Minister defends decision delay on rail's future

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The future of the Napier-Gisborne rail line came up in question time in Parliament yesterday with Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee offering no commitment to repair it.

New Zealand First MP Brendan Horan raised the issue and criticised the delay in making a decision on the line's future.

The line was closed at the end of March after heavy rain caused three dropouts, one a 100m wide chasm, near Beach Loop.

KiwiRail has said it will cost up to $4.3 million to fix but other maintenance required on the line had to be taken into account. It has said it would need Government support.

A decision had been expected by the middle of the month.

Mr Horan said the livelihoods of many families in the Napier-Gisborne region hung in the balance and many more were suffering more hardship because of Government indecision.

Mr Brownlee said no decision had been made because the line was still under "active consideration".

The Government wanted certainty about future crated exports from the area before making a decision, he said.

"The question would suggest that transport routes into Gisborne are completely closed, they are not," Mr Brownlee said.

The question follows a visit to Gisborne by KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn this week, and a district council report which has reinvigorated debate about the importance, or not, of the line.

The report even suggested that fracking in the Gisborne district could provide a lifeline for the rail line.

It found that based on conservative estimates of freight volumes "not only would the short-term viability of the rail line to Napier be assured, but that the medium and long-term viability of the line is also strong".

The report says Gisborne's economy is based on primary produce, with large volumes needing to be sent out of the district.

"Further large-volume commodities may need to be exported from the district if tentative plans to mine mineral resources ... come to fruition.

"If hydraulic fracturing (fracking) processes were to be used for this, there may be a need to move considerable volumes of water mixed with fracking fluid as well."

The study says the 212km line could carry enough freight to exceed the amount required to break even by 500 tonnes.

Meanwhile, Gisborne meat processor Ovation and the New Zealand Automobile Association have come out in support of reopening the line.

Plant manager of Ovation New Zealand's Gisborne lamb processing facility, Kevin Morrell, said road transportation was used to get the company's shipping containers to the Napier port. "However, we have successfully trialled using rail and we are definitely keen to pursue this option," he said.

Road closures over the past 12 months have had a huge impact on Ovation Gisborne's business.

"I believe we will be very vulnerable if we were to lose the rail link to Napier."

The Automobile Association (AA) Hawke's Bay/Gisborne district manager Glenys Gray said the organisation firmly believed the link between Napier and Gisborne was vital.

The council unanimously supported the Hawke's Bay Regional Transport Committee for their efforts to retain the line.

A KiwiRail report on the line's future will be finished by June. A decision is expected by the Government next month.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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