It’s not the end of the line for rail link, says Council

(“Hawke’s Bay Today” – Thurs 23rd April 2015)

by Simon Hendery

simon.hendery@hbtoday.co.nz

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council says it hasn’t given up on plans for a rail-based log freighting operation between Wairoa and Napier.  It comes despite KiwiRail closing the door on discussions last month.

The state-owned company, which owns the mothballed Napier-Gisborne line, declined a request from the council for an extension of time – beyond March 1 – to develop a business case based on leasing the line.

Last year the council set aside $5.46 million to potentially part-fund the resurrection of a freight service on the line.

It commissioned a study which concluded there was sufficient demand from forest owners wanting to ship logs from Wairoa to Napier Port to make the project viable.

However, more time was needed to firm up commercial interest and compete a detailed business case.

But last month KiwiRail said it was not prepared to extend the deadline given there were still a “significant number of fundamental outstanding issues yet to be resolved”.

Regional council chief executive Liz Lambert said yesterday the two organisations were still talking with a view to finding a mutually acceptable solution.  “We haven’t given up hope of being able to look for a solution yet,” she told a meeting of the council’s corporate and strategic committee.

Meanwhile, Labour MP Stuart Nash said this week the council lease proposal was “a fantastic idea” because the east coast needed “first world infrastructure” including a decent rail link to drive economic development.

“If we haven’t got the infrastructure, nobody is going to invest,” he told a Grey Power meeting in Taradale on Tuesday.

“Peter Reidy, the CEO of KiwiRail, has been a mate of mine for a long time – way before politics.  I’ve been having a couple of conversations with him and trying to figure out what is going on here,” Mr Nash said.

“I can’t say we’ll get there in the end but I’m actually really confident we will.”

The Government has dismissed the council’s plans, saying there is no evidence in support the claim the rail link could be economically viable.

Cruise ships at risk

(“Gisborne Herald” – Tues 5th May 2015)

by Debbie Gregory

Cruise ships could stop visitng Gisborne if historic steam train Wa165 is not operating, Cruise New Zealand said. This is the basis of a strong submission to Gisborne District Council’s long-term plan.

Gisborne Rail Action Group spokeswoman Gillian Ward says Gisborne City Vintage Rail, the voluntary group that runs Wa165, deserves ongoing financial and operational support from the council.

“Cruise New Zealand has stated that it sees no reason for cruise ships to visit Gisborne if the historic steam train is not operating,” she said.

“This voluntary group deserves secure financial backing and surety of rail access so they can focus on running the steam train, which brings such huge benefits to the tourism sector – in particular with cruise ship visits.”

The cruise season economic benefit weights in at $2 million here, with a forecast for 2015-16 season of $5 million. Cruise New Zealand general manager Raewyn Tan told “Gisborne Herald” this morning one of the reasons a region was considered for a ship’s call was its ability to take people on tour.  A cruise line needed to be assured the region’s tour capacity was able to entertain the 3200-plus passengers they would bring into that region.

“Wa165 is the one activity with the largest carrying capacity. Therefore the loss of Wa165 would greatly impact on the number of people able to go on tour, in a region where coach capacity is already limited,” she said.

“We were thrilled a cruise line was willing to risk the unknown and include Gisborne on so many of its regular transtasman voyages. The steam train was part of that equation. Without Wa165 or a significant equivalent tour, this will have significant implications for Gisborne as a cruise port,” she said.

In the rail group’s submission, Mrs Ward said the steam train would play a big role in the coming Te Ha celebrations in 2019 to celebrate 250 years since the first meeting of Maori and European. It would be ideal to have the train go to Beach Loop, where the track collapsed during a storm in 2012.

“It would be very appropriate for visitors coming to Gisborne for the 2019 Te Ha celebrations to be able to take a trip on the historic steam train to Beach Loop and back. As a community we need to make this possible.”

Gisborne Rail Action Group believes the council should be working closely with Napier-Gisborne Rail because of their business proposal, which includes reinstating rail freight from Gisborne, and the inclusion of Gisborne City Vintage Rail’s operation in the proposal.

“Gisborne will lose a great deal if Gisborne City Vintage Rail’s operation folds because they don’t have a railway line to run the steam train on,” Mrs Ward told the council in the submission.

The group encourages the council to support the lease of the Napier-Gisborne railway line by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and to have a financial stake in Napier-Gisborne Rail Ltd.

“The Gisborne region will benefit from their operation succeeding and will miss out on business and tourism opportunities if the venture is not sufficiently supported.”

The economic benefit for Gisborne of restoring the rail link to Napier had been stated before.  Leading vegetable produce and processor LeaderBrand had just started using the rail to export produce out of Gisborne. LeaderBrand manager

Richard Burke had said in 2014 there were too many limits to growth.

“It should be easier for people to do business here. We believe there is more potential for Eastland Group to put money directly into improved infrastructure.”

