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PLACARDS and chanting filled the inner city as about 2000 people marched to save the Gisborne to Napier Rail line on Saturday.
Mayor Meng Foon led the march from the Post Office in Grey Street to the rail yard at the other end of the street, accompanied by pleas to “Do not give our rail the slip” and chants of “We want our rail” .
The march exceeded all expectations. A crowd of about 400 gathered at the start but by the time the march reached the rail yard, it was estimated there was close to 2000 people.
Mr Foon said the movement to save the rail line was fully supported by both of Hawke’s Bay mayors, Lawrence Yule and Barbara Arnott, as well as Fenton Wilson, the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council chairman.
Among the crowd at the march was Labour list MP Moana Mackey, Green MP Gareth Hughes and Steve Weatherell, of Weatherell Transport, who co-ordinated a massive effort to get more freight on the line in recent months.
There was also strong representation from LeaderBrand, Coxco and Ravensdown, and farming leaders.
An apology from East Coast MP Anne Tolley was met with boos from the crowd.
Mr Foon said he would continue to encourage the Government to fix the rail.
“It is only $4 million and five months. The Government has given more money to foreign aid in recent times. Now it is time to look after home.”
Moana Mackey said the Government was spending more than 10 billion on the gold-plated “roads of national significance” and Auckland roads, and none of that was coming here.
“We still pay taxes in the provinces — do not forget that.
“The fight starts today — let’s keep the pressure on the Government.”
Green MP Gareth Hughes said there were three main reasons to keep the rail — it was an asset, a legacy and treasure, and it added to the resilience of the region.
The rail line took decades to build and people lost their lives building it.
In these times of rising oil prices, it was time to look to cheaper ways to develop economies.
“The cost to fix that line is only 0.3 percent of the spending on the Government’s roads of national significance. We say this is a rail line of national significance and it belongs to a community of national significance.”
He supported Mr Foon on the point about Government spending.
“Charity begins at home.”
Mr Weatherell said the support of everybody, but especially Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay businesses, was fantastic.
“Without these key businesses, this could not happen.”
KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn had told a meeting with key stakeholders the biggest tragedy was that in the past 20 years the previous owners had let it run down to where it was today, Mr Weatherell said.
“So that is what we are facing. It is $4 million to fix but there is also the ongoing problem of lack of maintenance.
Hopefully KiwiRail and the Government could see it could make a dollar out of the line.
“It comes down to viability.”
“Jim Quinn is not in the business of closing rail. That gives us hope. If we can get enough customers we will be well on the way.”
Before the storm and three big washouts that left more than 100 metres of rail line dangling in the air in the Beach loop area between Gisborne and Wairoa, there were three trains a day using the line.
“We need to work to get more support and get guaranteed freight — that is what will save it at the end of the day.”
The person who initiated the march, Gisborne resident Ruth Romero, was spurred into action by her husband. He told her to “stop belly-aching and go and see Meng about organising a march”.
She thanked all supporters, especially Mr Foon.
“This affects all of Gisborne. I am a fourth-generation Gisbornite, and two of my boys have left town and gone to Australia to find better times, like half of New Zealand.
“Gisborne needs the rail.”
This article first appeared on www.gisborneherald.co.nz
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