East coast region's rail plea to PM

By Debbie Gregory of The Gisborne Herald

The Endeavor Train in Gisborne minutes before she leaves for the return journey to Napier. Photo / Alastair Gray
The Endeavor Train in Gisborne minutes before she leaves for the return journey to Napier. Photo / Alastair Gray

Councils along the east coast of the North Island have sent a strong written message to Prime Minister John Key and other Government ministers, pleading to retain the Gisborne to Napier rail line.

They say as one of New Zealand's most isolated communities, there are strategic lifeline implications for Gisborne, Wairoa and the East Coast if the line is lost.

A decision to close or mothball the line will have significant security, lifeline, access and economic implications, the letter says.

This comes on the back of a 10,000-signature petition to fix and save the line, given to Mr Key last week.

The line was closed in mid-March after a storm and blocked drains caused three washouts, one a 100-metre chasm, near Beach Loop, between Gisborne and Wairoa.

The critical need for the rail was emphasised also in March, when slips closed both the Waioeka Gorge between Gisborne and Opotiki, and

SH2 south between Wairoa and Napier. Gisborne was effectively cut off.

To deal with time-critical and perishable freight, this situation was resolved only by running trucks from Gisborne to Wairoa, then transhipping

on to rail to complete the trip to Napier.

"It is essential for Gisborne and northern Hawke's Bay to have the route security of two transport modes - road and rail," says Hawke's Bay Regional Council transport committee chairman Alan Dick.

Without the rail option, freight transport will be entirely dependent on State Highway 2 between Napier and Gisborne - challenged by geology and geography as it traverses fragile steep hill country.

It is winding, narrow, prone to slippage, and already carries a relatively high volume of heavy traffic - particularly logging trucks, says Mr Dick.

KiwiRail says it would cost $4.3 million to fix the damage but there are other major issues on the line that need to be considered.

Its report, including the potential of the the line and other transport infrastructure issues faced in the district, will be completed by the end of May.

The Government will then decide if it will financially support the district.

Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon welcomes the support of neighbours.

"All the supporters can see rail has a future for Tairawhiti. It is the transportation model for the present and into the future," he says.

Fixing the line gives the district a good platform to add to the country's wealth.

"A lot of funds are going to Auckland and Christchurch - $4.3m is not a lot to invest in our future."

Among letters of support sent to Wellington, Hawke's Bay Regional Council said the rail line was "a very significant issue for business and the people of Hawke's Bay and Gisborne - a combined population of 201,900."

"It is important to recognise that some 41 per cent of Hawke's Bay's regional GDP is exported and nearly 70 per cent of Gisborne's GDP is exported - substantially contributing to the nation's wealth."

Both regions transferred between themselves, between ports and between other regional economies, depending on shipping schedules and port capacity.

"This is likely to increase as wood and wood processing increase and further processing is developed."

Peripheral to freight business, scenic excursion trains had been well patronised, with further potential for tourism development.

There would be adverse economic effects on businesses in Gisborne and Hawke's Bay if modal choice and pricing competition between road transport operators and KiwiRail were lost.

Significant economic development opportunities for Gisborne and Hawke's Bay, such as the prospective Hikurangi Forest Farms timber processing plant, would be discouraged. There was potential for significant dairy conversions in Wairoa and Gisborne.

Mr Dick said predicted volumes on the line in 2012/13 had every prospect of break-even, and towards the end of the period would have been in surplus.

"While the washout is a setback, early repair and a commitment to the service will enable trade to be recovered."

- The Gisborne Herald

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