'Free and frank' talk on mothballed line

By Lawrence Gullery

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KiwiRail will meet Hawke's Bay transport leaders behind closed doors next week to have a "free and frank" discussion about the possible future of the mothballed Napier to Gisborne rail line.

Regional transport committee chairman Alan Dick said he needed to give the company's chief executive Jim Quinn a chance to explain the reasons behind the closure and a chance to put forward some ideas from the committee.

"We need to call for a pause and then have some free and frank discussion, to get a bit more information," Mr Dick said.

He hinted that a joint private and public arrangement could be looked at to fund an independent East Coast rail operation.

"All of those options are still on the table, nothing is off."

Mr Dick said the feedback following KiwiRail's decision to close the line had been overwhelmingly in favour of looking for alternatives to restart it in the future.

"It is another opportunity lost for the Gisborne and Hawke's Bay communities.

You know the view of the exporting community in Gisborne, they are so disappointed to have lost the opportunity to send full containers to the Port of Napier."

Mr Dick said it must be noted KiwiRail spent thousands of dollars upgrading the line to take bigger containers which would improve the economic viability of the network.

"They had made a big effort in 2011 to improve the line but then we had the major washout and slips [north of Wairoa] that put the line out of action."

The slips had closed the line since March and it was expected to cost close to $4 million to repair.

"But I believe if there was a commitment made, the line could still operated and we could make it viable within two years."

Mr Dick said the committee supported the initiative taken by Gisborne people for an independent economic study focussing on whether the line should be closed.

The Hawke's Bay Regional Council had approved about $1000 towards the study, Mr Dick said. The results of next Tuesday's meeting with Mr Quinn would be discussed by the transport committee at its public meeting this month.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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