Published December 18, 2019 1:29PM Gisborne Herald.
The mothballed Gisborne to Wairoa rail line could and should be reopened at a cost of at least $20 million, a long-awaited feasibility study says.
Part of the Palmerston North to Gisborne line, the rail service between Napier and Gisborne was stopped in 2012 following storm damage. The section between Napier and Wairoa was reopened earlier this year following investment from the Provincial Growth Fund.
A new study from business and economic research agency BERL recommends the line be reinstated.
‘Reinstatement of the Turanga ki Wairoa rail line is feasible from an engineering perspective and there is sufficient freight for five trains per week.’ BERL research director Dr Ganesh Nana said.
The report found a one-off cost of between $20 million and $23 million would be required to make the line operational in the first instance.
Additional works to improve the resilience of the line to adverse weather events would cost an additional $5m to $6m.
Over the following 10 years, a further $5 million to $7 million would be required in additional bridge, tunnel and track works.
The report said to achieve opening for the 2021/22 summer horticulture and log harvest peaks, reinstatement work would have to begin by April.
The study did not focus on a direct cost-benefit analysis, favouring an approach that factored in ‘wellbeing’ impacts.
It found those wellbeing impacts would involve reducing isolation of communities and a reduction in fatal road crashes.
Economic wellbeing would be improved by transporting significant volumes of freight and developing tourism opportunities, which could also include cultural tourism.
The report said tourism and other associated activities could be developed around sites of significance only accessible through the rail corridor.
A full closure of the line would jeopardise access to those sites ‘which would degrade the level of cultural wellbeing of whanau, hapu, iwi and other communities of the Turanga and Wairoa districts’.
In addition, a repaired line could enable Gisborne City Vintage Rail to extend the distance of its trips onboard the historic Wa165 steam train.
It was also pointed out that a survey of Gisborne Chamber of Commerce members revealed 78 percent of businesses responding supported reinstatement. However, just 53 percent of respondents said they would use a rail service.
Forty-seven percent of businesses also wanted to see a passenger service.
The study concluded while commercial feasibility of the suggested service would need to be done in greater detail there was a ‘prima facie’ case established of the commercial feasibility of a reinstated rail service.
‘Consequently, our recommended option is for the community and associated stakeholders to pursue the reinstatement of the Turanga ki Wairoa rail line; to a resilient standard; to deliver regular containerised and log freight services; and to support tourism opportunities to be developed utilising the rail corridor.’
An appendix report prepared by Nikki Searancke focusing on the Tairawhiti community perspective (inclusive of hapu and iwi) said whanau, hapu and iwi supported the reinstatement of the Turanga-Gisborne ki Wairoa rail line and how to gain future ownership if the government and KiwiRail failed.
Tairawhiti Rail Ltd was also represented on the study steering group and representative Rick Thorpe said he was ‘very pleased’ with the recommendations.
‘The renaissance of rail as an integral component of a modern integrated transport system has been supported recently by the significant investment in new transport hubs and container terminals like Ruakura, Rolleston, Palmerston North and even Kawerau. Surely the exporters of Tairawhiti equally deserve a modern transport network that will reduce the cost of getting our products to market.’
‘We still have some number crunching to do but the preliminary costs suggest that rail will be the most cost-effective option to get containers to Port Napier and coastal shipping the most competitive to Port Tauranga. A win-win for our region.’
Mr Thorpe said it was now up to stakeholders to come together to push a ‘best for region’ approach.
‘Given the timing of the report’s release we will start lobbying for ministerial funding approval in the new year.
‘The ‘best-for-region’ approach is to ensure all of our region’s stakeholders are united in their support for this project and we are presenting a united front to ministers. Clearly we would like to avoid the ‘mixed message’ issue now that the study has been completed and its recommendations are clear.
‘This government has signalled a significant infrastructural spend next year and we believe this project deserves to be included in the regional rail funding allocation.’
Trust Tairawhiti chief executive Gavin Murphy said the trust, which also incorporates the region’s economic development agency, would work with interested parties where appropriate on the rail as part of best-for-region transport solutions.
‘As a member of the Tairawhiti Economic Action Plan steering group, we will discuss best solutions for our local businesses. We are, however, mindful that this is government infrastructure, so we will want to engage with them and understand their views on the business case and the potential of reinstatement.’
Mayor Rehette Stoltz welcomed the report.
‘This is a valuable report which has clearly determined the feasibility of reinstating the rail line. It provides a strong case that doing so would help build resilience, address isolation, result in fewer truck movements on our roads and ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
‘The estimated cost to reinstate to a resilient level could be up to $29 million, so this project would require significant investment from the Government and other key stakeholders.
‘However, given the many wide-ranging benefits for our region I am supportive of the findings and hope that central government and KiwiRail will look positively towards reinstating the line.’
KiwiRail capital projects chief operating officer David Gordon said KiwiRail was aware the report had been released and would study it carefully.
‘Until we have done that it would be premature for us to comment further.’
Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones said he would consider the report.