The fight to save Gissy rail

Getting accurate information and good decisions on transport at the moment is a bit like pulling teeth. It’s painful, frustrating and can be very pricey.

This is why it was such good news to hear Gisborne City Councillor Manu Caddie telling Morning Report this week that nearly $14,000 has been raised to pay for an independent economic review of Kiwirail’s decision to mothball the damaged Napier to Gisborne railway.

Given that donations have only been collected over a few days this is a clear signal from the community and local businesses that they want their railway to remain open.

Kiwirail has cited “economic reasons” for the closure. But Councillor Caddie and others in the community are worried about the accuracy of the numbers used to justify that decision.

They have every right to be concerned. Kiwirail knows the decision is unpopular, but is suffering massive budget pressure because of very short-sighted Government policy, which treats rail like a stand alone business, and expensive new motorways as an (unproven) economic development strategy.

The substantial economic benefits of re-developing our rail network cannot be evaluated in the narrow financial terms that make no reference to the rest of the transport system. Contrast the requirement for Kiwrail to turn a profit with the wide social cost-benefit analysis used to evaluate roading projects, and it becomes clear how ridiculous it is for National to demand rail turn a profit.

Ironically, Gerry Brownlee has announced $4 million worth of upgrades to State Highway 2 in lieu of fixing the rail line. In road works, this is a drop in the bucket; new passing lanes and upgrades between Otaki and Levin will cost at least $100m. Improvements will be short-lived with an additional 1,700 trucks per year wearing down the road and increasing the risk of fatal crashes.

But we already know that the Government’s fixation with highways has everything to do with ideology and nothing to do with economics or improving the transport network.

I completely support the review of the business case to mothball the line, and congratulate Manu Caddie on his initiative. Berl is commencing their review this week, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it finds Kiwirail’s numbers were overly pessimistic. But we need a much wider review of the economic evaluation and prioritisation of all transport projects to truly understand the value of investing in rail.

The Green Party can absloutely commit to reopening the railway if the closure goes ahead, because we know rail will play a critical role in the smart, green economy that New Zealanders want.

If you want to join the fight to save Gisborne’s railway, join the Facebook group.

28 Comments Posted

  1. No Photonz, I want to build a rail line that provides a second rail link through Gisborne, and Nelson down the East coast all the way to Wellington.

    Allowing traffic to reach the East Coast without having to go all the way down to Palmerston North to turn around.

    If rail freight has to travel a thousand extra kilometers to reach Gisborne, why the fnck would you use THAT as an excuse not to fix the network so it doesn’t have to make that little diversion?

    You say Rail can’t compete but the reason is that the tracks were never finished.

    There isn’t QUITE a network. Alternate routes are not in place. The electrification isn’t done.

    …and the result is that transit time and costs are much higher than they should be to 90% of the country. Which you then use as a reason not to fix any of the problems?

  2. BJ says “If there were two, as there would be if the loop were completed then there would still be access.”

    You want to build a multi-billion dollar rain line to a small town whose total annual rail freight didn’t even come to the cost of two Auckland houses.

    BJ – with all due respect, you don’t have any grasp of the financial reality.

  3. Gerrit – Not every branch of course… but Gisborne and Napier are not readily accessible from the North as a result of this ? failure of imagination. The loop was actually contemplated once too, if you look at the maps.

  4. Well. We printed a few billion, in the equivalent to today’s dollars, in the thirties for rail, forestry, and other infrastructure and income earning assets in the thirties. Worked rather well for us, actually!

    I think we can leave re-building rail to that extent however, until it becomes necessary.

    Given the cost of re-establishing a closed rail line, however, we should be electrifying not closing, existing corridors and we should be making sure the land is designated for future lines we may need.

    Gisbourne, because of the topography would be better served by shipping, for the foreseeable future. Rail, and road, are only able to edge out shipping, even now, because they are both heavily subsidised.

