Staff at the Hillside workshops in Dunedin face an anxious wait for a buyer, after KiwiRail's announcement it is to sell the site.
KiwiRail says the South Island site does not have enough forward work orders, but an experienced heavy engineering company could expand the business away from railways.[image:5021:half:right]
The Hillside workshops have been operating on the south Dunedin site since 1875. Last year, 44 workers lost their jobs when KiwiRail awarded contracts for new locomotives and 500 flat-top wagons to Chinese companies.
On Thursday, KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn and senior managers met with the 123 workers and Rail and Maritime Transport Union officials.
KiwiRail plans to put the business on the market early in May and hopes to sell it by the end of August as a going concern.
The Rail and Maritime Transport Union on Thursday says the sale is totally avoidable and attributes it to the decision not to award last year's contracts to Hillside.
Union delegate and worker Les Ingram says employees were shocked, angry and worried for their jobs when told of the sale, but they can also see it as a good option.
Mr Ingram says a new owner might reinstate the workshops to their former strength.
"I don't think many saw this coming, but when the emotion dies away, you see that this is actually a really good option."
The union's general secretary, Wayne Butson, agrees it might be just what the workshops need.
"If we get a good owner who comes in and brings some things to the table like an existing contract workload, they bring a bit of money, and they bring drive, determination and an understanding of engineering excellence, then I have no doubt that Hillside will actually flourish."
Mr Butson says Hillside makes too big a contribution to the local economy to be closed.
KiwiRail boss confident of sale
KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn is confident an appropriate engineering firm will be interested in snapping up the workshops.
Mr Quinn told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Thursday any investment will have to be made in the workshops, but interested parties will know what specialist equipment is there.
Earlier, he said the sale announcement creates a better opportunity for all parties involved.
"We clearly haven't been able to solve this problem of bringing in disparate work ourselves for a long time - not just the last year or so.
"So getting somebody else to bring their expertise to the table, we think, would be a good outcome. And that creates a better outcome for the team, with the site, Dunedin, and for us, of course, as well."
Chamber of Commerce offers support
The Otago Chamber of Commerce says it will do all it can to help find a buyer for KiwiRail engineering workshops in Dunedin.
Chief executive John Christie told Checkpoint the ramifications would be huge for the city if a buyer cannot be found.
"We have offered support to KiwiRail in any capacity that they want us to undertake in terms of a wider city interest - and I know the city council will also be right behind that.
"We want a good outcome for the workers of Hillside, we want a good outcome for the city of Dunedin and we want a good outcome for KiwiRail.
"So the best we can hope for is a range of willing buyers that will meet the needs of our community."
Dunedin mayor Dave Cull says he is glad KiwiRail has brought the matter to a head while there is still a semi-viable business to sell.