Overview of the Napier Gisborne Railway Initiative:
- This line is a strategic link from Port of Napier to Wairoa and Gisborne for both timber and produce for export markets as well as general goods.
- It is appreciated that the line had been for some time a marginal operation for KiwiRail, but with the economies available with use of a Short Line business model the line can become a successful operation.
- In the later days of KiwiRail operation, Weatherell Transport increased the volume of produce freight, where within the season, full trains were being run at a profit, despite operational difficulties and shortage of wagon supply from KiwiRail.
- The infrastructure and rail line is still in reasonable condition, and we are determined that this asset should not be lost to the Hawke’s Bay region, as once pulled up, it will never be replaced.
- This scenic rail line has Cruise Liner potential with Heritage Steam Locomotives and passenger trains, operating from the Port of Napier, as well as retention of the Gisborne City Vintage Rail operation.
- Considerable research has been undertaken over the last year by the Establishment Group for the Napier Gisborne “shortline” Railway to create a robust case to ensure that this venture will be successful.
- The railway will become profitable within a few years as freight volumes initial quickly grow to over 250,000 tonnes and then to over 400,000 tonnes per year.
- Inclusive of the estimated $3.5m to $5m to repair the washouts and getting the line open to Gisborne, it is anticipated that the entire route will be profitable within 6 to 7 years. If the cost of the washout repairs were excluded the railway operation would breakeven in 4 to 5 years.
- The feasibility process began with a detailed assessment of the freight volumes for different types of freight and customers, taking into account seasonality factors. Revenue projections have been developed using a conservative estimate of the freight volumes most suitable to rail and comparative pricing with road freight rates.
- In the months before the line closed the involvement of the regional transport operator, Weatherell Transport, demonstrated the potential by successfully shifting a large volume of containers from road to rail from Gisborne, south to Napier and beyond. This involvement of a local road transport freight forwarder / operator as part of the Napier Gisborne Railway operations is a key success factor.
- This feasibility evaluation process found that there is strong interest from amongst forestry management companies to using rail in conjunction with trucks. They are already using rail to complement their use of trucks from logging sites to a railhead hub in other parts of the North Island, such as from Masterton to Wellington and across from the western side of the North Island to Napier Port. They understand the benefits of this integrated logistics approach.
- One of the largest forestry management companies has had their representative as part of the Napier-Gisborne Railway Shortline Establishment Group from the start of the Group being set up in March last year.
- The establishment of a log hub operation at Wairoa including electronic scaling of logs as part of the railway operation is seen as one of the positive developments being offered by the Napier Gisborne Railway shortline integrated transport operation.
- Several months have been spent on gaining independent specialist advice and detailed information from both within and external to KiwiRail on the condition and estimated costs of work required for the track and for the bridges and other infrastructure.
- A track assessment report has provided a detailed annual track maintenance plan and budget for the first eight years of operations. Additionally there has been an assessment of the projected maintenance tasks and costs for each bridge and tunnel.
- These reports have established that the railway; apart from need for the current wash outs to be repaired, along with a catch up in culvert and drain clearing, spot sleeper replacements and other forward planning for risk resilience; is in generally sound condition.
- Early on particular attention was given to checking reports and getting additional engineering assessments on the condition of the Westshorebridge and major viaducts. This work established that a substantial amount of maintenance work including strengthening of the Westshorebridge has been carried out in recent years and that other bridges are in general good structural condition. Some sleeper replacement on a few bridges and spot replacements elsewhere as part of general maintenance is needed.
- This investigative work has provided a high degree of confidence that no major additional work is needed on the bridges over the next 10 years. This will be followed by a gradual increase in maintenance requirements over the following 10 years in line with the aging of the structures.
- The operation of the Napier Gisborne Railway as a regional venture providing improved transport infrastructure for forestry and primary produce is part of an international trend that has seen strong growth of successful regional shortlines that serve businesses in their local communities.
- In North America in particular there are now about 550 of these small to medium sized railway businesses that have become the workhorses of the North American rail network. This business model is well established.
- In New Zealand we have seen the success of the Taieri Gorge Railway that was established with the assistance of Dunedin City Council some 20 years ago. This operation is on much older track and over wrought iron bridges dating from the 1880s compared with the much younger 1930-40s Napier Gisborne line. In practice with careful regular attention to basic maintenance there have been no significant bridge maintenance or other major infrastructure costs, and the operational running costs have been kept to modest levels.
- There has been no additional government or local government funding provided after the initial establishment costs for this railway business. The positive publicity from the success of this venture has helped to promote Dunedin and the Taieri Gorge area internationally.
- The central message from the track and engineering specialists and the reports obtained is that this is a railway in generally good condition (apart from the obvious issues of the dropouts).
- Careful attention to basic regular maintenance of drains and culverts, regular monitoring and basic work as required to bridges, and spot sleeper replacements along with the use of lighter locomotives and care with train speeds, is expected to ensure the line has at least a good 20 years of life before any more major expenditure will be required. This period of 20 years covers the important peak forest harvest period.
Hawke’s Bay Regional Council www.hbrc.govt.nz
Gisborne City Vintage Railway www.gcvr.org.nz
Taieri Gorge Railway www.taieri.co.nz
Mainline Steam Heritage Trust www.mainlinesteam.co.nz
Pahiatua Railcar Society www.railcars.co.nz
Federation of Rail Organisations of New Zealand www.fronz.org.nz
ASLRRA – American Shortline & Regional Railroad Association www.aslrra.org