Northlanders turned up en masse and spoke with one voice - the Government can and should fund the future of rail in Northland.
More than 460 people filled up the Capitaine Bougainville Theatre and the exhibition hall at Forum North on Monday evening during a public forum on the future of rail in Northland.
The meeting was organised by Grow Northland Rail after KiwiRail announced last month Northland's sole surviving railway line was to be mothballed north of Kauri because it was no longer viable.
Forum organiser Alby Barr said a petition to be submitted to the Government was planned within a fortnight, similar to Save Northland Rail organised in 2012 which attracted 13,000 signatures.
Also, Grow Northland Rail hopes to host another public forum in Auckland with the Super City's mayoral candidates.
At Forum North, National's Whangarei MP Shane Reti and KiwiRail asset manager Dave Gordon came under fire from the vocal crowd while explaining the Government and company's positions respectively on the future of rail in Northland. Attendants questioned how the Government was able to fund $26 million for the flag referendum and the $1.6 billion taxpayer-funded bailout of South Canterbury Finance in 2010, yet had no money for an important transport link.
The Green Party's transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter told the audience that roads were presently congested and full of logging trucks and the situation would get worse in future.
Jon Reeves from Better Public Transport said the rail line north of Kauri should be extended up to Kawakawa for people like tourists who spent more money on trains than on vehicles. He said road deaths involving trucks increased from 15 per cent in 2010 to 23 per cent in 2014.
Dr Reti said if freight was present in commercial quantities and businesses were prepared to pay commercial rates, KiwiRail would be prepared to carry it through.
He said competing factors must be taken into account to achieve a balance between rail and road transportation.
Mr Gordon said the $200 million of taxpayer money KiwiRail received annually was insufficient to maintain 3500km of rail network throughout the country.
New Zealand First Leader and Northland MP Winston Peters said the Government committed $2.5 billion for a city rail link in Auckland yet did not have $220 million to maintain 270km of rail track in Northland.
He said KiwiRail's performance had been an "abject failure".