GISBORNE people will make a last desperate attempt to get the Government to listen to them at a protest rally to save the Gisborne to Napier line, planned for outside Gisborne MP Anne Tolley’s office.
“Fed-up and sick of being ignored”, the Gisborne Rail Action Group has organised the rally for Friday at midday outside Mrs Tolley’s Gladstone Road office opposite the police station . . . but it is believed she will not be there.
One of the organisers, Ruth Romero, says the more than 10,000 people in Gisborne who signed the petition had seen the Government do nothing.
“They won’t even look at our petition. They didn’t put it to the select committee. They just don’t want to know.”
Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay people have pleaded with the Government to foot the bill of around $4 million to fix the March damage to the line in the Beach Loop area.
Since then the petition with 10,480 signatures and a large march involving about 2000 people, alongside calls from leaders in both Hawke’s Bay, Wairoa and Gisborne, have been completely ignored by the Government, she says.
“They just want to write us off but we are not going to sit down and take that.”
As well as the protest, the group is looking at legal options in last-resort explorations.
Another organiser, Gillian Ward, said the group would encourage both the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and Gisborne District Council to challenge KiwiRail legally.
“KiwiRail have promised thorough consultation with communities before they mothball any line and we have not had that.
“A large petition was just dumped – sidelined.”
Ms Ward said Mrs Tolley’s office was chosen as a venue because people here felt she had not supported the region as she should.
“Especially on this rail issue. It would have a huge impact on local producers and the community if we lose that link to Wairoa.”
Friday’s protest is about the Government plans to shut that link as mooted in a leaked KiwiRail report this week.
The next step would be to shut Wairoa to Napier because a lot of the viability of that line was dependent on the rail freight from and to Gisborne, she said.
“We are a huge producing area. There is LeaderBrand and Cedenco and several other packhouses transporter Steve Wetherell was working with between December and March. There is also the potential for wood products.
“We really have to fight this closure,” said Ms Ward.
The $4 million repair bill is not a great amount compared with what has been spent on one Auckland road, she says.
“The repair is nothing and there are maintenance bills for lines all over the country because they have been allowed to deteriorate — so we are not on our own there.”
The need for the rail was not so much now but in the future, she said.
Speakers at the protest will include Mayor Meng Foon, Deputy Mayor Nona Aston, Hawke’s Bay Regional Transport Committee members, MPs and business leaders.
It is understood Mrs Tolley will not be at the protest because she is recovering from an operation.
■ Next week marks 70 years since the first train left Gisborne for Napier on the completed line. This huge event was attended by about 10,000 people . . . most of Gisborne at that time.