10,000 sign petition to keep rail

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A petition to save Northland's rail network that attracted more than 10,000 signatures will be presented to Government next month.

Organiser Vivienne Shepherd will be handing the petition to Green MP Gareth Hughes on the steps of Parliament on October 6.

Mr Hughes, along with Labour MP Kelvin Davis, will be speaking at a public meeting in Whangarei on October 11 to explore the case for retaining rail.

"Some 10,000 Northlanders can't be wrong," Ms Shepherd said.

"It's even bigger than the GE-Free petition, so we are hoping local and national government will clearly see where the people are at on this one and support the Northland network accordingly."

It had been easy collecting signatures for the petition, with people sometimes lining up to sign, she said.

"The results speak for themselves. Ordinary people think in longer timeframes than governments and Northlanders can see the sense in maintaining the line to keep logging trucks off the road, not only for safety reasons and road wear, but also because we all know the price of oil will only increase.

Rail is a way more efficient use of fossil fuel."

She said if taxpayers subsidised rail to the same degree as roads, rail would already be far cheaper for freight.

"It's just political will that favours road at the moment - this can and must change."

The Forum North meeting on October 11 starts at 7pm, with addresses from invited guests which include existing and potential users, MPs, and regional and district councillors.

KiwiRail representatives have also been invited.

Business consultant Teresa Moore is compiling a business case for Save Our Rail Northland and will present a summary of her findings to date at the public meeting.

Other speakers include Northland Regional Council Chairman Craig Brown, Whangarei District Councillor Aaron Edwards, John Johnston from Gondwana Express, and Martin Nicholls of Bay Lumber Ltd. Existing rail user Fonterra has also been invited.

The forum starts at 7pm in Cafler Room 2 at Forum North, with light refreshments provided. People attending will be asked to contribute to the cost of the venue, and pro-rail t-shirts will be on sale for $25.

The Whangarei/Auckland railway line could be mothballed for an indefinite period from next year, after talks KiwiRail plans to have with the region's businesses and local authorities.

KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn has signalled the rail line could be placed on hold if enough business is not found to justify the line's required upgrade. A Northland Regional Council 30-year Transport Strategy released last year estimated it would cost about $280 million to upgrade the Whangarei/Auckland line and install the Marsden Pt rail link.

Mothballing would involve maintaining the line but ceasing the services. A coalition of groups in Northland including the Green Party, the Progressives, the Labour Party, Transition Towns Mangawhai, Transition Towns Whangarei and Transition Towns Kaiwaka are campaigning to keep the line open.

- Northern Advocate

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