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Road plan will not include rail

STRONG pleas from rail advocates failed to sway the Regional Transport Committee, which has opted to leave unchanged a draft 2018-21 local roads national land transport programme, which did not include rail.

In a presentation at the start of the meeting Gillian Ward and Nikki Searancke said there was no reason rail should not be part of the investigation into the draft plan.

Gisborne Rail Action Group’s Gillian Ward said the draft plan should consider economic development, safety and personal security, access and mobility, public health and environmental stability and was required to look ahead to 2028.

The Rail Action Group’s investigations had found no evidence that rail should not be included in the plan.

The Maori Party, Green Party, NZ First and Labour were looking to the future and saw the restoration of the Napier-Gisborne line, as well as other regional lines, as a key part of regional economic development.

Neighbouring regions had rail firmly included in their regional plans.

A Wairoa Star feature said several Gisborne businesses involved in the export of fresh produce could send that by rail to Napier port. At present they struggled to find enough trucks and drivers, the committee was told.

Weatherell Transport was building a new transport hub in Aerodrome Road. This would be connected to rail. Steve Weatherell had said “if the rail is repaired, investment and growth will come.”

Gisborne Rail Co-operative's viewNikki Searancke, of Gisborne Rail Co-operative, said they had a new business case, prepared by an outside company, that showed the railway line would be viable carrying initially 55,000 tonnes. Repairing the line would cost about $7 million.

“We already have a financier on board,” she said.

They were proposing a co-operative, something that had proved very successful.

Rail opportunities identified included fresh produce for export, chilled and frozen goods, chilled lamb, pouch products, landfill rubbish, recyclable wine, bulk wine, fertiliser, aggregate, road metal and processed timber.

More money was spent on roads that ever before to keep them safely viable.

Graeme Thomson asked why, if the line was so viable, anyone would throw it out? Labour had said it would support the line if it was economically viable, which was the same as National’s policy. Why were the co-operative’s figures so different to KiwiRail’s?

Nikki Searancke said KiwiRail’s overheads were more extensive than theirs. They operated on a different platform.

Operating and maintenance costs were smaller under their model.

KiwiRail and NZTA had a policy on tunnels after Pike River but the rail co-op had looked at that and believed they could maintain the link through the Te Kauwhata Tunnel, the fifth-longest in New Zealand.

DisappointmentGillian Ward said she was disappointed the Carno Report used to scope the draft plan did not consider the opportunities of rail coming through the city.

There was an opportunity to use a rail connection to the port to reduce truck traffic through residential areas.

Malcolm Maclean asked if any businesses had committed to rail.

Nikki Searancke said the support was indicative at the moment. Businesses could not commit until the rail link was restored.

A change of government was likely after the election. They had never been able to sit down and explain their position to Cabinet ministers.

Murray Palmer said some factors, like the cost of carbon, resilience and safety, had to be factored in — which would improve the group’s business case.

“We have a railway line,” said Gillian Ward.

“We need to honour the people who designed and constructed it, and enable it to be used for the purpose for which it was designed.

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