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Shafted by Eastland Group lobbyists

Opinion Piece

Gillian Ward is Chairwoman of the Gisborne Rail Action Group

Re: Mixed Signals — Minister yet to receive strong case for Wairoa to Gisborne rail line, February 24 story.

The Minister actually has received a strong business case for reinstating the rail line between Wairoa and Gisborne. In response to his request in November, a proposal was delivered to him two weeks ago. So, it is very disappointing that in the national launch of the Provincial Growth Fund on Friday neither restoration, nor a feasibility study, was announced for the Wairoa-Gisborne railway line.

Rather than being let down because of the lack of a “strong case”, the Gisborne residents who have marched and signed a petition requesting that the government restore the rail line, and businesses who need rail to move their fresh produce to Napier’s export container port, have been shafted by a small handful of Gisborne business leaders.

These few people who should be representing the best interests of the region are instead conflicted. They are focused solely on the expansion plans of Eastland Port, and planning for large profits, and they have the ear of the politicians.

Rail freight of containers of fresh chilled produce destined for export from Napier’s container port will provide flexibility, be competitive, and offer security of freight transport with an additional land transport option for our isolated region. Huge container ships and multiple container cranes handle enormous stacks of containers at Napier Port’s deep-water port.

Eastland Port on the other hand has a totally different situation, being located in a silty river mouth, which is carefully dredged to attain the depth required for log ships, while minimising disturbance of sensitive marine habitats. There is much less capacity to handle containers.

Hon Shane Jones is aware of this conflict of interest, and although he has stated that, “There’s political will to back rail”, he would prefer that the community sort out our priorities, rather than the government imposing decisions.

Mayor Foon has stated that Gisborne needs all the transport modes — roads, rail, coastal shipping and air transport. The residents and business community have indicated, with a march of 2000 people led by Mayor Foon along Grey Street to the Railway Station in April 2012, a petition of 10,480 signatures presented by Mayor Foon to Hon Anne Tolley at Parliament in May 2012, fundraising $11,000 for BERL Economics to review KiwiRail’s May 2012 analysis of the economics of the railway line, public meetings, letters to the Gisborne Herald editor, articles in The Gisborne Herald, presentations to the District Council, as well as business case analyses of the commercial viability of the line, that reopening the railway line would be well-supported by the community and businesses.

It is a small city characteristic that influential leaders can be conflicted, wearing more than one “hat”, and the aspirations of the Gisborne community to restore our other land transport option have been well and truly undermined by a few people determined to scuttle these aspirations.

Gisborne had to campaign hard to be included in the Government’s national rail-building effort in the late 1920s. It was a hard-won battle and a challenging line to complete, but the rail line was opened in 1942 amid jubilation from the Gisborne community.

Now that we have the line, it is a gift from an earlier generation. The cost to repair the storm damage is minimal compared to the value of the asset. Imagine the cost to build a railway line through the Wharerata hills now!

Please Minister Jones, hear the voice of the Gisborne community and filter out the noise from the Eastland Group lobbyists!

Gillian Ward