Tremain backs rail line closure

By Lawrence Gullery of Hawke's Bay Today -
Chris Tremain. Photo / Glenn Taylor
Chris Tremain. Photo / Glenn Taylor

Napier MP Chris Tremain is backing KiwiRail's move to close the Gisborne to Napier rail line and says the Government has already spent enough on upgrading the national rail network.

Mr Tremain said National had made a major commitment to rail transport to turn it around and make it viable.

"To do this we have invested $750 million new funding into KiwiRail over the last three budgets ($250m pa). The turnaround has also required tough decisions regarding some of the assets, including the hillside workshops and the Napier to Gisborne line."

Mr Tremain said where assets had been proven unprofitable for long periods of time and with a proven lack of customer commitment over many years, the tough call had been made to close them for the benefit of the wider rail system.

"In regards to logging, Ms Genter (Green Party MP) needs to get out of her cosy Wellington office and talk to the likes of Pan Pac who employ hundreds of local workers and ask them why they don't use rail.

"The short trucking distances, the close access to two ports (Napier and Gisborne) and the lack of rail on the Napier to Taupo Road are key reasons why the likes of Pan Pac are highly unlikely to become rail customers in the Greens' Wellington dream world."

Ms Genter is the Green Party's transport and urban planning expert, who this week supported the Business and Economic Research Limited's (BERL) review which criticised KiwiRail's decision to close the Napier to Gisborne rail line.

The review suggested a potential lift in timber production could provide the freight needed to make the rail route profitable.

"The Napier-Gisborne rail line is a vital piece of infrastructure for the region's exporters; this report shows it can be run economically," Ms Genter said.

BERL released its review on Tuesday but said it was still waiting for a response from the Government.

"The response to this review has come only from KiwiRail. The decision is clearly one involving national and regional interests so we look forward to seeing the Government's response."

BERL also released its response to KiwiRail's criticism of its review, including the need for a cost-benefit study which should be the next step to determine if the rail line can be operated viably. KiwiRail agreed such a study was required but it could not commit the money towards it.

BERL said the study should be paid for by the Government involving other interested groups.

The possibility of forestry freight was another major criticism by KiwiRail, which said there was promise of more timber being hauled on rail but no commercial agreement.

BERL said there was a strong case for national and regional governments to "take some responsibility" for restoring the rail network which was run down. Those governments should also investigate the feasibility and costs of better rail access to the northern Hawkes Bay forests and Napier processing plants and port, to encourage more forest operators.

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