Gisborne Rail Co-op flies flag for Gisborne-Napier line

by Wynsley Wrigley

Published: Gisborne  Herald April 7, 2017 11:09AM

THE Gisborne Rail Co-op (GRC) has not given up the fight to retain the Gisborne-Napier line.

Interim chairwoman Nikki Searancke told yesterday’s Gisborne District Council meeting that KiwiRail’s selection of adventure-tourism operator Gisborne Railbike Adventures to use the Gisborne-Wairoa rail line “runs counter to long-standing council policy to support train operations”.

She described rail as a major commercial transport artery for the region.

“If we do not take leadership and change the course of this KiwiRail decision, the donors — hapu and iwi of Tairawhiti and Ngati Kahungunu — will take back their land and the railway will be lost permanently.”

GRC was confident of presenting a proposal to KiwiRail’s successful bidder and Gisborne City Vintage Rail (the operator of steam locomotive Wa165) for a commercial rail freight business with passengers and tourists “on the railway as it was intended”.

GRC was seeking further information from KiwiRail.

Local men had built the rail line, and 21 were killed during its construction, she said.

Gillian Ward, also of GRC, said KiwiRail’s decision was disappointing.

Because of the cost of maintenance, Gisborne Railbike Adventures and Gisborne City Vintage Rail could only operate a sustainable business with a rail freight operator.

‘Rail champion’

Mayor Meng Foon had been “Gisborne’s rail champion’’ and in 2012 delivered a petition to Parliament with 10,000 signatures calling to keep the line.

Mrs Ward said at a meeting held in 2013 attended by KiwiRail, Mr Foon, Gisborne district councillors and businesses including LeaderBrand and Weatherell Transport showed huge support for the rail line and the resumption of freight and tourism.

“These business leaders are not pro-rail, they support rail because they want good infrastructure.”

Mr Foon had summed up the meeting by saying, “our region deserves good infrastructure, good hospitals, schools, roads, rail”.

“I ask you now, why should we not expect these things for Gisborne?” Mrs Ward said.

Greater need now

She said the need for rail was greater now than in 2012.

The “big packhouses” struggled to find enough trucks and drivers to get their produce to Napier at a time of drought.
Frozen produce, fertiliser, landfill, road metal and, in particular, processed timber would provide all-year freight.

She said claims that Eastland Port would be disadvantaged by rail could not be substantiated.

Council support for rail freight would ensure rail was included in an integrated transport priority plan and encourage central government investment.

The council also considered a recommendation from Mr Foon, who was absent, to support completion of a feasibility study on an extended Gisborne to Napier cycle and rail trail.

Mr Foon’s paper said the Government had promoted the rail trail as an action in the Tairawhiti Action Plan.

It was also included in the Hawke’s Bay Regional Economic Development Strategy and Action Plan.

Councillors decided to let the matter lie on the table until Mr Foon could speak on the matter at the next meeting.

Brian Wilson said there was insufficient information for councillors to make a decision.