KIWIRAIL has been called to account over its failure to make the Gisborne to Napier railway viable.
The Government yesterday delivered its long-awaited decision. It will mothball the railway.
LeaderBrand general manager Richard Burke says his company is really disappointed with the lost opportunity.
“It is the worst situation because it’s no longer going to be used for anything and will sit there and rot.”
On the one hand the Government is saying it is developing plans to help grow exports and on the other it is taking away our most cost-effective, environmentally- sustainable transport option.
The line has not been maintained by the rail company and it has to be accountable for its failure to develop it into a viable line, he says.
“Last December was the first time we had been able to get 40 foot-high cube containers up and down the line and, had this been established years ago, we would more than likely have a productive, efficient route to both domestic and export markets.
“Instead, we have a mothballed line.
“Now we’re in a situation where the cost of production is going up, there are environmental issues that we have to consider and fuel prices continue to rise.
“The most efficient transport system is being mothballed — I just don’t get it.”
He is concerned about what this means for the district
“We have tried to work closely with KiwiRail, out of the media, and with Government to at least fix the line and look at a three to five-year plan that would allow a reasonable chance for both business in the district and KiwiRail to try to establish a viable line.
“This would really have been a very small investment compared to the value that we have just lost by mothballing the line.
“As a country we are investing in arguments about who owns water . . . meanwhile our assets are falling into states of disrepair.
“These assets are what we require to be a competitive nation in the future.”
Gisborne Rail Group spokeswoman Gillian Ward said the news did not mean the fight for Gisborne to have a railway had ended.
“We will keep fighting for the region to keep transportation options open. This decision is just so short-sighted.”
The group hopes the infrastructure will stay in place and some basic maintenance be done because there is always a chance a new government will reverse the decision.
“As fuel costs go up, rail is the obvious choice for freight and, with such a scenic route, a passenger train is an absolute bonus.”
Weatherell Transport’s Steve Weatherell said he expected the decision.
“I don’t like to be a defeatist but I got the gist of what was going on.”
He disputes the KiwiRail figure of $6m a year for line maintenance.
His investment in infrastructure to support the plan to increase usage of the line was not totally lost.
Mr Weatherell said he would most likely take the container swinglifter to Napier port.
East Coast MP Anne Tolley said the decision on the line’s future had taken so long because the figures produced by KiwiRail and Gisborne transporters had to be thoroughly “crawled over”.
As well as a $3 to $4 million repair, other work needed on the line would be too costly.
“We have all known for the past 10 to 15 years that there has been a lack of maintenance. There are a large number of bridges that need maintenance and that is costed at $6m a year.”
Mrs Tolley said that even with the projected freight increase, each train would need to be subsidised by $37,000.
“KiwiRail has not got the money and I could not convince Cabinet to subsidise that.”
In reality there was no real “anchor” customer to build a rail-freight business around.
“In the future if someone like Hikurangi (which is looking to build a mill here in the future) came along, then we can have another look at it.”
To soften the blow, the Government has announced it will instead spend $4 million in the next three years on roading, to create passing “opportunities” between Gisborne and Napier.
Mrs Tolley says this is over and above the $9-$10m realignment and resurfacing programme already announced for this section of road.