Labour pledges to reopen rail link

By Lawrence Gullery

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Labour's East Coast-based list MP and its former Napier-based list MP have pledged that their party will reopen the Gisborne to Napier rail line if it is voted into government next year.

The announcement came at a public meeting in Gisborne on Monday night, hosted by the district's mayor, Meng Foon.

The meeting was used for people to discuss KiwiRail's rejection of the Business and Economic Research Limited's (BERL) review of the decision to close the line.

Labour list MP Moana Mackey said the party could see the economic opportunity that rail could provide the region.

"And we are convinced it makes sense to retain the line, keep the extra trucks off the road and keep East Coast products competitive."

Labour's former Napier-based list MP Stuart Nash said a reliable rail transport system was crucial for the economic and social development of the Gisborne and Hawke's Bay regions.

His party would consider a public/private model to reopen and run the rail line, if one was proposed.

"I think Labour would look at all the options. We want to attract economic development and not limit it.

"I've been privy to the BERL report and conversations with customers of the line and commercial operators who use the rail line and don't buy into the argument that the line is not economical."

A washout on the line between Wairoa and Gisborne last year would cost about $4 million to repair and it was an expense used by KiwiRail to suggest the network was not viable.

"The week after that washout occurred, it should have been repaired.

"There's no question for me that we need this, because it's so important to the economic value of the two regions," Mr Nash said.

At the meeting, forest owner Roger Dickie said he had 18 million tonnes of trees to be harvested in the region and he wanted to send at least 7.5 million tonnes south by rail.

Mr Dickie responded to KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn's claims that short-haul railways were uneconomic by pointing out a number of similar and shorter lines carted logs profitably for KiwiRail.

Meeting organiser and Gisborne district councillor Manu Caddie said the Government needed to justify its decision to close the line with "accurate figures".

"BERL has shown the numbers are much closer than KiwiRail suggested and that doesn't even take into account the massive extra cost to road maintenance, road safety issues, environmental benefits and the cost to regional jobs if Gisborne products are less competitive."

Mr Caddie said a vote of no confidence in National's East Coast MP Anne Tolley and its Napier MP Chris Tremain was "almost unanimously" supported by the 100 people at the meeting.

"Speakers suggested while the provinces have been loyal to National, the party leadership seem to have forgotten about rural New Zealanders."

The BERL review suggests a cost-benefit analysis be completed next, to form a comprehensive view to show what it would take to repair the line and reopen it.

It was thought the analysis would cost about $500,000 but Green MP Julie Genter said it was small change compared to the $100 million the Government spent on consultants for a new motorway in Wellington.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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