Peters backs Napier to Gisborne rail link repair

By Simon Hendery

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NZ First leader Winston Peters.Photo/File
NZ First leader Winston Peters.Photo/File

Restoration of the Napier-Gisborne rail link would be "among the first projects funded" under New Zealand First's transport policy, party leader Winston Peters says.

Mr Peters and the party's transport spokesman, Denis O'Rourke, launched NZ First's transport policy in Gisborne yesterday.

The policy includes developing "railways of national importance" - including the Napier-Gisborne line - as part of a "balanced" national transport strategy.

The Napier-Gisborne rail link was mothballed in December 2012 but pressure has been mounting this year to fund its re-opening.

Hawke's Bay Regional Council budgeted just under $5.5 million in its annual plan last month to re-establishing the line, but will only invest the money if KiwiRail and the Government fully-fund the cost of returning the track and associated infrastructure in a good "fit for purpose" condition.

The Government has rejected calls to spend money on the line, saying the economic case for re-opening the rail link does not stack up.

In recent months Mr O'Rourke and Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee have clashed several times in Parliament over the issue, with Mr Brownlee telling Mr O'Rourke in April that spending government money to restore the line would be "a tragedy for the New Zealand taxpayer".

But Mr Peters said yesterday the Government was "deeply, ideologically averse to rail transport".

"It appears their vision is of a New Zealand without railways - and for the past six years they have closed railway workshops in Dunedin, closed the Gisborne-Napier line and generally starved rail of investment."

Funding for NZ First's proposed Railways of National Importance (RONI) programme would be fiscally neutral and would be met by diverting money from National's Roads of National Significance programme, including an initial allocation of $300 million.

"Among the first projects funded under RONI will be the restoration of the Gisborne-Napier line," he said.

"This line should never have been closed on the flimsy pretext of a washout. Would any major road ever be closed because of a washout? No, of course not.

"National was looking for an excuse to close down another bit of the rail network and jumped on the excuse that the washout provided. The Napier-Gisborne line will be back in business with New Zealand First."

The re-opening of the line is supported by Labour's Napier candidate, Stuart Nash.

National's Napier candidate, Wayne Walford, and Tukituki MP and cabinet minister Craig Foss, meanwhile, have been running a campaign to drum up interest in a feasibility study into developing the disused line into a cycling trail.

The pair have said while it is a shame the line has had to be mothballed because it is not sustainable, the proposed "Sunrise Rail Trail" would build on the country's growing network of cycleways that are proving to be drawcards for both locals and tourists.

Two weeks ago Napier MP Chris Tremain presented a 1809-signature petition to Parliament requesting the Government carry out the study.

Mr O'Rourke said New Zealand First did not accept the Government's argument that the Napier-Gisborne line was not viable, and the estimated cost of $4 million to re-open it would be money well spent.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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