Damage near Paritu Station, between Mahia and Gisborne, not long after the track was closed in 2012. Photo: LDR / Gisborne Herald / Dave Thomas
By Matthew Rosenberg, Local Democracy Reporter
Gisborne councillors have voiced their support for the reinstatement of a mothballed rail line, which could play an important role in the distribution of the region's goods if it gets the green light.
In 2012, sections of the Napier to Gisborne line were so badly damaged by a storm, it closed entirely.
The Napier to Wairoa section was reopened in 2019.
East Coast councils have banded together in hopes the government will support a business case to the tune of $6.38 million to reinstate the whole line.
A decision to do so would involve significant work on the Wairoa to Gisborne section - where slips have washed away large chunks of the line - and external funding estimated at up to $80m.
A section of the rail at Beach Loop washed away in a landslide following bad weather in November. Photo: LDR / Supplied / Murry Cave
On 25 May, a report commissioned by Gisborne District Council, Hawke's Bay Regional Council and Wairoa District Council at a cost of $60,000 was sent to relevant ministers.
It detailed the damage and a plan of action, while also arguing major pack house producers and transport operators had been calling for the rail to be fixed for the past 10 years.
One councillor, who described himself as a "rail sceptic" because of how big the job looked, said the report had changed his mind.
"After reading this report I'm feeling like there is a possibility, particularly with KiwiRail showing some interest as well," councillor Larry Foster said.
"We are going to be a big producing region and we really need to look to the future about how we're going to be getting this out of here."
Foster said Gisborne's port was ever-growing, and there was talk in the future of 250 40-foot containers of produce leaving the region every week.
Trucking companies were already highlighting issues with emissions and were struggling to get sufficient driver numbers, he said.
One councillor voices concerns
Andy Cranston said he also supported the reinstatement because he "likes trains" and believed the line would be good for export trade.
But he had some concerns, including the fact the track didn't go to the source of what was being transported and therefore wouldn't reduce the number of trucks on the region's already-stretched roading network.
"I hear a lot of people still justifying this because it will get trucks off the road.
"It won't get one truck off the road until the day they take trains up to the (forestry) extraction sites," Cranston said.
He argued an operational line could potentially do the opposite.
"If you reinstate the rail, there are going to be massive volume requirements there as well. And that's going to require the trucks coming down from Ruatoria to go on those roads even more."
According to the report presented to council, the proposed business case would not only reopen the Wairoa to Gisborne section but also assess what reinforcing was needed for the already-operational Napier to Wairoa segment.
The consultants believed the line could be repaired and reinstated within 18 months and the whole job, including upgrades to the Napier to Wairoa section, could be achieved for between $73m and $80m.
A section of the abandoned rail track near Kōpuawhara as pictured in January. Photo: LDR / Gisborne Herald/ Liam Clayton
Other councillors were also in favour although Debbie Gregory made the point the cost seemed to be ballooning.
Referencing a $36m estimate last year, Gregory said she'd seen "a few rail reports" since 2012, and the thing that always changed was the price.
Pat Seymour said one of the reasons the cost was so high was because a new tunnel needed to be put in at an area prone to slips.
Meredith Akuhata-Brown said rail was a step in the right direction considering climate change while Tony Robinson added it was important the council took on the feedback of the trucking industry and pushed forward with the plan.
"This is a wonderful day for Tairāwhiti and hopefully it results in some real action," he said.
Mayor Rehette Stoltz said a robust transport network in the region looked like one that covered a variety of modes.
The council is awaiting a response from the relevant ministers to see if the proposal will progress.
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air