Govt told support rail line or face a backlash

By Lawrence Gullery

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Heritage rail passenger operators are asking the Government to put the Gisborne to Napier rail line back on track instead of neglecting regional New Zealanders who may use the issue to decide who to vote for at the next general election.

Federation of Rail Operators of NZ spokesman Don Selby said heritage rail tourist trips over the Gisborne to Napier line had real potential to develop and expand in the future, contributing to the long- term viability of the line and regional tourism.

He said the Gisborne City Vintage Railway, which operated over the line, was in danger of having to cease operations completely because of KiwiRail's recommendation to close the East Coast route.

"It it's high time the owners of KiwiRail, that is the Government, stopped dodging the issues, admitted they have made a mistake, and committed some real money to save this valuable asset," Mr Selby said.

The Federation of Rail Operators had 73 member groups in New Zealand and included a number which hold main line rail operating licences.

Mr Selby said the Business and Economic Research Ltd review of KiwiRail's decision to close the line must now show the move not to repair the damaged route was "a major political and economic mistake".

He said KiwiRail was in a difficult position because it was set up as a State-Owned Enterprise and required to return profits to the Government.

"The Government represents the real owners, who are the people of New Zealand, to whom they in turn are ultimately responsible at the ballot box," Mr Selby said.

The rail network should be be regarded as a profit centre but as an asset like the national road network which Mr Selby said the Government seemed happy to be spending taxpayer money on.

"Regional New Zealand justifiably feels the current Government is not particularly interested in anyone living outside the main centres," he said.

"The Gisborne and East Coast region rightly feels they are being particularly neglected by Government, who now have a great chance to publicly demonstrate a willingness to address this problem."

People fighting to save the line deserved a sympathetic, positive response from Government ministers and to do nothing was not an option.

"The Government can turn this into a winner over night by fronting up with the required money and instructing KiwiRail to get on with fixing and operating it."

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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