‘Strong case’ for reopening Gisborne to Napier line

Source: Gisborne Herald 15 May 2018.

New not-for-profit organisation Tairawhiti Rail will try to reopen the Gisborne to Napier railway line, which it sees as financially viable.

The existence of Tairawhiti Rail (TRL), — formed by a group of local directors — was revealed yesterday by Rick Thorpe in a submission to Gisborne District Council’s 2018/28 long-term plan.

TRL planned to bring together the contractors necessary to initiate a regional short-line railway service, if KiwiRail was not prepared to manage the line, he said.

TRL believed there was a strong commercial case for restoring the rail link, based primarily on shipping containers and supported by the recent growth in horticulture and timber processing.

With restoration of the line from Napier to Wairoa under way, possibly all the way to Mahia, it was logical to complete restoration of the whole line.

They would lodge a proposal with the Govt’s Provincial Growth Fund

They would lodge a proposal with the Provincial Growth Fund, asking the Government to restore the line. They were not asking the council for any funding, just their support to add rail to the regional land transport plan as a competitive transport option for local industry.

The commercial case was simple. There were approximately 5000 containers a year to be trucked to Napier in the next two to three years. This could grow to 10,000 over the next 10 years.

It cost $1600 to $1700 to bring in a container by road. Rail could do it for $1000 to $1100, a saving of $600 to $700 a container.

If they achieved 10,000 containers, the saving for local industries would be $6 million to $7 million a year. Produce shipped to Tauranga, kiwifruit, persimmons and wine, could also be diverted to Napier.

A 10,000-container programme would generate an additional $10 million of revenue for the line, ensuring its viability. That was without other freight products like fertiliser, grain, gravel, city waste and some logs.

Plan would take 20,000 truck movement off the road

It would take 20,000 truck movements off the road, which would reduce road maintenance and improve road safety. The maintenance per kilometre for rail was approximately half that for road.

Mr Thorpe said the Government was supporting rail.

If the council’s Provincial Growth Fund application for road funding was not successful, the Tairawhiti Rail proposal provided an opportunity to benefit the region.

“We understand that rail has divided support within the community but believe that by taking a commercial, entrepreneurial approach, support for rail can be restored,” said Mr Thorpe.

The proposal in no way threatened Eastland Port’s log trade

The proposal in no way threatened Eastland Port’s log trade but they did question the value of further mortgaging community assets to significantly expand the port, when there was this opportunity to have the rail link restored and paid for by the Government.

Tairawhiti Rail believed the proposal ticked all the boxes for the new Government policy statement on transport and asked the council to reconsider its neutral position on rail.

Later in the meeting, the Regional Land Transport Committee agreed to amend its regional land transport plan after several speakers said the council should respond to submissions calling for rail to be restored as part of the plan.

Chief executive Nedine Thatcher Swann said the council could investigate the feasibility of rail along with other subjects looked at in the plan.

There could not be a quick fix — it would give staff 12 months to come to the council with the information it needed.

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