(“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.