(“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.