it’s coming.
“I can hear (them) a long way off,” she says.
Moments later the engine pulls around the bend with two carriages and a baggage van in tow.
Ethne’s up at platform, ready to present the driver at the first possible moment with a can of lemonade.
You could be forgiven for thinking she’s never seen a train in her life – but she’s seen plenty.
For the past eight years, almost every day, she has been at the station with a can for the driver – and for a quick chat.
The only exceptions are when she returns home to Takapau or if the weather is “really bad”.
“They do appreciate it. They don’t expect it but they do appreciate it,” she says.
Ethne is passionate about trains.
Having three uncles who worked for the railways meant that was inevitable, she says.
Born in Takapau, Ethne has spent her working life doing home help.
She used to wave as the trains passed when she first moved to Waipukurau in 1992 before she got the idea about the lemonade.
Her unofficial reward for her gestures is a free return trip to Napier which she makes twice a year.
She always offers to pay but says she’s always let on for free.
As the train pulls to a halt driver Derek Barrett slides the window across anticipating the exchange.
But he has to work for his thirst-quencher today, pausing for a photo.
Our presence has interrupted the routine a little.
Ethne hasn’t had her usual chat, but “I’ll be seeing Derek again,” she says.
Though next time he will driving a freight train.
She’s annoyed the Bay Express service has been cancelled.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with that lot. Why is that Aussie company putting it off?
Ironically the train is chocker-block today. But she won’t be out of a job.
After Monday, when the passenger service ends, she will “come down” and serve the freight train drivers.
“I will still come down and wait for the trains,” she says. Sometimes they come at 3.30pm sometimes it’s four or four-thirty, but I have patience.”
There’s a tear in Ethne’s eye as the train pulls away from the station.
Ethne calls out the numbers “4156, 4156, DC 4156”. She will record those numbers along with Derek’s name, and the train’s destination in her book when she gets home.
The last carriage passes by – she’s still waving and wiping her eyes.
“Back to the damn old kitchen,” she says.
“Back home, back to the usual.”
With her shopping bag in hand she heads away.
But she will be back tomorrow – when the next train comes through, for a quick chat with the driver and with a can of lemonade in hand.
Photo captions –
DRIVER Derek Barrett leans out to take a can of lemonade
As from Monday, ETHNE BERKAHN will be handing out lemonade to freight train drivers only.
HB TODAY PICTURE: LYNDA FORREST
No hopes left for service saviour
Any last-minute hopes of extending the life of the Bay Express beyond tomorrow have been dashed by the Wellington City and Wellington District councils.
Late last month, Napier Mayor Alan Dick asked the councils along the train’s route whether they wanted to revisit their decision when it became clear the government could use regional development funds to keep the service going at least until Christmas.
Wellington mayor Mark Blumsky [said] he had had no reaction to the new that the Bay Express was closing – which led him to believe it would not be missed.
Stuart Macaskill, the Wellington Regional Council chairman, said he would have thought that any money the government might be prepared to provide for regional development in Hawke’s Bay could be spent more productively than on a little used passenger service that had no foreseeable viable future.
The Bay Express will stop tomorrow, ending 110 years of rail passenger services between Napier and Wellington.