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Rail is essential to our region

Opinion Piece

What core factors will impact negatively on Tairawhiti’s growth? Limitations of labour, certainty of water and power supply and transport? All areas where the council should lead and facilitate positive change.

Five years ago our Mayor and council apparently decided the rail is dead and stopped fighting for the reinstatement of a crucial transport link to our region. By contrast, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council continued negotiations with KiwiRail and last week the Napier to Wairoa rail line was formally reopened.

What an exciting development for the Wairoa District and what a timely opportunity for our region, as more than half the line south to Hawke’s Bay and the Napier port is now functioning.

So why isn’t our council celebrating or Eastland Group rubbing its hands about this potential economic windfall for Tairawhiti?

It is no secret that Eastland Group does not support the rail reopening. Why? The general consensus is to protect the port and its vital trade in logs. Whilst log exports constitute the greatest source of revenue for the port, the rail debate is not simply just about “losing logs to Napier”.

Inbound rail cargo would include fuel, aggregate, fertiliser, dry goods and potentially logs from the Wharerata. Outbound horticultural produce, however, is the genie in our region’s proverbial lamp.

Gisborne’s horticulture industry is booming and tens of thousands more tonnes of kiwifruit, apples and persimmons will continue to be trucked out of our region each year to container ports. We are on track to harvest 7 million trays of kiwifruit, enough to fill 1260 containers. Kaiaponi alone packed almost 10,000 tonnes of apples this season.

Each year thousands of tonnes of squash are moved by container truck to Napier for export.Unfortunately a full container of squash exceeds truck weight limits, so every container trucked south is partially empty! Gisborne is producing 30,000 to 40,000 tonnes of squash annually.

Juken and the Far East Sawmill truck hundreds of containers of timber out of Gisborne. All is capable of being moved by rail.

It is fantastic that an industry and community-led group, Tairawhiti Rail Limited, secured PGF funding for the comprehensive feasibility study being undertaken by BERL. Unlike earlier reports, the study will factor in wellbeing. The negative cost of heavy trucks on our region’s roads is undeniable. Further social costs include noise and air pollution and road trauma — deaths and injuries from truck accidents.

The BERL report promises to be the most comprehensive analysis of the rail transport option conducted since the line closed. If the BERL feasibility report is favourable then the council must support it. Security of transport is essential to ensure our region’s economic growth.

The BERL report is due later in the year, most likely after the local body elections. The voting public of Tairawhiti have the right to know beforehand where council candidates stand on this critical issue. I support the reopening of the rail line. If BERL’s report concludes it is viable and I am elected to council, I will do everything I can to achieve the reopening of the Gisborne rail line.

Finally, for the past two months up to seven logging ship have waited in the bay for a slot to load logs. The weather and a workplace death have caused a backlog which means a halt to trees leaving the forests as skid sites become clogged. Crews have been stood down and trucks put off the road affecting many workers. If we had a rail line running logs south to Napier, at least those people could continue working.

Tony Robinson