Original Article by Andre Chumko and Bethany Reitsma for Stuff.co.nz on the 14th June 2019
Mervyn Smiley, an Eskdale resident of 25 years, has longed for the day when trains returned to the mothballed Napier to Wairoa line.
On Friday, that dream became reality as a brass band and haka welcomed Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones to KiwiRail’s depot in Ahuriri, near Napier Port.
After a short series of speeches, the minister and various other politicians including Napier MP Stuart Nash, Ikaroa-Rāwhiti MP Meka Whaitiri and National’s Lawrence Yule, joined the region’s mayors in boarding the carriages of the first train to make the first full trip between Napier and Wairoa since 2012.
There was plenty of fanfare, with locals waving up to passengers from their properties bordering the train line, excited to see the rail’s return.
* First train marks return of mothballed Napier to Wairoa rail line
* Logging could save Napier-Gisborne rail line
* Work to bring mothballed Wairoa-Napier rail line into service
The line was mothballed in 2012 following serious storm damage. Work to restore it to transport logs between Wairoa, where forestry is a major industry, and Napier Port was funded by the Provincial Growth Fund.
On the train, Jones held a press conference, where he described the day as a great one for Hawke’s Bay.
Jones said KiwiRail had had “so little for so long”, and the $6.2 million investment so far was a big deal, especially in relation to moving trucks off the roads.
It would also allow businesses to grow their logistics capacity, and boost exports.
“If we’re in for the KiwiRail journey, it’s a long-term journey. It’s about a nation building infrastructure at a time when there’s a lot of uncertainty about weather.”
And the “fiscal love” would continue to flow post 2020’s election, he said, forecasting “substantial amounts” being injected into KiwiRail.
On whether there was a possibility of extending the line to Gisborne, Jones said any business case would be pushing on an open door.
KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller said with work on the line finished, its next focus was on establishing a log-hub in Wairoa so it could begin running trains as soon as August.
“The amount of timber flowing from forests in the region is expected to quadruple in the next four years and to get all those logs to market will require all transport networks working efficiently together.”
He forecast up to six trains travelling the line per week, meaning about 5000 fewer truck journeys initially, and more than 15,000 as services increased.
Jones said local civic leaders – mayors, council chairs and MPs – who had lobbied him were to credit for the re-opening.
“This will substantially reduce their roading bill if they can move more heavy freight onto rail.”
Transport advocacy groups NZ Transport 2050 and the Public Transport Users Association said in a statement the previous Government underfunded the line.
“The loss of 20 fulltime jobs in Wairoa was a big hit for a small community. With the railway re-opening today it opens up opportunities for wood processors to again re-establish in the town,” Paul Miller, chair of NZ Transport 2050 said.
Green Party MP Gareth Hughes said regional rail should be the backbone of the transport system for people and freight, and his party would like to see the line extended from Wairoa to Gisborne.