Could the Napier to Gisborne rail line be reopened?

Published on 27/03/2022 at 9:10 am.

A new business case to examine the viability of reinstating the Wairoa-Gisborne rail line may be on the way but former Mayor Meng Foon says another study is not required.

Gisborne District Council and Hawke's Bay Regional Council are putting up funding of $30,000 each in a process which could lead to a new business case after they were approached by consultancy firm Global Research Consultants.

Mr Foon said the BERL feasibility report of 2019, funded by the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) had already shown the line was viable.

“Instead of another study, put pressure on the two local MPs (Cabinet ministers Kiri Allan and Meka Whaitiri),” he said. “Lobby them hard.”

Gisborne District Council chief executive Nedine Thatcher Swann said the council and Hawke's Bay Regional Council (HBRC) agreed to put up $30,000 each after being approached by Global Research Consultants to support an assessment paper looking into the line.

The Napier-Gisborne rail line was mothballed in 2012 after storm damage but the Napier-Wairoa part was reopened in 2019 through PGF funding.

Ms Thatcher Swann said the purpose of the paper was get to get key Cabinet ministers to consider commissioning a detailed business case.

That would include further investigations of investment funding for repair work to reinstate the Wairoa to Gisborne rail line.

“The chief executive of HBRC, James Palmer, agreed to fund the assessment paper and asked if we would match this,” Ms Thatcher Swann said.

“Our contribution is $30,000 and a project team has been pulled together to oversee this next phase.”

The assessment paper is due to be presented to ministers later this month.

Ms Thatcher Swann said KiwiRail had informally advised that it was supportive of the proposal to reinstate the line.

Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz said the chief executive decided to back the approach and provide funding of $30,000.

“But in saying that, the council is always keen to ensure a more sustainable future-proofed track network.”

Meka Whaitiri, the Labour MP for Ikaroa-Rawhiti, said she looked forward to seeing a report on the project.

“I stand with the regional leaders, including KiwiRail, if rail can be sustainable and bring both social and economic benefits to the region,” she said. “There have been numerous studies on the viability of reopening the line which has shown it is not viable without considerable investment.

“If regional leaders feel additional information has surfaced to reopen the debate, then I look forward to receiving the initial report due to ministers at the end of the month.”

Mr Foon, now New Zealand's Race Relations Commissioner, said the rail line would be even more viable today as “fuel prices are though the roof”.

The council would have the BERL business case in its archives, he said. Back then, KiwiRail did not want the line open, he said.

BERL described its report as being based on a well being framework, rather than the conventional, narrow cost-benefit approach.

That approach took into account social, environmental, cultural and economic factors. The report said an estimated one-off expenditure of $20m to $23m was required. Additional work to improve resilience against weather would cost up to $6m.

Over the following 10 years, $5m to $7m would be required in additional bridge, tunnel and track work.

Mr Foon said he had always supported fixing and opening the line. He presented a petition to Parliament in 2012 with 10,000 signatories.

“We held many meetings and marches, and had the support of the mayors in Wairoa, Napier and Hastings,” he said.

Gisborne Rail Action Group chairwoman Gillian Ward said the group had previously held discussions with Mayor Stoltz, but had not been involved in the latest development.

The news was exciting and encouraging but only the beginning of a drawn-out process, she said.

An article by Wynsley Wrigley. Published on the 24 Mach 2022 in the Gisborne Herald

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