Mayors unite to save railway link

By CAITLIN NOBES

A Hawke's Bay contingent hopes to prevent the closure of the Napier/Gisborne East Coast rail line, starting with a meeting in Gisborne this week.
Representatives of the Hawke's Bay Leaders Group will meet with senior executives of KiwiRail, including Jim Quinn, on Thursday to discuss the line.
Mayors Barbara Arnott of Napier, Lawrence Yule of Hastings and Les Probert of Wairoa District are in the group, together with regional council and Regional Transport Committee chair Alan Dick and HB Chamber of Commerce CEO Murray Douglas.
They will represent Hawke's Bay at a meeting with Mayor Meng Foon of Gisborne District, along with his council and representatives of the Gisborne business community.
The aim is to decide whether the rail link is viable and to discuss strategies.
Alan Dick said the meeting was a starting point to get the parties involved together to discuss the potential for the line.
"We want to make sure there is common ground at both ends of the line as far as local parties are concerned," he said.
With government backing, KiwiRail has recently released its "rail turn-around" plan.
Four provincial lines, including Napier/Gisborne, would be reviewed by KiwiRail in consultation with its communities and its customers. KiwiRail has warned that unless new anchor customers emerge or can be secured, these lines would be closed or mothballed by 2012.
One tunnel along the line needed to be lowered so the containers most often used by industry could be carried on the line, Mr Dick said. The next step would be to secure more freight.
A new forestry processing plant was expected to open in 2012 and the Port of Napier was the most likely option for shipping containers overseas.

However, this meant time was tight because the line had to prove viable by 2012, Mr Dick said.
"It is a challenge, but I think if the communities have a strong consciousness of the need to do something and the business communities at each end are on board, then things can start happening," he said.
The proposed Hikurangi Forest Farms plant was expected to put out 200 containers a week and without a rail line this would have to be transported by road, a scenario Mr Dick said would be a nightmare.
Concerns at this end focused on safety and overloading of the Napier to Gisborne highway. There was also a need to maintain choice and competition in land transport modes, and the potential loss of economic development opportunities without the rail option.
The Hawke's Bay group was unanimous that everything possible must be done to prevent closure of the line.
There was also concern for Gisborne, which could face increased isolation and limits on its economic opportunities.
 

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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