After seven years, the Napier to Wairoa rail line is back on track, and there was more than a bit of pomp and circumstance for its opening.

The line, which was mothballed in 2012 following significant damage, was officially re-opened, with a special passenger service carrying over 100 people from Napier to Wairoa.

The Deco Bay Brass band played the train off, and it was welcomed to its brief stop in Eskdale with waiata from Hukarere Girls' College.

Mervyn Smiley, from Eskdale, welcomes the train back. Photo / Warren Buckland
Mervyn Smiley, from Eskdale, welcomes the train back. Photo / Warren Buckland

Locals dotted the side of the line as the train dawdled through Napier, speeding up as it left the city behind.

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Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones was there to reopen the line.

He said the project had been pushed by Hawke's Bay civic leaders. "People should celebrate the advocacy that has come from their regional government."

He said it was a small investment in terms of GDP ($6.2 million from the Provincial Growth Fund), but would have a major impact in terms of moving trucks off the road.

KiwiRail Chief Executive Grey Miller and Minister Shane Jones speaking to media from the train. Photo / Warren Buckland
KiwiRail Chief Executive Grey Miller and Minister Shane Jones speaking to media from the train. Photo / Warren Buckland

He said the rail provided another option for businesses to boost exports.

KiwiRail's group chief executive, Greg Miller, said it was an honour to be the first New Zealand rail boss to open a line in 50 years.

He said it was estimated that having the rail open would take 5000 trucks off the road annually.

"One truck equals 40,000 cars in damage, one truck, so if we take 5000 trucks of the road a year, that's 5000 times 40,000. It's big numbers."

A washout left the line dangling in September 2018. Photo / File
A washout left the line dangling in September 2018. Photo / File

The line has had a somewhat complex history - its construction in the early 20th century was held up for years due to the Napier Earthquake, floods in Esk Valley and the Depression.

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Construction began in 1930 but it was not officially opened until 1939. The Hawke's Bay Daily Mail described it as a "new chapter in the history of Hawke's Bay".

"Indeed, of all the triumphs over difficulties achieved in the matter of transport in the North Island, the competition of the Napier-Wairoa section on the East Coast railway is one of the greatest."

Such was the occasion even the Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage, was called upon to write an opinion piece about the opening.

"Its opening on July 1 will demonstrate the achievements of a project which was either hindered or held up for years."

In some ways, the mothballing of the line in 2012 reflected its original build, with Mother Nature and economics keeping the line from opening.

Minister Shane Jones and Deco Bay Brass before the train departed. Photo / Warren Buckland
Minister Shane Jones and Deco Bay Brass before the train departed. Photo / Warren Buckland

Miller said the most important way to keep the line open was to use it. "The minute you stop the faster it degrades."

One person who was excited to see the line reopen was long-time Eskdale resident Mervyn Smiley. He welcomed the train as it paused in Eskdale with a sign reading "Welcome Back".

He said it was significant for the region to see the line reopen as there are currently too many trucks on the road.