KiwiRail to defend 'unfortunate' closure

By Gisborne Herald, Lawrence Gullery

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KiwiRail has accepted requests to attend meetings in Wairoa and Napier to explain the Government's decision to mothball the Napier to Gisborne rail line.

Hawke's Bay Regional Transport Committee chairman Alan Dick said the line's demise would have serious consequences for the future of East Coast economies.

He's invited KiwiRail's chief executive Jim Quinn to speak at the committee's next meeting.

"It means a loss of transport choices and competition," Mr Dick said. "Road transport freight costs will inevitably go up. Wairoa and Gisborne exporters will face difficulties and extra costs in connecting to container export ports in Napier and Tauranga and to the wider national rail freight system.

"We will be dependent on a tortuous, secondary standard state highway, which traverses difficult terrain and has stability risks."

Mr Dick said trucks had difficulty carrying fully-loaded high cube containers. Two return trips per day between Gisborne and Napier are usually not possible.

"Road safety is already an issue and risks will increase as heavy traffic volumes inevitably increase. Reliable sources indicate that the additional truck movements quoted by Kiwi Rail are significantly understated."

The decision ensured Gisborne and the East Coast would be confirmed as one of the most isolated regions in New Zealand, Mr Dick said.

"It is most unfortunate the Government has chosen to ignore the fact that the Gisborne and Hawke's Bay economies are highly export focused and need reliable and economical transport links to get their goods to market.

"Gisborne and Hawke's Bay are where New Zealand earns its living in the world and deserve better recognition."

The Government's announcement it would spend an additional $4 million on passing lane opportunities between Napier and Gisborne was little consolation.

National's Tukituki MP Craig Foss said the rail line was "mothballed but not closed" and if there was a case to reopen it, it would be considered by KiwiRail. "But the economics have to stack up and at the moment they don't."

He said since the rail line had been out of use there had not been a significant increase in traffic or problems on State Highway 2 between Napier and Gisborne.

"During the past nine months we have seen an extra five trucks a day while the line has been out of action."

Napier MP Chris Tremain said there was no evidence road transport freight costs would increase.

"The fact is that rail transport on this corridor has been uneconomic. If it had been competitive the line would not be being mothballed and we would have seen significant volumes of freight shifted to rail.

"Over the last 10 years road closures for longer than 10 hours have occurred on average once per year.

"This is hardly inadequate given that the rail line has been closed on various occasions for months at a time and not once over that period has the railway been substituted for a closed road."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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