  5. BJ,

    if we follow the principal that every branch line should be a loop, then we have to run a rail line from

    Greymouth to Nelson to Blenheim to Picton.
    Dargaville to Kaitia to Opua To Kawakawa
    Napier to Taupo to National Park
    Onehunga to New Lynn
    Manukau to Botany to Howick to Panmure
    Rotorua to Tauranga
    Whakatane to Gisborne

    Not overly expensive, just need to print 2 trillion dollars and all will be sweet.

  6. Thats right Photonz, because there is only a single line in and out of Gisborne. If there were two, as there would be if the loop were completed then there would still be access.

  7. BJ says “I am sure that a more reliable and less potentially strenuous service via electrified rail is possible ”

    So reliable that a single slip has had the Gisborne line closed for months with NO rail alternative.

    New Zealand is just about the worst country on the planet to try to make rail efficient and financially viable. We have steep topography, low population, low population density, a watery gap in the middle of the country, and no land borders.

    Beat that for a worse country in the world try to run a viable rail system.

  8. Better than an ELECTRIC train Kerry? 🙂

    and twice a day service would be pushing it with ships I think.

    …and the use of the service for passengers? Not getting seasick would be nice.

    Probably will work OK though.

  9. BJ.
    We have been on schedule for our coastal run every week since the Auckland strike.

    Fuel efficiency 30 times better than a train. An order of magnitude better than trucks.

    Not very often weather effects ships on the East coast. Not as much as slips/floods on the Gisbourne road and rail links.

    And. trucks can drive straight on and off a Ro-Ro ship eliminating the double handling trains require..

    And. The infrastructure already exists and is underused.

    And. Ships can run on coal slurry, gas or hydrogen much more easily than trucks.

  10. Dunno Kerry… I am sure that a more reliable and less potentially strenuous service via electrified rail is possible 🙂

  11. Gisbourne is a prime example of the importance of coastal shipping.

    When, not if, fuel for trucks is much more expensive and the trucking lobby, and their subsidies including who really pays for roads, are exposed both rail and sea transport will come into their own.

    However, I think it will be sea rather than rail transport for Gisbourne.

    The next generation, who have to resurrect them will be cursing us, for our carelessness in letting the skill base, and infrastructure, die.

    A shipping service from Whangarei to Auckland is almost viable. The road subsidies to trucks, and the logistics of ports of Aucklands position, kill it, otherwise a lot of firms would prefer to put their trucks on a Ro-Ro.

    Obviously the numbers stack up better for Gisbourne Napier Auckland.
    The problem is overseas ships are allowed to take the cream of the trade, so there is little incentive for locals to fill in the gaps.

  12. BJ,

    Only two areas I have not been in New Zealand

    Around the East Cape and to my wifes’ home of the West Coast.

    On the bucket list.

  13. @Gerrit – I don’t get out much. 🙂

    What we already know how to do Gerrit.

    We know how to build rail and we know how to electrify it, and we know how to arrange for drivers and schedules and people can use it without exposing themselves to the widely varying competencies of drivers of varying ages, infirmities and alcohol content.

    Not saying we can’t do different if we get the tech to do it. Saying we ought to do what we know how to do.

    Interesting about the Tuhoe… made me smile anyway. Not sure thats related to the resource consents, just the treaty.

  14. BJ,

    Long before fuel reaches $20 per litre we will have alternative means of fuelling our transport options.

    Even if it is no more then a horse and wagon or a coastal trading scow.

    We may have to settle for slower, smaller and inconsistant deliveries but we will manage without having to build the train tracks. We did in the past and will do so again.

    Now how about we electrify the roads and have electric vehicles (like trolley buses). We dont need steel roads, we need to build more asphalt ones with overhead power lines to cater for electric vehicles.

    After all if you can run electric trains you can certainly run electric trucks and buses supplied from an overhead grid.

    Be interesting though if KiwiRail wanted to build a track, from Teneatua to Gisborne, how long the resource consent process would take, being across Tuhoe land.

    Maybe Tuhoe could build it and charge a toll?

    I’m suprised you have not driven to Gisborne through the gorge.

