A PRIVATE consortium to buy the Napier-to-Gisborne rail line is mooted by Hawke’s Bay Chamber of Commerce CEO Murray Douglas.
The line was closed from Wairoa to Gisborne after it was damaged by storms in March. KiwiRail has since been assessing options for the line’s future, with repairs expected to cost about $4 million.
Mr Douglas, who was head of Dunedin City Holdings which had a half-share in the Taieri Gorge Railway, said the numbers to keep the Napier-Gisborne line open worked well, The Hawke’s Bay Today reported.
“We know we have an extraordinarily efficient port in Napier and we know we have huge production coming out of the hills. So if KiwiRail won’t do it, then why don’t we buy it? It requires courage, it requires vision, it requires focus but we can do it.
“Fixing the slips is the easy part of the decision. The hard part is the capital requirements of the total line for the next 10 years — given that some of the sleepers are a bit old and some of the bridges might need strengthening.
“It is inconceivable to have a massively productive part of New Zealand, as it is in the Hawke’s Bay, without rail. To not have that option is short-sighted.”
“Coastal shipping could work up to a point but the trans-shipment issues are huge and it won’t deal with containers to the extent that we need.”
With a wall of wood due to be harvested in the medium term, a fibre-board plant would likely be situated in Gisborne — but only if it had rail, Mr Douglas said.
Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon is still hoping KiwiRail and the Government will fix the rail.
“It is important for Tairawhiti to be competitive with the rest of New Zealand and the world. The producers are very keen to see the rail used and they had started to use it prior to the slip.”
Gisborne transporter Steve Weatherell, of Weatherells Transport, who was behind a surge in rail use in the months before the line closed, said it was not the first time the idea of a consortium to buy the line had been raised.
“It might be the only way the whole thing can take off again but no one has made any contact with me about it this time.”
Director of Wairoa’s Clyde Lumber, John Ebbett, said the uncertainty of the line’s future was harming long-term viability of the line and companies reliant on it.
His company sends sawn timber by rail for processing at Ohinewai, north of Huntly.
“We have an opportunity where we can increase production and do all sorts of things, but we are not wanting to look down that avenue until we have some kind of certainty around what’s happening,” he said.
“To me it’s just stupid. If they are serious about getting back in there, then they should have made that call.”
There were not enough truck-and-trailer units in the district to ship his product, nor processing capacity — making his business marginal with the likely loss of 22 jobs.
The indecision on the line’s future was proving increasingly difficult, he said.
“You have just got this thing hanging over your head.”
Mr Douglas said KiwiRail was probably having “a hell of a problem” trying to work out what to do.
“They probably are arguing with the Government over putting the money into road or rail,” Mr Douglas said.
“It is a very good question and I know people in Gisborne don’t like the conversation, and certainly Hastings District doesn’t like it because that’s the money earmarked for Whakatu (roading project).
“Somewhere in the Ministry of Transport, they will be saying to the Minister that to not have rail is just dopey, given the alternative is a crazy road that will never work for containers.
“Trucking a container 210km on those roads is just ludicrous.”
— Hawke’s Bay Today and The Gisborne Herald