Source: Wairoa Star Thursday 20th November 2014
The future use of the mothballed Napier-Gisborne rail line has inspired a road deviation proposal, a private rail shortline consortium and rail bike proposals.
Now another player in the transport world has suggested utilising part of the line could be more productive than reinstating the whole line.
In a discussion document submitted to the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council on its ‘Big Six’ strategic priorities, Napier Port chief operating officer Chris Bain said any rail infrastructural improvements should be demand-tested with a strong emphasis on Napier-Wairoa.
“If there is any case for sustainable rail capacity investment Napier-Wairoa cargo opportunities are likely to comprise proportionately more of the cargo than those of Gisborne origin.”
“In other words, Napier-Wairoa cargo opportunities may more readily meet return-on-investment criteria where the addition of Wairoa-Gisborne coverage may not,” he said.
He saw forestry product as the prime opportunity saying whoever operated the rail needed to make a compelling case to log exporters to have the freight moved by rail instead of only by road.
“The case for change means moving from 100 percent road use to a mix of road and rail. Additional handling costs transferring product to rail will need to be overcome.”
He said the journey between Wairoa and Napier was apparently hard on trucking gear and there may be economic sense to using rail from Wairoa to the Napier Port.
“The key issue is whether there’s sufficient committed cargo for the sustained use of rail. If there is, a Wairoa hub may be possible.”
“It could mimic similar rail-based operations which serve ports, such as in Wanganui,” Mr Bain said.
Hawke’s Bay Regional Council chairman Fenton Wilson said the Wairoa-Napier link was the easy step, but in reality long-term success of the service depended on the Gisborne link.
“This enables the resumption of containers and other bulk products, not just logs, which is the main Wairoa opportunity.”
“The unanimous support from the mayors supporting the regional council in its ambition to lease the line is encouraging.”
Chairman of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Transport Committee Alan Dick said there was evidence the line was viable in the long-term, if it operated between Napier and Gisborne because the Gisborne containerised produce and other trades were growing substantially.
“This will supplement the log harvest, which will be intense for the next 10-12 years, but is expected to decline to lower levels after that until the next harvest cycle.”
“This ensures we don’t put all our eggs in one basket and means the line is more sustainable,” Mr Dick said.
Another proposal to create a deviation for State Highway 2 along part of the mothballed rail corridor was also discussed at the regional leaders’ meeting in Wairoa earlier this month.
Spokesman for the group, local farmer Rex McIntyre said they had received a positive response in Wairoa and from most Gisborne transport operators since they floated their proposal at the leader’s meeting.
The former Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and transport committee chairman said people were keen to find out more details and how it could work.
The new route from Sandy Creek to Eskdale would open up two tunnels and include a new viaduct near the existing Waikoau rail viaduct as well as another new viaduct at Waikare and a bridge over the Esk River.
Mr McIntyre said trucks made “just-in-time” economics possible for East Coast businesses and delivered everything from big warehouses to local businesses in a tight timeframe. The gains made in fuel and time savings from the alternative route were greater than the cost of the $12.50 levy, he said.
Other improvements on State Highway 2 could include a Waihua Bridge upgrade so it could take the heavier class of transport; and an elimination of Ohinepaka overbridge and upgrades for two to three bridges north of Wairoa to take a full 62-tonne container straight to the Port of Napier.
Mr McIntyre said feedback was that people saw the alternative route as an opportunity to open up Wairoa. “If there is enough support we will hold a meeting in Wairoa and make a full presentation of the proposal,” Mr McIntyre said.
They hope to arrange a meeting with the Transport Minister Simon Bridges to discuss their proposal.