  15. I can drive a train through a storm, it can’t run aground, it CAN run on electricity and it isn’t immobilized by fog. Moreover it is accessible to everyone, not just people still capable of driving in our aging population.

    If there were rail service that actually connected towns together it would be more reasonable and more people would be able to go places in this country… however, the “existing rail” is limited to a second class track between Auckland and Wellington that isn’t electrified.

    You yourself just pointed out the nonsensical burden of forcing rail traffic to go south in order to find a link going north. There’s a one-time expense here a LONG time efficiency… if it is built. When the price of petrol reaches $20/liter as it will, your cars will be little more than an emergency vehicles, and most of NZ will be cut off except by electrified rail.

    You can expect all the techno-miracles you wish, but the fact is that they are going to dry up significantly as climate change disrupts civilization. The people who would make them will be too busy trying to survive.

    Assuming we manage to rid ourselves of Key and his merry band of traitors, and build out our renewable power systems, we’ll have enough power when the other resources (for various reasons) dry up.

    We’ll have to have a transport system largely built on electrical power.

    …and we CAN build what we know how to build now. Not electric cars, not fuel cell driven trucks, not automated highways. We know how to build electric trains.

    Which run on rails.

    Which we never troubled ourselves to finish properly because of foolishness like yours.

  16. BJ asks “Around the East Cape… why not?”

    Because not even passenger traffic between Auckland and Wellington and Chch – Dunedin on existing tracks is financially viable.

  17. BJ says “What ought to be done is to finish the loop up to Hamilton, ”

    Yeah right – spend a couple of billion dollars of taxpayers money to build a line throught some of the most rail unfriendly topography in the country, and $10s of millions in maintenance per year, to cart $5m of freight a year – great idea.

    That’s as silly as keeping open a line that costs $6m a year to maintain to cart $1-$2m of freight, when it doesn’t even go in the right direction.

    Freight from Gisborne to the Central and upper North Island first has to go hundreds of km south to the lower North Island, before it can turn around and go in the right direction – three times further and six times longer than the same journey by road.

    It’s total insanity to keep such an inefficient money waster open because of an ideology, when there’s coastal shipping to send bulk freight north.

  18. Gerrit – The terrain is “too rough” to traverse with a train in some manner… yes… particularly if there is already a road (rough and nasty by your description, with ample room for deadly accident). It must be “too hard” to do that, given that it is perennially “too hard” to get government of any flavour to invest anything substantial in NZ infrastructure.

    The operative problem is simply that we’re not willing to invest in making this country work. Never have been. Sold the damned railroad instead of working on it. Had to buy it back. Now want to sell other stuff instead of working on IT. Right…

    When the price of petrol and diesel finally get CO2 charges attached to them, people will appreciate that failure of intelligence better and Gisborne (and other small communities) will be effectively cut off.

    Around the East Cape… why not? Would be scenic, would open up remote areas of coastline for holiday travel and would allow supply to ALL those communities. Such rail need not be “direct”. There is already a “road” between Giborne and Opotiki and it would STILL be shorter than South through Napier.

  19. BJchip – Given the line east of Kawerau has effectively been mothballed for the last decade or so, and the Moutohora branch closed in the 1950s, the odds of this happening are zero. Besides, what traffic would use the line? There is barely enough freight between Hawke’s Bay and Wellington to keep that line open, and rail from Taneatua to Gisborne would be slower than road from Auckland to Hawke’s Bay (and road to Gisborne).

    Let’s face it, beyond the main trunk and the bulk traffic (logs, coal, milk) there isn’t enough freight to make rail viable.

  20. BJ,

    If you have ever driven the Opotiki to Gisborne road you will understand why the Kawerau (or Whakatane) Gisborne rail line is not build.

    Sure you can hammer your way through very difficult terrain but for one or two trains per day?

    Alternatively you could go around the East Cape. But that is really “taking the long way home”.

  21. What ought to be done is to finish the loop up to Hamilton, which would make freight from Auckland reasonable and a link to Napier for holidays reasonable… but NZ stopped after the main work was done (as with a lot of things ?electrification of the main line between Auckland and Wellington?) and never quite managed to complete the line.

