THE future of Gisborne’s vintage tourist train Wa 165 remains uncertain as KiwiRail prepares its final freight train on the East Coast line to roll out of Wairoa on Tuesday.
Gisborne City Vintage Railway Society spokeswoman Dale Smith said the steam locomotive would continue to operate under the KiwiRail umbrella until the end of January.
The Government announced it would mothball the Gisborne-Napier line on November 8, leaving the future of Wa 165’s operation uncertain. The railway society could soon foot the whole bill for its continued operation.
“At the moment KiwiRail funds maintenance of the line,” said Mrs Smith.
“But come the end of January, we really don’t know what is going to happen. At the moment we are just hanging in there.”
It is estimated the cost of maintaining the track could be $100,000 a year. But Mrs Smith said the total cost was uncertain, with bridges such as one just past Matawhero requiring further maintenance.
She remains hopeful that Wa 165 service can continue to operate.
“We had students from te kura kaupapa and Ilminster Intermediate delighted to take a trip on the line last week,” she said.
“There is a whole generation coming through that has never been on a train.”
Support is strong, with more schools keen to take part in one of the 33km round-trips to Muriwai in February.
If KiwiRail’s support does not continue past January, the society will continue to look to community support for funding.
There is one KiwiRail employee in Gisborne and if funding does not continue, the society will look into contracting the employee through their independent operation.
Gisborne City Vintage Railway Society operations manager David Hall said he and a group of vintage rail enthusiasts planned to travel to Wairoa to watch the last train go.
“Naturally, we are very disappointed that it has come to this,” said Mr Hall.
Wairoa’s Clyde Lumber will be the last business to use the Wairoa-Napier service on Tuesday.
It has been using the twice-weekly rail service since the middle of last year, with product travelling to Palmerston North, up to Hamilton and from there to Ohinewai by road.
Clyde Lumber owner John Ebbett said Wairoa product would now be transported by road.
The decision to close the line followed a severe storm that caused washouts in the Kopuawhara-Beach Loop area and closed the Gisborne-Wairoa line.
The storm caused $4-million worth of damage and left metres of rail suspended in mid-air. KiwiRail has decided not to repair it.
In a final bid to save the line, Gisborne district councillor Manu Caddie raised more than $14,000 to pay for BERL – experts in transport economics – to conduct an independent economic analysis of the line.
Hawke’s Bay Regional Transport Committee chairman Alan Dick said the report would be another weapon in their armoury as they lobbied to have the line reinstated.
Results of the report are expected next week.
“In the scheme of things, $4 million is not a big ask for the Government,” said Mr Hall.
“We are hoping and praying we get a good New Year present from KiwiRail.”