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Why not build the rail north now?

Opinion Piece

Re: IwiRail launched on public empathy and a wild dream, July 13 editorial.

We have a large transport library and have done some considerable research since NZ First launched its rail transport policy, Railways Of National Importance. Now the Maori Party has also come up with a policy suggesting that completing regional rail lines will increase the viability of rail services, making them more accessible and used more often. We agree, as evidence supports this.

History firstly showed that our prime minister and treasurer Sir Julius Vogel, as NZ’s premier politician, set out an ambitious rail plan for us in 1880.

Julius Vogel was a leader for planning infrastructure during the 1800s and set about to bring rail to Gisborne in 1880, with survey maps from that date through to 1899 showing two rail lines north to Auckland passing through Gisborne.

Originally the continuation of the railway line from Taneatua (near Whakatane) was to be extended to Opotiki on through the Waioeka Gorge to Gisborne linking to the Palmerston North -Gisborne line.

Work did begin, however, due to two world wars, an economic depression and an influenza epidemic, this ambitious extension to the railway line was never completed.

Since then several other route options have emerged, making the building of a rail line to Whakatane far more easily completed — not through the gorge, as the Waioeka gorge has proved quite unstable with several large slips in recent times. Another route option goes from Gisborne inland north to East Cape and around to Opotiki.

So the question we ask now of the Government is: Why did they spend ?$13 billion on double-laning the road from Hamilton through Rotorua to Tauranga, but did not consider any continuation of the rail line from Gisborne to Auckland — as several opposition political parties suggest now — especially since road building costs have been increasing due to the unstable land the roads in this region sit on?

Escalating road maintenance is just one issue. We all see the increased road surface damage, which makes travel more dangerous, as we drive on the roads we now share with increasing numbers of heavier trucks.

Extra consideration must now be given as Gisborne is the most isolated North Island community of its size — especially since the founding prime minister planned for this in 1880. Now, almost 140 years later, we still haven’t completed the line north.

Surely we can do better than this in his memory, and for our wealth, health, wellbeing and regional security.

We have marvellous earth-moving systems and machinery nowadays, such as the tunnel-boring machine used on Auckland’s Waterview tunnel, that may make this an easier job than it was then.

Our group has studied many negative environmental impacts to residential communities around New Zealand.

Both Gisborne and Napier share the dangers of 24/7 freight truck traffic producing excessive noise, vibration, air and tyre dust pollution that have now been certified as a public health hazard.These pollutants get into our rivers, streams and aquifers from road runoff, and into our drinking water.

We can all benefit when we use rail to move our freight around the country, saving both lives and the environment.

Local trucks will always be needed for freight distribution, but when we move freight north by road without the benefit of rail to ports such as Tauranga and Auckland, it is considered unsustainable.

Let us think wisely and plan for a future with environmentally-clean transport options.

Ken Crispin