27 Nov 2017

Napier-Gisborne rail plans overdue

11:41 am on 27 November 2017

Hawke's Bay authorities insist restoring part of the defunct Napier-Gisborne railway line is realistic, even though the scheme is at least a year overdue and no work has been done on it so far.

A northbound freight train at the Rangiora Station.

Plans to have rail freight back on the Napier-Gisborne railway line is now overdue its completion date. Photo: Katy Gosset/RNZ

A plan to have logging trains on the southern stretch of the line was announced in October last year with a completion date set for the end of 2017.

That completion date has come and gone.

The development has come long after the Gisborne-Napier was written off as uneconomic, with just one freight train service a week.

Storms that washed out the line north of Wairoa in 2012 delivered the final coup de grace.

But the track is viable south of Wairoa.

Forest Management New Zealand's Steve Bell said it should be used to get logs from forests in the Hawke's Bay hinterland to the Port of Napier.

"We've got about 11,000ha (of forest) in that Wairoa region," he said. "To harvest that, that is a lot of truck movements on the road. We could rail logs in and it would allow us quicker turnaround times."

The scheme, when it was announced last year, would use KiwiRail rolling stock, leased by Napier port company, and paid for by foresters in lieu of the cheque they now write for trucking companies to carry their logs.

But the project languished while KiwiRail shifted its attention from Hawke's Bay to quake-hit Kaikōura, and while Hawke's Bay Regional Councillors pondered the cost.

But the Council's deputy chairman Rick Barker, said the scheme was making progress and would work.

"We are confident we have got a very good proposal, workable from all angles, and it is close to being concluded," he said.

"There are one or two minor outstanding matters - we get them resolved and we are away."

Before any trains could run, track that hasn't been used for five years would have to be checked and possibly repaired in places.

Mr Barker said that would be affordable.

"It's not a big figure, compared with what it cost to put the rail in, less than $5 million," he said.

"It is a very acceptable figure when you think about what the rail line would do in terms of reducing truck movements on the road and building resilience between Napier and Wairoa."

Under the original scheme, the trains would run over the weekend, with two services each Saturday and Sunday, using rolling stock that goes into Napier from the South five days a week.

Logging trucks 'too fast' for SH2

The idea of getting logging traffic off State Highway 2 north of Napier created mixed feelings for Sam McClinchie of the Tutira general store.

She wanted passing traffic as custom for her store.

But those customers themselves felt differently.

"Some of them have complained about logging trucks going too fast along the main road there," she said.

"It is quite scary especially when they are driving quite fast and you are either following them or they are right behind you."

The new government has an election pledge to spend $1bn on special projects to benefit the regions.

RNZ News sought comment from the Minister for Regional Economic Development Shane Jones as to whether a line like this would be a contender, but he did not respond to requests for an interview.

KiwiRail said it had expected the service to have begun by now, subject to costs and a business case being agreed between the parties.

"We have not yet been able to make the business case work for all parties, but remain confident we will," the company said in a statement.

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