Time now for transport study

EDITORIAL

A new local-led effort to have the Government reopen the rail line to Wairoa, for a short-line service between Gisborne and Napier, sounds promising for supporters of rail and makes the line’s reinstatement more likely.

At this stage, though, there are more questions than answers. Principle among those is who are the directors of Tairawhiti Rail Ltd, and how much investigation of their proposal are they envisaging before they make an application to the Provincial Growth Fund?

Rick Thorpe’s submission to the council on Monday showed his confidence the service would be financially viable — thanks to recent growth in horticulture, efforts to increase wood processing here, and the potential to divert export produce now trucked to Tauranga southwards to Napier Port, due to rail transport being cheaper.

But are the container volumes he suggests would be available for rail realistic? Have these potential customers been asked? And is the more cost-effective rail service he describes possible after the high costs of maintaining and investing in a reinstated line?

Back in 2012 KiwiRail forecast long-term maintenance costs for the Gisborne-Napier line of between $4m and $8m a year, as well as $925,000 a year in capital costs. It is likely more than half of those costs apply to the land-challenged section from Gisborne to Wairoa.

In Berl’s reckoning later that year it was the potential to attract 750,000 tonnes of logs and wood products a year on the Mohaka to Napier section that would result in the Gisborne-Napier line becoming profitable — and that opportunity is now being taken up by Napier Port and KiwiRail. (Noting that Mr Thorpe indicates KiwiRail would be invited again to manage the line; and also the fact this Wairoa-Napier venture found it needed an extra $5m from the new Government than originally anticipated to reopen the line.)

The case being made for a greater freight task applies equally to coastal shipping services that would cost less to establish, a lot less to maintain, and take produce both north and south. A commercial and prudent approach for this district, and the Government, would surely involve a high-level investigation of both options.

A new local-led effort to have the Government reopen the rail line to Wairoa, for a short-line service between Gisborne and Napier, sounds promising for supporters of rail and makes the line’s reinstatement more likely.

At this stage, though, there are more questions than answers. Principle among those is who are the directors of Tairawhiti Rail Ltd, and how much investigation of their proposal are they envisaging before they make an application to the Provincial Growth Fund?

Rick Thorpe’s submission to the council on Monday showed his confidence the service would be financially viable — thanks to recent growth in horticulture, efforts to increase wood processing here, and the potential to divert export produce now trucked to Tauranga southwards to Napier Port, due to rail transport being cheaper.

But are the container volumes he suggests would be available for rail realistic? Have these potential customers been asked? And is the more cost-effective rail service he describes possible after the high costs of maintaining and investing in a reinstated line?

Back in 2012 KiwiRail forecast long-term maintenance costs for the Gisborne-Napier line of between $4m and $8m a year, as well as $925,000 a year in capital costs. It is likely more than half of those costs apply to the land-challenged section from Gisborne to Wairoa.

In Berl’s reckoning later that year it was the potential to attract 750,000 tonnes of logs and wood products a year on the Mohaka to Napier section that would result in the Gisborne-Napier line becoming profitable — and that opportunity is now being taken up by Napier Port and KiwiRail. (Noting that Mr Thorpe indicates KiwiRail would be invited again to manage the line; and also the fact this Wairoa-Napier venture found it needed an extra $5m from the new Government than originally anticipated to reopen the line.)

The case being made for a greater freight task applies equally to coastal shipping services that would cost less to establish, a lot less to maintain, and take produce both north and south. A commercial and prudent approach for this district, and the Government, would surely involve a high-level investigation of both options.

Your email address will not be published. Comments will display after being approved by a staff member. Comments may be edited for clarity.

Richard - 6 days ago
It is the duty of any national government to ensure its strategic assets are fit for purpose now and for the future in order to secure the nation's commercial activity and to enable the state to function viably under all circumstances. Transportation, either by road, air, sea and rail are an intrinsic part of a nation's strategic economic asset portfolio.

It is not the norm for airlines to build runways, shipping companies to build ports, haulage companies to build public roads and neither should private railway enterprises build rail lines. Or indeed for any of them to repair such assets. Those tasks are in the main for central government to undertake and fund through its differing agencies, and sometimes together with commercial partners in a PPE - private public enterprise.

In the case of Gisborne's rail link, after years of neglect (and because of that the cost of reinstatement has escalated) it is incumbent upon central government to make funding available to put the line back into an operational national asset. Tairawhiti Rail or indeed any other rail privateer should not be accountable for the cost of rebuilding the line.

A public road and an airport runway are made available to those that wish to use them and charged accordingly on an open access basis. Railways must operate on that same "facilities usage" playing field.

The editor makes a case for coastal shipping to replace the railway but the account makes no mention of what cost will be applied to the docking facilities shippers will face. Or as with other transport modes, to the interruption of services due to the forces of nature. Or to a ship's delay awaiting tidal conditions. And naturally for the slower movement of freight by sea. Is coastal shipping really a better option than rail?

Geoff Blackmore, Taumarunui - 6 days ago
The $4-8m per year for maintanence is complete rubbish. After they first came up with those figures an Official Information Act request was lodged to establish what the annual maintenance bill was prior to the line closing, and it was around $1.5-2m per year.

KiwiRail's figures can be dismissed. The Government should just repair the line, lease it to NGL Ltd, and let them get on with running trains. KiwiRail need not be involved.

Patrick Dunford, Christchurch - 5 days ago
Pacifica operate coastal shipping services for Port of Tauranga to meet international sailings. If there was sufficient volume of containers their ship could call into Gisborne as it has its own loading cranes. Moving containers by sea is cheaper than by rail and a lot more reliable than the fragile rail link that will need many millions of weatherproofing work. The very small volume of freight that needs to go south daily could continue by road.

Poll

  • Voting please wait...
    Your vote has been cast. Reloading page...
    Should the district apply to the Provincial Growth Fund for it to back a feasibility study for reinstatement of the rail line to Gisborne?