Coastal transport via sea ports may be the winner if the freight rail service between Napier and Gisborne folds, a member of the Hawke's Bay regional land transport committee believes.
Committee chairman Rex McIntyre said if the rail service shuts down there would only be two modes of transport between the two regions: Road or coastal transport.
He said the coastal transport option could be open to companies like Awatoto's Ravensdown, which supplied fertiliser from its Napier plant to the East Coast.
Ravensdown is in the throws of deciding whether it will stay with rail or switch to road transport to deliver its product to Gisborne.
Mr McIntyre said if companies like Ravensdown switched to coastal transport it would help Gisborne retain its port, as well as boosting business for the Napier port.
Gisborne's Leaderbrand, a vegetable and fruit producer, used the Gisborne to Napier rail service about 15 years ago but now transports all of its goods by refrigerated truck. Leaderbrand's crop product manager, Dr Stuart Davis, said during one season the company transported tomatoes from Gisborne to Wattie's in Hastings.
"The logistics of it didn't work. We had to harvest them, load them onto the train and then send them down overnight. But it took all day to unload," Dr Davis said.
The company prefers trucks over rail, especially when dealing with the export market as the perishable goods needed to be transported quickly. Gisborne City Vintage Railway secretary Geoff Joyce said the Napier to Gisborne rail line would be an excellent tourist route.
"But at the moment we are not big enough to exploit it more. We only have one engine and three carriages and a small group of volunteers," Mr Joyce said.
The vintage railway group operates its steam locomotive about twice monthly along 17km stretching from Gisborne to Muriwai.
"We would like to extend that to Beach Loop and Opoutama but the line (from Gisborne to Napier) is not up to passenger status," Mr Joyce said.
Mr Joyce said Ontrack had been working on the line near Opoutama but the chances of upgrading the track further looked slim if Toll NZ decided to withdraw.
Sea an alternative to rail?