by Ken Crispin, Gisborne Rail Action Group, secretary East Coast Transportation Project
BEING guests on a steam train excursion from Napier to Wairoa on Sunday reinforced for us the tourism potential of the Napier to Gisborne rail line.
The steam train was the immaculate Sharon Lee, a 98-tonne J class engine with five carriages. She was built in New Zealand in 1918.
We had a wonderful time as the engine pulled us through the lush green countryside, enjoying stunning scenery I had never seen before.
I felt sad for the public of today and in the future who might never see those scenes again. This was the real New Zealand that can’t be viewed on the road trip. It was as if we were invited into all those folks’ backyards, some waving frantically with a tear in their eye.
We will never give up fighting for this rail line that has so much to offer.
The civic leaders of Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay are preparing to make the case directly to the Prime Minister on all the reasons to retain the Gisborne line.
We have a video taken from a vehicle following the train as it travelled up to Wairoa, and will receive another from a film company onboard that put together a video on the trip. It will show the warm, friendly atmosphere generated by the freedom to roam through the entire train and speak with all the travellers.
If the line is reopened and is price competitive, there is strong support to use rail. Even without measuring the socio-economic benefits to our beautiful region, rail brings positive spin-offs such as the tourism potential on a grand scale that I witnessed at the weekend.
That potential will be in the peer-reviewed BERL report coming out next month, after receiving and reviewing further documentation requested under the Official Information Act. KiwiRail did not consider tourism potential.
As I spoke to the Hawke’s Bay Regional Transport Committee on October 26, I got so emotional — with tears in my eyes — that I had to stop and compose myself. The DomPost reporter did a great job of covering exactly what my heart was saying.
To anyone offended, I apologise if I went a bit overboard when, as a representative of our Gisborne community, I said: “They are on their knees with their hearts in their throats.”
I felt this driving down last Wednesday, preparing for our deputation, when I saw the rail line looking so abandoned; the despair I felt was very strong.
I was only healed by being carried up on that line by a very large and grand old engine. Simply put, it was a once-in-a-lifetime emotional experience.
The gentleman who runs this vintage trip is Ian Welsh, a soft-spoken man of much grace who does this probably at no profit. He just wants people to experience what wonderful machines they built almost 100 years ago, that can transport 100s of people quickly and comfortably from Napier to Wairoa and back — with several stops for picture-taking and a lunch — all in nine hours; quite amazing for that terrain, eh?
Ian operates Mainline Steam and John Bovis, another great man, operates Steam Incorporated. Both were on that journey and I had the pleasure of meeting them and discussing our alternative plans for saving the Gisborne line.
Even though we were not able to make the complete journey to Gisborne, with its magnificent coastal panorama, everyone would return to do another east coast excursion.
There are many options available to us. We are confident that if cool heads prevail at the top level in Government, the line will be reopened.