Organisers of last week’s symposium in Gisborne on the future of the Gisborne-Napier railway say the Hawkes Bay Regional Transport Committee report released yesterday does not provide sufficient analysis and an independent study on future scenarios needs to be commissioned.
“We still need a comprehensive review of future options for the line that takes into account social, safety and environmental benefits as well as freight volumes and tourism options. The paper from yesterday’s meeting will help in terms of the additional market information, but the relative roles of the modes into the future still deserve some in depth analysis” said Transition Tairawhiti spokesperson Manu Caddie.
“The paper presents facts, in some cases in more depth than we have had before, but it seems to take each mode as it is, and assumes that the relative role of road, rail and port will stay much the same. There is no recognition that the future traffic need not go by road, nor through the port. It could go by rail and save millions of dollars and many lives in the process.”
Mr Caddie believes there will be competition for the future traffic between rail, road, and coastal shipping. The quantities the paper suggests could well make the railway viable, but if the region wants to have a railway line, it has to use it and not assume that road or the port gets the first crack at the traffic.
“There is no analysis in the report of the ability (without extra expense and environmental impact) of the port to carry the increase in traffic. Nor is there any analysis of the impact of extra tonnage on the roads in safety terms, though there are figures provided that suggest that the roads are not particularly safe even with current traffic levels.”
The report commissioned after a meeting in Gisborne two months ago with Kiwirail CEO Jim Quinn, regional mayors and Chambers of Commerce, calculates the social cost value of road accidents in the region as $182 million.
“This is a staggering figure and we can expect many more lives to be lost as truck numbers dramatically increase, their length increases and their stopping distance requires an additional 20% on what existing trucks need.”
Hamilton City Council has an outright ban on allowing 53+tonne trucks on their roads, other than State Highways, until they know precisely the costs it will impose on the ratepayers. Mr Caddie suggested Gisborne could do the same, particularly considering the exclusion of truck trailers from fuel tax increases last year.
“The trucking industry says road repair costs will be reduced as the impact is less with the weight spread across more axles but we know the number of trucks coming into the city and on the Gisborne-Napier route is going to rapidly increase over the next ten years if we don’t use the rail.”
“Coastal shipping has real potential, but there are some major investments required in the Port that I’m not sure residents will be happy about ECT making on our behalf and while electric trains are common will we revert to sailing ships when the price of oil jumps?”
Mr Caddie believes the short timeframe in which the report had to be completed did not permit the consults time to do the in-depth analysis to make robust recommendations on the best way forward.
“There are a few options that haven’t been looked at seriously yet and we need some decent work undertaken on what existing importers and exporters are prepared to pay to transport their goods in and out under different economic environments.”
Mr Caddie said the regions should investigate with Kiwirail and the government the potential to provide the service at cost to get the volumes up.
“Two thirds of the $2m annual operating costs quoted by Kiwirail is depreciation for replacement costs, so a case could be made to the government to provide a subsidy of $660,000 for 10 years to cover basic maintenance and put the rest aside. If we don’t manage to get the volumes required in that period then they don’t need to worry about replacement costs and they can use the $13.5m saved somewhere else. If it is viable within 10 years then allocate the funds for replacement costs and everyone is happy.”
The Rotorua line has been mothballed for nine years and there is now substantial work required to re-open the line. Not a quick or cheap job, cost estimates range from $10-15m. Jon Reeves from the Campaign for Better Transport estimated, based on the Rotorua line assessment, it could cost over $100m to reopen the Gisborne-Napier line if it is mothballed.
Mr Caddie says the report also has some obvious gaps such as the true transit times of HCV’s (trucks).
“While the government has committed $40m to build a viaduct over the Matahorua Gorge to save less than a minute of travel time on the three hour trip, they can’t find similar funds to ensure we have rail access for the next 20 years.”
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