by Julie Anne Genter
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.