Shafted by Eastland Group lobbyists

Gillian Ward

COLUMN

Gillian Ward is Chairwoman of the Gisborne Rail Action Group

Re: Mixed Signals — Minister yet to receive strong case for Wairoa to Gisborne rail line, February 24 story.

The Minister actually has received a strong business case for reinstating the rail line between Wairoa and Gisborne. In response to his request in November, a proposal was delivered to him two weeks ago. So, it is very disappointing that in the national launch of the Provincial Growth Fund on Friday neither restoration, nor a feasibility study, was announced for the Wairoa-Gisborne railway line.

Rather than being let down because of the lack of a “strong case”, the Gisborne residents who have marched and signed a petition requesting that the government restore the rail line, and businesses who need rail to move their fresh produce to Napier’s export container port, have been shafted by a small handful of Gisborne business leaders.

These few people who should be representing the best interests of the region are instead conflicted. They are focused solely on the expansion plans of Eastland Port, and planning for large profits, and they have the ear of the politicians.

Rail freight of containers of fresh chilled produce destined for export from Napier’s container port will provide flexibility, be competitive, and offer security of freight transport with an additional land transport option for our isolated region. Huge container ships and multiple container cranes handle enormous stacks of containers at Napier Port’s deep-water port.

Eastland Port on the other hand has a totally different situation, being located in a silty river mouth, which is carefully dredged to attain the depth required for log ships, while minimising disturbance of sensitive marine habitats. There is much less capacity to handle containers.

Hon Shane Jones is aware of this conflict of interest, and although he has stated that, “There’s political will to back rail”, he would prefer that the community sort out our priorities, rather than the government imposing decisions.

Mayor Foon has stated that Gisborne needs all the transport modes — roads, rail, coastal shipping and air transport. The residents and business community have indicated, with a march of 2000 people led by Mayor Foon along Grey Street to the Railway Station in April 2012, a petition of 10,480 signatures presented by Mayor Foon to Hon Anne Tolley at Parliament in May 2012, fundraising $11,000 for BERL Economics to review KiwiRail’s May 2012 analysis of the economics of the railway line, public meetings, letters to the Gisborne Herald editor, articles in The Gisborne Herald, presentations to the District Council, as well as business case analyses of the commercial viability of the line, that reopening the railway line would be well-supported by the community and businesses.

It is a small city characteristic that influential leaders can be conflicted, wearing more than one “hat”, and the aspirations of the Gisborne community to restore our other land transport option have been well and truly undermined by a few people determined to scuttle these aspirations.

Gisborne had to campaign hard to be included in the Government’s national rail-building effort in the late 1920s. It was a hard-won battle and a challenging line to complete, but the rail line was opened in 1942 amid jubilation from the Gisborne community.

Now that we have the line, it is a gift from an earlier generation. The cost to repair the storm damage is minimal compared to the value of the asset. Imagine the cost to build a railway line through the Wharerata hills now!

Please Minister Jones, hear the voice of the Gisborne community and filter out the noise from the Eastland Group lobbyists!

Gillian Ward is Chairwoman of the Gisborne Rail Action Group

Re: Mixed Signals — Minister yet to receive strong case for Wairoa to Gisborne rail line, February 24 story.

The Minister actually has received a strong business case for reinstating the rail line between Wairoa and Gisborne. In response to his request in November, a proposal was delivered to him two weeks ago. So, it is very disappointing that in the national launch of the Provincial Growth Fund on Friday neither restoration, nor a feasibility study, was announced for the Wairoa-Gisborne railway line.

Rather than being let down because of the lack of a “strong case”, the Gisborne residents who have marched and signed a petition requesting that the government restore the rail line, and businesses who need rail to move their fresh produce to Napier’s export container port, have been shafted by a small handful of Gisborne business leaders.

These few people who should be representing the best interests of the region are instead conflicted. They are focused solely on the expansion plans of Eastland Port, and planning for large profits, and they have the ear of the politicians.

Rail freight of containers of fresh chilled produce destined for export from Napier’s container port will provide flexibility, be competitive, and offer security of freight transport with an additional land transport option for our isolated region. Huge container ships and multiple container cranes handle enormous stacks of containers at Napier Port’s deep-water port.

Eastland Port on the other hand has a totally different situation, being located in a silty river mouth, which is carefully dredged to attain the depth required for log ships, while minimising disturbance of sensitive marine habitats. There is much less capacity to handle containers.

Hon Shane Jones is aware of this conflict of interest, and although he has stated that, “There’s political will to back rail”, he would prefer that the community sort out our priorities, rather than the government imposing decisions.

