Qualified support for rail

source : Gisborne Herald

Published: February 18, 2017 9:58AM

Regional council says GDC needs to invest.

A Gisborne consortium working to reopen the mothballed Gisborne to Wairoa railway line would be likely to receive backing from the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council — but HBRC says Gisborne District Council also needs to stump up with investment first. That is something Mayor Meng Foon says he does not favour.

In December, KiwiRail accepted three expressions of interest to operate the line, including one from the Gisborne Rail Co-operative (GRC) that would combine short-haul freight and tourism uses.

Following a presentation from the group this week, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s Corporate and Strategic Committee recommended that the regional council should send a clear message that it continues to support efforts to get the Wairoa to Gisborne section of the Napier-Gisborne line reopened.

GRC interim chairwoman Nikki Searancke said a joint approach between the regional council and Gisborne District Council was vital.

“That’s really what we went down to Hawke’s Bay for. We went to seek their co-operation to do this next stage. We recognise that HBRC have been very successful in working with KiwiRail, so we’re keen to work with Hawke’s Bay.”

Gisborne Rail Co-operative (GRC) made a presentation to the Corporate and Strategic Committee meeting asking the council to make a joint approach to KiwiRail for consideration of GRC’s proposal to reopen the Gisborne end of the Napier-Gisborne line for freight, as well as for tourism services.

HBRC contribution contingent on GDC money

The committee recommended that HBRC continue to offer its support for the preservation and preferably the restoration of rail freight options for the Wairoa to Gisborne section of the Napier-Gisborne rail line. Committee chairman Neil Kirton told GRC members that a business case was urgently needed for reopening the Wairoa to Gisborne rail line and it was essential that Gisborne District Council show its support for the proposal.

If GRC could get a commitment from the District Council to put some money towards developing a business case, then HBRC would also consider contributing some money.

Councillor Alan Dick told the meeting that HBRC’s Regional Transport Committee would hold its regular meeting in Wairoa on March 10. The visit was part of a commitment through ‘Matariki – the Hawke’s Bay Regional Economic Development Strategy’ to improve road transport options north, and rail would certainly be on the agenda.

The Napier to Gisborne line has not been used since it was damaged in 2012. Last year KiwiRail reached a commercial agreement with Napier Port to repair the Napier to Wairoa section to run a dedicated log service. It had earlier agreed to a deal with Gisborne City Vintage Railway to operate a steam engine on the Gisborne-Muriwai section, ending at Beach Loop.

Ms Searancke said she was encouraged that GDC councillors had attended a rail forum last year.

“So I’m extremely pleased that they did go to the forum and I think they will support us when we go to GDC and put our presentation to them.”

A decision on the future of the line is expected by the end of March.

Government should pay: Foon

However, Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon said while the topic could be discussed again at council meetings, it had been the council’s view that the Government should be the one to pay to fix the line, since the Government owned the line.

“We have enough projects to pay for in our own district, such as roads, stormwater, Waipaoa flood control and much more. I won’t support ratepayer money for the railway line. My personal view and my lobby to the Government and KiwiRail is to fix the line — if not, then make a rail trail.”

Mr Foon said it was “frustrating” that the region had lost out on “four years of employment and investment” due to the delay in restoring the line.

Using the rail corridor to establish a rail trail between Gisborne and Napier airports could provide a project that could transform the region, he said.

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