It’s time to value Gisborne’s railway

Peter Wooding

COLUMN

When debating the merits of restoring Gisborne’s connection to the rest of the New Zealand rail system, one is met with the argument that “it has always been uneconomic and always will be”.

This thinking has been promulgated so often it seems to have become ingrained in the public psyche. Even our District Council is shirking its responsibility for persuading central government to restore the resource we once had.

Surely there can be no argument that the railway was of benefit to the city. When it was available (before March 2012) it was used by local businesses because it was in their economic interest to do so. It was the government’s responsibility to provide the infrastructure, and the operator’s responsibility to provide the service.

Various recent efforts to compile a convincing business plan have been criticised for not including certain costs. The riposte is that the counter-argument does not include certain benefits.

Admittedly, some of these benefits are difficult to quantify.

Is this a case of knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing?

If Activate Tairawhiti was asked “What is the value to Gisborne of having a rail alternative to road transport (a) for established businesses, (b) in attracting new businesses, and (c) in establishing Gisborne as a desirable venue for tourism?” I suspect they would not know. Have they tried to put a value on it? Does this value appear anywhere on the district’s balance sheet?

I understand that the NZ Transport Agency has been tasked with developing an “Integrated Transport Policy” for this region. I also understand that, despite early sympathetic noises, they have stated that rail is “out of scope”.

How on earth can you have an integrated transport policy that does not include rail!?

The whole idea of integration is making best use of available resources. The 100km of railway line to Wairoa, running largely parallel to SH2 for most of the way, could be operational again for the sake of repairs to a few hundred metres of line in the Wharerata area. It may be that the cost of so doing would be rather more than the $5m touted; I accept that it could even be around the $20m mark one correspondent has claimed. But what is that in comparison with the billions spent on roading in other areas of the country?

On his recent visit to the area, Shane Jones said there is $1 billion going begging for regional development; all we have to do is ask. The case has been made over and over again — the true value will become evident when the line is again operational.

For goodness sake, cut through the continued railway approval procrastination/protraction (is an acronym necessary here?)

I urge Gisborne District Council, Activate Tairawhiti/ECT, Gisborne Chamber of Commerce and all other local agencies or individuals to put pressure on the new Government to give this matter their urgent attention. I urge the Minister of Transport, the Minister for Regional Development and the Minister for Tourism to delay no longer.

Just do it — you can make a difference!

When debating the merits of restoring Gisborne’s connection to the rest of the New Zealand rail system, one is met with the argument that “it has always been uneconomic and always will be”.

This thinking has been promulgated so often it seems to have become ingrained in the public psyche. Even our District Council is shirking its responsibility for persuading central government to restore the resource we once had.

Surely there can be no argument that the railway was of benefit to the city. When it was available (before March 2012) it was used by local businesses because it was in their economic interest to do so. It was the government’s responsibility to provide the infrastructure, and the operator’s responsibility to provide the service.

Various recent efforts to compile a convincing business plan have been criticised for not including certain costs. The riposte is that the counter-argument does not include certain benefits.

Admittedly, some of these benefits are difficult to quantify.

Is this a case of knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing?

If Activate Tairawhiti was asked “What is the value to Gisborne of having a rail alternative to road transport (a) for established businesses, (b) in attracting new businesses, and (c) in establishing Gisborne as a desirable venue for tourism?” I suspect they would not know. Have they tried to put a value on it? Does this value appear anywhere on the district’s balance sheet?

I understand that the NZ Transport Agency has been tasked with developing an “Integrated Transport Policy” for this region. I also understand that, despite early sympathetic noises, they have stated that rail is “out of scope”.

How on earth can you have an integrated transport policy that does not include rail!?

The whole idea of integration is making best use of available resources. The 100km of railway line to Wairoa, running largely parallel to SH2 for most of the way, could be operational again for the sake of repairs to a few hundred metres of line in the Wharerata area. It may be that the cost of so doing would be rather more than the $5m touted; I accept that it could even be around the $20m mark one correspondent has claimed. But what is that in comparison with the billions spent on roading in other areas of the country?

On his recent visit to the area, Shane Jones said there is $1 billion going begging for regional development; all we have to do is ask. The case has been made over and over again — the true value will become evident when the line is again operational.

For goodness sake, cut through the continued railway approval procrastination/protraction (is an acronym necessary here?)

I urge Gisborne District Council, Activate Tairawhiti/ECT, Gisborne Chamber of Commerce and all other local agencies or individuals to put pressure on the new Government to give this matter their urgent attention. I urge the Minister of Transport, the Minister for Regional Development and the Minister for Tourism to delay no longer.

Just do it — you can make a difference!

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Willem, Auckland - 13 days ago
Don't tell someone else to do it. Get a few people together and ASK. That's all Shane Jones wants.

Janet Crispin - 13 days ago
Thank you, Peter.
Here are some facts to help quantify the benefits.

An Ernst and Young report for the NZ Transport Agency in 2016: The Value of Rail in New Zealand put that value at $1.5 billion, but the report was not made public until recently.

A B-train wears out the road 20,000 times more than a car, and we know that the local roading authorities are struggling to keep up with the maintenance on the road. I travel the Gisborne to Napier route often and am fed up with the constant wheel alignments necessary from the pot holes and sunken bridges.

Then there are the externalities - the consequences of an economic activity experienced by unrelated third parties - the social and environmental cost of increasing heavy trucks and reducing rail use.

The Ministry of Transport has put the social cost of each road death at $4.5 million, and a crash involving serious injuries at $473,600.
Living near a busy road increases the risk of premature death by 7 percent, and increases the risk of cancer, heart attack, stroke, dementia, childhood diabetes, asthma, allergies etc.

A diesel truck pollutes up to 1000 times more than a car.
1 truck tyre sheds 10 times the amount of 1 car tyre. Each truck tyre sheds 0.21 g/km of tyre compound (butadiene styrene), that is 5.46 g/km for a 26 wheel vehicle.
Road run-off accounts for 40-50 percent of urban metal contamination to aquatic ecosystems.

It's not a matter of being anti trucks, it's about sharing the load. Even the Road Transport Forum chief executive Ken Shirley, as well as local transport operators, are saying they can't cope with the increasing freight task and may have to turn work away.

Peter Wooding - 10 days ago
To Willem of Auckland - as an Aucklander it is understandable that you are unaware of the existence, in Gisborne, of the Railway Action Group that has been lobbying GDC councillors, the Chamber of Commerce, MPs and Government Ministers for action over the past five years. A business case, funded by public subscription to the tune of $15,000, was compiled and submitted; a proposal was made by Gisborne-Napier Rail Co-operative for a short-line operation; discussions have been held with Hawke's Bay Regional Council; we are currently in discussion with people in positions of influence to access Shane Jones $1 billion Regional Development Fund. We would just like a bit more support, both moral and tangible.