by Gareth Hughes
As a Gissy-boy and rail-fan I passionately believe that we can’t afford to lose this community asset and we need to stand up to protect it. Kiwirail has announced the lines possible closure in 2012 if further customers can’t be found. The Government has given Kiwirail ten years to ‘turn itself around,’ but Kiwirail is only giving this line – which has faced decades of asset stripping, a lack of maintenance and poor service – three years to ‘turn around.’
This petition sends Kiwirail and the Transport Minister a strong message that the region wants the line to stay open.The line is a significant strategic asset that gives the region economic development options now and in the future. Losing the line means Gisborne kids will have less options for work when they grow up. Gisborne has a ‘wall of wood’ of plantation forestry nearing maturity and harvest, which is safest on the tracks not on trucks on the roads.
There are also potential tourism opportunities, on what must be the most beautiful scenic rail route in New Zealand, that would be lost if the line was to close. Petrol is now the most expensive ever at over $2.20 a litre and gives yet another reason to protect the line. Gisborne and the East Coast are isolated and highly dependent on imported oil for all land, air and sea transport and therefore vulnerable to oil price shocks. It makes sense to keep the line in working order in preparation for future oil price shocks and it is common for public good services like rail, that have considerable community, economic, environmental and road safety benefits, to be subsidised to a degree.
When I caught the local freight train last year I learnt from the drivers that the line had suffered a ‘death cycle’: a negative feedback loop over the preceding decades. What’s needed now is to start a positive feedback loop – investing in better track and services will lead to more customers leading to greater profits.
Next step for the petition is tabling in Parliament and discussion in Select Committee. You can show your support by joining the Facebook group.