Rail supporters who turned out on Sunday to see what may be the last steam train to ever travel from Gisborne to Wellington heard of plans to establish new tourist ventures if the line is retained.
Speaking to the crowd of over 100 passengers and local supporters, Mainline Steam Heritage Trustee Rob Martin, said he was keen to see the line retained as the Trust planned more train excursions to Gisborne as part of their North Island tour packages. Mr Martin has been studying the financial benefits of using the rail to carry logs to both Gisborne and Napier ports.
Mr Martin said he was equally anxious that the line be retained as a tourist attraction. “The line from Wairoa to Gisborne must be the equal of any scenic line worldwide and has been a must for our annual tour train since the line was reopened three years ago. I pay tribute to the Gisborne City Vintage Railway which has developed a very professional venture being one of only two heritage operators to have their own licence with the approval for its own drivers to operate over KiwiRail lines. In the past Mainline Steam Heritage Trust has been hampered by not owning its own carriages but this has been remedied and we would be very keen to set up an operation in Napier to cover the line to Gisborne.”
“Rail came to Gisborne through political support, it was paid for by our forebears and as the current postcard campaign to John Key points out, this investment is a strategic asset that must be retained to safeguard the future of the Gisborne economy” said Mr Martin.
Green Party candidate Darryl Monteith thanked the 60 passengers and said he hoped they had enjoyed the trip. “One passenger told us the Gisborne branch line is as spectacular as the popular Trans-Alpine route in the South Island” said Mr Monteith. “With rising fuel prices from peak oil and climate change policies, we must retain this line to ensure we have affordable freight options in and out of Gisborne.”
Labour Party MP and East Coast candidate Moana Mackey recalled her memories of travelling on the line for school trips and how the Labour Party had bought back the rundown railways and helped Kiwirail establish a credible, state asset. Kiwirail was now being told it had to cut underperforming lines like Gisborne if it wanted any government assistance.
Geoff Joyce from Gisborne City Vintage Rail lamented the plan to close the line as WA165 was the only locomotive of its class and the Gisborne line was the only option for WA165 to run on. While the Vintage Rail Trust had been talking to Kiwirail about keeping the section to Beach Roop open, that would require a major sponsor to fund it.
Mayor Meng Foon and Deputy Mayor Nona Aston were both out of town for the weekend but passed on messages of support for the line to be retained.
Gisborne District Councillor Manu Caddie said rail was a safer option than trucking with up to three times the current number of trucks predicted to soon be on Gisborne roads and nearly every month another one rolls on difficult East Coast roads.
“Railing logs to the ports will not cost a single trucking job – volumes of logs are increasing and all we are saying is put anything extra onto rail” said Mr Caddie. “It is not a level playing field between roads and rail – roading has huge taxpayer subsidies, yet rail is expected to be fully self-funded. If the government mothball this line it will be the end of it – that’s a billion dollar investment we won’t be able to afford to replace when we need it in the future. We have seen what happens to mothballed lines in other parts of the country – they are neglected and the lines and sleepers stolen.”
Mr Caddie said the good news was the huge volume of wood due to come out of Wairoa forests in the next five years and he had heard of a Gisborne quarry relying on the rail to move their product out of the district. “It is also heartening to hear of plans for increased tourist trains, though we know increased freight is also required.