Mrs Ward said business confidence and economic development would be boosted by the availability of a rail freight option. The railway line would also offer resilience.

When the line went down, Weatherall Transport had the use of enough wagons and refrigerated containers for three trains a week, of 20 to 30 wagons each. Meat processor Ovation was ready to move frozen freight from road to rail, and there were many other firm expressions of interest from local and Hawke’s Bay businesses.

Other issues for the council to consider included safety and personal security.

“Removing 30 to 40 trucks from SH2 for each train on the railway line would improve safety and personal security on SH2.” Reducing the trucks on Awapuni Road and replacing these movements with trains between a Matawhero inland port and Eastland Port would greatly improve the health and wellbeing of residents along the truck routes.

Eastland Port’s Andrew Gaddum said he viewed the existing situation with the railway line extending all the way into the port as an asset.

The rail group would like to see that asset realised, with several trains running each way to deliver logs “just on time” to log ships at the port.

Slash deluge no ‘act of God’

(“Gisborne Herald” – Thurs 4th June 2015)  

by Merv Goodley

 

Thirty years ago I moved to Mahia on the corner of Mahanga and Kaiwaitau roads opposite the Kopuawhara Bridge.

Our property is a 16 acre lifestyle block which we have endlessly worked on. We have great neighbours and love the lifestyle.

To watch our neighbours suffer from unbelieveable quantities of pine slash that again came down from Juken NZ Ltd’s Wharerata forestry, and read a comment from Sheldon Drummond that this was “an act of God”, beggars belief.

The huge clean-up bill from the 2002 “act of God” event fell mainly on Wairoa District Council and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council ratepayers, and impacted on the wetlands for years.

The Wairoa council has cleared the Kopuawhara Bridge of slash three times at ratepayer expense.  This time it will require a claw-type digger plus trucks to cart the slash away.  Why should this be at the expense of Wairoa?

Close inspection of this occurrence revealed 95 per cent is pine slash including hundreds of logs three to five metres long, some over 10m and clearly off skid sites with clean saw cuts both ends.

The log jam is 450m in length, 30m wide and 2m deep, Juken NZ has a digger on-site to clean up alongside two other machines, no doubt funded by the regional council.

How much did the regional council spend on the 2002 clean-up?  I believe the Juken NZ contribution was one digger and a few bundles of posts, while the rest was on us ratepayers.

My neighbour is Pah Nui dairy farm, milking 1500 cows.  Regional councils impose rules on dairy farms involving ongoing monitoring and compliance.  Pah Nui spent over $1.5 million in an effluent pond and strict monitoring conditions – fair enough.

Where is the control and monitoring of forestry?

Sheldon, through this column will you tell us the Juken NZ contribution towards the removal of this slash, and the intention for the balance above the bridge waiting to come down in the next flood?

I invite you, your executives, Meng Foon, Wairoa Mayor Craig Little, chief executive Fergus Power and regional council chairman Fenton Wilson to visit the site, meet at our place and see if we can find a solution to an ongoing nightmare and ecological disaster.

My neighbours are third generation farmers.  In time they may be forced from their home for events beyond their control, but well within control of others.

We accept flooding has to be managed in this location.  However, forestry slash is something new and only started to occur since the 1990’s.

What rules are placed on Juken NZ to ensure planting and logging practices do not result in slash spewing into streams and rivers after high rainfall?   What monitoring and compliance is carried out during and after logging forestry to ensure rules are working and being complied with?

To say that slash spewing into our rivers, clogging up waterways and inundating sensitive lagoons and estuaries is “an act of God” is gibberish.

ECT gives half the cash (Gisborne) vintage rail needs to operate

(“Gisborne Herald” – Thurs 25th June 2015)

 

A donation of $142,000 from Eastland Community Trust to Gisborne City Vintage Rail will cover more than half of the costs to bring the railway line between Gisborne and Muriwai up to scratch.  Earlier this month KiwiRail agreed to give the city’s steam train ‘Wa’165 a right of access to that part of the track.

The future of the Gisborne to Wairoa rail line has been up in the air after a storm in March 2012 caused slips that took out the track in the Beach Loop area.  The line was then mothballed by the Government.

Gisborne City Rail has been trying to get access to part of the track ever since and president Geoff Joyce is rapt with today’s news about finding. There is a total of $230,000 needed to get the track up to standard.

“We’ve got a little more work to do but it’s great to think we’re on track to service our cruise ship business, the revenue from which will also help maintain the lines in to the future – helping as to continue to run a sustainable service for locals and visitors alike,” he says.

The money will be used to help to replace a number of bridge sleepers, for structural maintenance on one or two of the bridges, particularly the wooden ones, and other general work on the track. The society wants ‘Wa’165 back up and running in time for Labour Weekend.

“We would like to have a public run before the cruise ships start coming.  We need to get back into operational mode and retrain and refresh.  The last time we ran the train was March last year.”