    It isn’t that there isn’t a good excuse, there ALWAYS is a good excuse.

  22. Should stop messing with the ETS and just put a tax on carbon… like WE wanted in the first place. Don’t give the financial sector more damned vig. Oh yeah… Key is a banker.. never mind.

  23. But we already know that the Government’s fixation with highways has everything to do with ideology and nothing to do with economics or improving the transport network.

    If you’re trying to make an argument, accusing the opposition of ‘ideology’ when judging by this very article you are blinded by it isn’t the best way to start.

    I’ll agree with you on the highways – we’ve probably got enough of them. But they are a bit easier to justify due to economies of scale – anyone with a drivers licence can utilise them making them a bit fairer to waste taxpayer money on.

    When oil is scarcer and prices rise AND assuming trucks don’t catch up to trains in terms of efficiency then it may very well be more cost effective to use rail. But until then what’s the point? How many far removed externalities are Berl going to have to cost to justify it?

  24. “The Green Party can absloutely commit to reopening the railway if the closure goes ahead, because we know rail will play a critical role in the smart, green economy that New Zealanders want.”

    And, of course, if the line still doesn’t pay for itself, you can just print more money to keep it running. Even if nobody uses it. What it it works out to be environmentally negative though ie generates more greenhouse emissions than it saves – would you still do it?

  25. “Given that donations have only been collected over a few days this is a clear signal from the community and local businesses that they want their railway to remain open.”

    Of course they do, even if they are never going to use it. Because, as usual, they want somebody else to to pay for it.

  26. Good onya Julie-Anne

    The whole mind-set of this Govt. is around privatise & user pays for generating profit (NZ inc.).. the idea of Public Service/transport seems to be anathema. If it doesn’t return a profit, its not worth investment seems to be their mantra. Why do we pay taxes if we don’t get a return on it ?

    Then you could ask.. ‘when is Govt. (as a public service) going to return a profit, instead of costing the country millions/year to run?’

    “Viva Kiwirail”

  27. Would the council (and every council between Gisborne and Napier) be better off the organise to lease the track from KiwiRail, spend money to repair and upgrade, then let every trucking company run their own trainsets on the line?

    Problem with KiwiRail is the monopoly on the steel roads. Open them up to anyone who wants to run a trainset.

    Get some competition on the line and you may find the trucking companies willing to invest.

  28. JAG, read the Napier-Gisborne line case study in the Surface Transport Costs and Charges study. If you can’t get a copy easily, ask MoT. It will demonstrate that this is a lost cause. The RUC paid by trucks on the highway more than covers the marginal costs of maintenance that they impose. There was a study by Booz Allen Hamilton (I think) around 2000-2001 which reviewed the line as well indicating it should be mothballed pending a possible major user.

    This line has been unable to sustain sufficient revenue to cover the long run capital costs of the line for around 20 years. It is sad, because it has quite special scenery, and I used to catch the Wellington-Gisborne express when I was a child, but when Jim Anderton was gungho about using the line for forestry traffic, the entire sector said it was uninterested in the line. Why?

    Forestry traffic either goes to the Port of Gisborne (not from anywhere on the rail line) or to Napier, and the distance is nowhere near enough to offset the cost of double handling and diverting logs to a freight centre at Gisborne or Wairoa (any more and the shunting costs would be excessive).

    The majority of consumer goods heading for Gisborne come from Auckland, so the rail line faces the wrong way for those, which come by road on SH2 from the northwest. Not a lot come from Wellington.

    Bear in mind also that this line was one of the last built, finished in the 1940s, and so Gisborne developed largely without it, and the line has been getting on the list of poor performers since the 1970s.

    So yes, it should be mothballed. I sincerely hope it can get enough traffic to sustain itself, but I’m not optimistic.

    Oh and the volumes of freight on the line before it closed were averaging at about 6 truck loads a day, hardly noticeable. Better for the railway to focus on recapturing petroleum distribution traffic and the forestry traffic in the BoP.

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