Mayor Foon has stated that Gisborne needs all the transport modes — roads, rail, coastal shipping and air transport. The residents and business community have indicated, with a march of 2000 people led by Mayor Foon along Grey Street to the Railway Station in April 2012, a petition of 10,480 signatures presented by Mayor Foon to Hon Anne Tolley at Parliament in May 2012, fundraising $11,000 for BERL Economics to review KiwiRail’s May 2012 analysis of the economics of the railway line, public meetings, letters to the Gisborne Herald editor, articles in The Gisborne Herald, presentations to the District Council, as well as business case analyses of the commercial viability of the line, that reopening the railway line would be well-supported by the community and businesses.

It is a small city characteristic that influential leaders can be conflicted, wearing more than one “hat”, and the aspirations of the Gisborne community to restore our other land transport option have been well and truly undermined by a few people determined to scuttle these aspirations.

Gisborne had to campaign hard to be included in the Government’s national rail-building effort in the late 1920s. It was a hard-won battle and a challenging line to complete, but the rail line was opened in 1942 amid jubilation from the Gisborne community.

Now that we have the line, it is a gift from an earlier generation. The cost to repair the storm damage is minimal compared to the value of the asset. Imagine the cost to build a railway line through the Wharerata hills now!

Please Minister Jones, hear the voice of the Gisborne community and filter out the noise from the Eastland Group lobbyists!

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J.S. Dow, Railwayman. - 1 year ago
Well said Gillian. In addition to the Eastland Group, one must also point the finger squarely at the editor of this paper and his never-ending anti-rail diatribe.
I helped prepare the business case for Gisborne Rail Co-op and can assure the people of Gisborne it was not based on unrealistic tonnages or under estimation of the costs of the task at hand.
Just because our figures were well below KiwiRail's dreamed up ones doesn't mean they were wrong!!
As for Meng Foon's hope for a bike trail . . . wake up to yourself Mayor Foon, you cannot carry a shipping container on a bicycle!


Footnote from Ed: I'm not anti-rail. Just like many people, I can't see it working for this region without significant government subsidy in the near-to-medium term - and was concerned at efforts to have local funds committed to it that would likely disappear into a hole that requires more money.
Thanks for putting your hand up in association with the rail co-op's business case - the lack of any sources for the data in it does contribute rather to the flimsiness of it. Maybe you can provide some workings and engineering assessments for those low costs, but it does seem to the uninitiated that they were arrived at principally to allow a profit in the "business case".
It seems to me that coastal shipping options for Gisborne would require much less investment and, in taking containers north as well as south, would double the benefits - as about half our freight movements by truck are to the north. There are also no ongoing maintenance requirements for the "blue highway". Meanwhile, the rail corridor could be put to alternative uses that have strong tourism potential for the region and especially small communities along the route.

Bob Hughes - 1 year ago
I agree with our Ed on a Govt subsidy for our rail. Our previous Govt invested about $4 billion per annum on road transport. Now don't let our new lot ever forget all three government parties backed our rail link. So, why not that "significant government subsidy in the near-to-medium term"? About those "coastal shipping options for Gisborne" the editor also mentioned. If dire predictions bear fruit, sea links may as in the past become our district's one transport link with the outside world once again.

Richard - 1 year ago
I am ProRail. Much of what you report Gillian shines the same spotlight upon the lack of support for rail within the community as I have recently commented upon in The Herald. But, you cannot offload defeat so complacently.

The Herald's editor rightly raises genuine concerns relating to the cost of the railway's reinstatement and future sustainability; neither of which, despite your protestations and reports, have been addressed to the satisfaction of those who hold the purse strings. Until the GRC does so your campaign will continue to fail. The BERL report and subsequent submissions have been too limited in their revenue scope and set out too simply in order to rubbish KiwiRail's position, instead of substantiating an independent rational and validated future for the line's reinstatement.

Required is a comprehensive broad-based directive for the investment as an economic catalyst. Stating beyond contention the vital logistical role in which freight and passenger rail traffic can participate to advance the region's prosperity. The submission must include:

Exploit revenue streams which accompany renewed rail operations.
Identify demographic movements, population change and mobility benefits.
Construct a strategy to capitalise upon global and domestic tourist revenues.
Discuss existing business investment and how rail could further accelerate that.
Enumerate trackside real estate regeneration income prospects.
Set forth all potential investment partners - domestic and international.
Debate development and growth all along the line from Wellington to Gisborne that will contribute to the line's overall sustainability - income streams do not just reside in Gisborne.

Your case must be all encompassing as appropriate, exhaustive and validated; not just limited to freight and our own backyard. Tip: review the "6th UNIFE World Rail Market Study 2016 Report" - rail resurgence delivering to industry and communities globally. NZ and particularly the East Cape should not miss the train.

Eastland Group shareholder - 1 year ago
If the line opens between Wairoa and Gisborne that creates the opportunity for Wairoa logs to come this way as well as to Napier, increasing our port tonnage and return to shareholders without another truck on the road. Is Eastland Group management lacking motivation? Scared of new markets? Or are the vast amounts of community money in their pockets taking the spring out of their step?

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