The $142,000 is the first distribution from ECT’s new contestable investment pool, earmarked for projects that contribute to regional economic growth.  Eastland Community Trust general manager Leighton Evans says the economic benefit to the region are significant and well quantified by Gisborne City Vintage Rail.

“It has become abundantly clear ‘Wa’165 supplies a point of difference for our fledging cruise industry, with Cruise New Zealand citing the steam train as the primary reason for including Gisborne in its itinerary. “Forecasts indicate the cruise ships will have a $5 million economic benefit to the region for the 2015-16 season alone. With 40 cruise ship visits booked well into 2019, it’s vital we ensure the viability of the line and, by extension, those opportunities for our wider business community,” he said.

While the economic benefits spoke for themselves, Mr Evans said the applicant’s track record was an important aspect of the decision making process.

Gisborne City Vintage Rail prepared a robust business case and demonstrated capacity. They have been operating since 1985, initially restoring the train, and have been operating the Beach Loop line for 15 years.

They’ve successfully navigated some rail challenges in those 30 years and that experience, tenacity and resilience gave the trust confidence to move forward with the proposal.”

(Gisborne) Rail line up for lease

(“Gisborne Herald” – Thurs 16th July 2015)

 

KiwiRail is expected to seek tenders later this month for operators interested in leasing the line between Napier and Gisborne.

Gisborne City Vintage Rail has already secured right of access for the section of line from Gisborne to Muriwai for its Wa165 excursions and is happy to work with other operators on the line.

A donation of $142,000 from Eastland Community Trust will cover more than half of the costs to bring the line between Gisborne and Muriwai up to scratch.  The organisation is looking for funding to cover the rest of the work and hopes to be up and running by Labour Weekend in time for the arrival of cruise ships here. The rest of the line is now up for grabs.

Leaders of Hawke’s Bay Regional Council told Radio New Zealand last week the council wanted to get the line up and running with freight again – at least between Wairoa and Napier port.

A Rotorua-based rail car cruising company that earlier expressed interest in leasing the line is still “mildly interested”. “We are not in a position to tender for the whole line but we are still interested in working with others,” said Rotorua Railcar

Cruising Jane Oppatt. Auckland-based Railbike Adventures founder Geoff Main says he is extremely keen to take the lease of the line for his eco-friendly tourism venture. Mr Main’s side-by-side tandem rail-bike is designed to be pedalled on railway lines.

Regional council interim chief executive Liz Lambert said the council had been in discussion with KiwiRail and the successful tenderer would have exclusive use of the line, lease of the line and below-ground infrastructure – but first had to satisfy KiwiRailthey could meet a number of requirements.

She told Kathryn Ryan on Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon, the regional council had been trying to facilitate having an optionavailable for other operators to take advantage of the expected increase of log freight over the next few years in northern Hawke’s Bay.

The council was aware of interest within New Zealand and Australia from parties who operated on the same gauge line and whohad the necessary rolling stock.

Two years ago the council committed $5.4m in its annual plan as a backstop, because of significant costs in restoring the line. The council’s involvement in restoring the line was dependent on the council achieving a return on investment and the operator having an acceptable business case.

Ms Lambert gave two reasons for the council’s advocacy role to lift the rail line’s mothballed status and make financial provision to facilitate something happening.

One reason was the vulnerable nature of East Coast roads, especially between Napier and Wairoa, and the importance of having an alternative transport option with the projected increase in logging from the region.

The second was the council’s commitment to enhancing economic development opportunities for the region and Gisborne.  “If we can assist infrastructure as we do elsewhere in the region, then we feel we are able to provide that type of support”.

Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule said if KiwiRail was not retained, its demise would just increase the load on roads, especially SH2 between Napier and Gisborne which goes through difficult country.

Infrastructure was of huge importance to regional New Zealand and the Napier-Gisborne line would need to link to other rail networks, the Napier Port, Palmerston North hub and Taranaki, he said. “Without the total network, it affects the dynamics,” he said. He wants to see a discussion at a national level around the state of the nation’s ports, rail, air and roads – the rail history had been one of “bail out and bail out”.

KiwiRail has said replacing the freight operation with trucks would see an additional 1.4 million truck trips a year.

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council chairman Fenton Wilson said KiwiRail was going to the market looking for an operator. “There has been assurance from them that they are not pulling up the line any time soon”, he said. “The regional council can feel some sense of success that they have kept the discussion alive.” “Wouldn’t it be great if it was resurrected without us?”

“Our aim is about giving East Coast people the same opportunities the rest of the country enjoys – that is, dual modes for freight –road and rail.” “Why should we be second-class citizens when a rail corridor is already sitting here?”

Mr Wilson said there had been further damage to the rail line in the most recent rain event. The damage was north of Kopuawhara, where blockages in culverts had blown out. There was another area KiwiRail was watching – having assured the council they were getting machinery in to tidy the area.