Wairoa council to fight rail closure

By Lawrence Gullery

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Wairoa plans to counter KiwiRail's decision to close the Napier to Gisborne rail line by proving the impact it'll have on its community and the loss of "untapped" economic opportunities such as oil and gas exploration.

KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn met with the Wairoa District Council on Tuesday and will meet with the Hawke's Bay regional transport committee in Napier next week.

Wairoa Mayor Les Probert said Mr Quinn explained the decision to mothball the line with "dollars and cents" but had not taken into account the "people factor".

"We believe there is more in it than money.

"There is a whole community of people from Napier to Gisborne which need to be considered."

Wairoa's Clyde Lumber director John Ebbett spoke at the meeting where he pointed out his business was currently using the railway line to transport 22,000 tonnes of timber per annum from Wairoa to Huntly.

"In John Ebbett's case, that's a fairly large number of trucks which will be needed to carry his timber on road if rail closes," Mr Probert said. "The cost of moving his timber by road will be more and that could have an impact on the 20 people he employs, which is an example of how it could affect our people.

"We believe closing down the line is a backward step for the East Coast. Everyone knows there's going to be exploration for oil and gas all around here and closing the rail line leaves only one access point via the fragile State Highway 2."

There was a perception State Highway 2 would only be maintained and not upgraded to deal with extra traffic over the next decade.

Mr Probert was also worried the rail line would not be maintained but left to fall into disrepair and over time "be made redundant".

He said the Wairoa council was working on a detailed presentation on its case to keep the rail line open for its MP, National's Chris Tremain.

It would also ask to present it directly to the government as KiwiRail "was just the messenger".

The Wairoa council would also wait with interest to see the outcome of next week's meeting between Mr Quinn and the regional transport committee.

"There may be something significant come out of that meeting but at the moment I can't forecast it."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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