MPs criticised over rail line

By Lawrence Gullery

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Frustration is reaching boiling point among some Hawke's Bay regional councillors at the lack of action by the region's two National MPs to find alternatives for the mothballed Napier to Gisborne railway line.

The Hawke's Bay Regional Transport Committee meets today to review efforts from Hawke's Bay and East Coast community leaders in lobbying the Government to repair and develop the railway line.

The community leaders raised money for a BERL report into possible economic options for the line which is now being reviewed by KiwiRail and should be tabled at the committee's first meeting in 2013.

The rail issue came up at the Hawke's Bay Regional Council's final meeting of the year on Wednesday, where Napier MP Chris Tremain and Tukituki MP Craig Foss were criticised for "toeing the party line".

Cr Tim Gilbertson said the BERL report would not be enough to convince the Government to look at fixing and reopening the rail line.

"It's no use mounting an argument based on economics. It should be a political argument because that's what this is all about, saving money.

We should be saying to Tremain and Foss that there is a real groundswell to put two candidates against them on the rail topic at the next election."

Regional council chairman Fenton Wilson agreed the decision to close the East Coast line was "about politics at the end of the day".

"The preface [of BERL report] is that volumes are sustainable on the line and are able to be increased, to create an economic argument. But the two boys [Tremain and Foss] are toeing the party line. The door is shut."

Mr Wilson said efforts to nail down a meeting with Minister for Economic Development Steven Joyce and Minister of Transport Gerry Brownlee over the rail issue had proved difficult.

Cr Alan Dick, who is also the transport committee chairman, said the BERL report had identified a number of significant inconsistencies with the original decision to mothball the line.

"The report has gone to KiwiRail which is probably the appropriate thing to do so they can consider releasing a response in early January."

Mr Tremain said the East Coast line had not been profitable over the past decade and the forecast for the next 10 years projected ongoing losses.

"There is no new money from central government so unless the Hawke's Bay Regional Council or the Gisborne council are prepared to stump up with the cash the decision remains unchanged.

"Both councils have been strangely silent on this despite their rhetoric about politicians toeing the party line and claims of starting new political parties."

Mr Tremain said the line had been closed for six months and it had little impact on the Hawke's Bay or the Gisborne economy.

"I have heard that the squash crop will be transported out of Gisborne this year by ship [with an even lower carbon footprint than rail] proving that most customers have found viable alternatives."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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