The lobby to bring rail back to Whanganui and other provincial districts has been gaining momentum in this election year, and political parties are being urged to make it a priority.
An open letter to all parties has been signed by regional and district representatives who want to see the return of passenger and freight services to the central region.
Horizons regional councillor and chairman of the passenger transport committee, Sam Ferguson, said the letter specifically asked each party to commit to investing in regional passenger rail.
“I know there is a lot of enthusiasm for rail services in Whanganui,” Ferguson said.
“I was at the well-attended meeting there in May, and it was very encouraging to hear people’s ideas and see that level of support.”
The meeting, organised by the Save Our Trains national lobby group, attracted a fervent gathering.
Whanganui Mayor Andrew Tripe has signed the letter, along with district councillors Peter Oskam, Jenny Duncan, Ross Fallen and Charlie Anderson.
“It just makes sense for Whanganui to have a rail option for our manufacturers to transport their goods,” Tripe said.
“And we know that there is a lot of enthusiasm in Whanganui for passenger services. The cost of rebuilding the infrastructure would be considerable, but in the long run, it makes economic sense because it would relieve the pressures on our roads.”
Tripe said a passenger service would enable people in Whanganui to travel to Wellington without worrying about traffic congestion, and it would boost incoming visitor numbers as well.
Ruapehu Mayor Weston Kirton, who successfully led a sustained campaign for the reinstatement of a passenger rail service in Taumarunui, said government support was imperative.
“Successive governments have stated their belief that building successful and more resilient regions is the key to building a prosperous nation,” he said.
“The funding of regional development programmes has unlocked big economic opportunities, but a key enabler critical to the realisation of these opportunities is the need for the infrastructure to connect people, goods, services and markets.”
Kirton said public transport was a critical part of the infrastructure that was often overlooked.
“Public transport plays a critical role in sustainable development efforts.
“By providing viable alternatives to private vehicles, it helps to reduce traffic congestion, lower carbon emissions and mitigate environmental impacts associated with individual car ownership.”
Ferguson said members of provincial communities knew the demand for improved public transport was strong and the open letter was intended to highlight those concerns in the lead-up to the general election.
“Transport is a key issue in our country, and the decisions we make now will have an impact for decades to come,” he said.
“We need to work together to enable rail to play a key role as the backbone of the transport network.”
Liz Wylie is a multimedia journalist for the Whanganui Chronicle. She joined the editorial team in 2014 and regularly covers stories from Whanganui and the wider region. She also writes features and profile stories.