Rail service viable and essential

from Hawke’s Bay Today – Tues 20th October 2015

by Alan Dick

“The immediate challenge however is how to handle the “wall of wood” from the Wairoa forest”

In your article “Nash talks up re-opening of rail link” (Monday, October 19), MP Craig Foss, as a determined opponent of rail,

is quoted: “The evidence was that the line was hardly being used before the washout.” He added: “Businesses were choosing not

to use the line and had been choosing not to for many years.”  He is wrong.

In fact, in the immediate period leading up to the washouts, three or more fully loaded trains were moving squash and other

products from Gisborne to Napier Port – and demand was such that double the number of trains could have been running except

that KiwiRail could not provide the required locos, wagons and drivers.

What had happened?  From 2010, all Hawke’s Bay and East Coast MP’s, with the exception of minister Foss, had been urging

businesses to use rail. Correctly sensing demand, KiwiRail spent $300,000 to lower the bed of three tunnels, to finally enable full

capacity 40ft high-cube containers to be carried on the line.

Then entrepreneurial Gisborne-based transport operator Steve Weatherell (running 80 trucks nationally) took the opportunity as

a freight forwarder to shift his customers’ product from road to rail.

For his customers, a smooth, damage-free ride for their sensitive product and direct movement of full containers from packhouse

to portside without repacking or double handling.

For Weatherell Transport, better service for their customers and avoiding a difficult road.  For Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne, dual

transport mode choice, reduced heavy traffic congestion on a difficult route, and consequently safety and environmental benefits.

What a tragedy when the washouts struck in March, 2012.  Avoidable with proper attention to culvert and drainage maintenance,

had the line remained intact KiwiRail would have now had a fully viable rail business with all the resultant environmental and economic

benefits for our region.

That takes us to today.

The Gisborne container freight market potential remains and, in fact, will grow with a wood processing hub to be established.

Gisborne Port is a specialised log exporter but is unlikely to ever attract export container ship calls.  Napier is the logical container

destination, being closer than Tauranga.

The immediate challenge, however, is how to handle the “wall of wood” from the Wairoa forest harvests, which will ramp up

dramatically over the next few years. Not including logs, which will continue to move by road to processors like Pan Pac, Wairoa

export log harvests will move from 323,000 tonnes next year to a million tonnes and more from 2020.

Forest managers believe that conservatively half of that volume can, and should, move by rail from a log hub at Wairoa to

Napier Port.  there will still be plenty of work for truckers, moving logs on short trips from the harvest sites to the log hub and

carrying extra volumes direct to the port.

There is a viable business for a rail operator on the East Coast line, based initially just on Wairoa logs alone but with

heritage steam tourism and Gisborne container potential. KiwiRail have at least two such proposals on their desk.

And the worst case outcome?  KiwiRail rejects the rail freight proposals in favour of a lease to cycle or golf cart tourism promoters.

The then consequence of State Highway 2 having to handle quadrupled log volumes will be heavy traffic congestion from a road

transport industry with insufficient capacity to cope, the road being wrecked, tragic deaths and injuries from accidents, and game-

-changing opportunity for the economic and social development of northern Hawke’s Bay lost forever. It can’t be allowed to happen.

 

* Alan Dick is a Hawke’s Bay regional councillor, former Napier mayor and is chairman of the Hawke’s Bay regional transport committee.

 

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