Gisborne rail closure strips 'lifeline'
Wed, 03 Oct 2012 8:54a.m.
KiwiRail's decision to mothball the Gisborne-Napier railway line has been widely slammed, with opponents mocking a roading sweetener and saying the move is politically motivated.
State-owned KiwiRail on Tuesday announced it would not try to reopen the 212km line - closed after a storm in March washed out several bridges - because it would cost $4.3 million to repair and then lose up to $8 million a year.
It is the latest blow for New Zealand's rail network, which peaked at more than 5500km in 1953 but has shrunk to less than 3900km since then.
The decision came despite many calling for the line to be kept open. In April around 1000 Gisborne locals rallied in support of the line and a petition gathered about 10,000 signatures.
Gisborne councillor Manu Caddie said rail supporters would now be going over KiwiRail's figures used to justify its decision and they would then try to get the Government to overrule it.
Mr Caddie said a local businessman had drummed up more freight for KiwiRail than the company had, once they became aware it was under threat.
"Local businesses were given the challenge to use it or lose it, so they stepped up and were just scratching the surface," he told NZ Newswire.
It was surprising the Government could find $4 million to improve the road but not $4 million on maintaining essential infrastructure worth billions, he said.
A local consortium could resurrect the line, but Mr Caddie said he believed the line was a public good and needed wider support.
John Kerr of the Rail and Maritime Transport Union is critical of the Government, saying the National Party is investing in roading and neglecting the country’s rail infrastructure.
“The Government’s requiring that KiwiRail finds $3.75 billion from it’s own balance sheet to restore the network and what we have to remember is that KiwiRail is coming back from over a decade under privatisation where there was very little investment in the railway,” he told Firstline this morning.
Hawke's Bay Regional Transport Committee chairman Alan Dick said it was a "heavy blow" for the export-dependent Gisborne and East Coast regions, and their produce would now be more expensive.
KiwiRail's commercial model was not working and it was ignoring wider and longer term strategic considerations, he said.
Labour's Phil Twyford said the Government had imposed unrealistic financial targets on KiwiRail, expecting it to find $3.75 billion.
"National's obsession with motorways at the expense of other transport modes has left Gisborne stripped of an economic lifeline."
Greens transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said most countries were investing in rail, and KiwiRail had ignored the damage more trucks would do to the road to Gisborne.
"It's obvious that the Key Government wants to get KiwiRail into a position to privatise. Why else would they have such a narrow focus on profit margins?"
NZN / 3 News
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