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Yesterday’s confirmation of mothballing or closure of the East Coast line is unsurprising but extremely disappointing according to Alan Dick, Chairman of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Transport Committee.
He says the decision by Kiwi Rail, but sanctioned by the Government, will have serious consequences for the future of the Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne/East Coast economies, which are closely linked and interdependent.
"It means a loss of transport choices and competition. Road transport freight costs will inevitably go up. Wairoa and Gisborne exporters will face difficulties and extra costs in connecting to container export ports in Napier and Tauranga and to the wider national rail freight system," says Mr Dick.
"We will be dependent on a tortuous, secondary standard state highway, which traverses difficult terrain and has stability risks. It is a most inadequate lifeline for both regions."
Mr Dick says unlike rail, trucks have difficulty carrying fully loaded high cube containers - and economical, two return trips per day between Gisborne and Napier are usually not possible.
"Road safety is already an issue and risks will increase as heavy traffic volumes inevitably increase. Reliable sources indicate that the additional truck movements quoted by Kiwi Rail are significantly understated."
He says the decision ensures Gisborne and the East Coast will be confirmed as one of the most isolated regions in New Zealand.
"It is most unfortunate the Government has chosen to ignore the fact that the Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay economies are highly export focused and need reliable and economical transport links to get their goods to market. Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay are where New Zealand earns its living in the world and deserve better recognition."
Alan Dick says the decision also confirms that the commercial model for KiwiRail does not work properly.
"The model forces expedient, short term focused decisions that ignore wider and longer term strategic considerations. The model needs to be reviewed to be brought into line with road transport planning and funding that take into account wider strategic and future considerations."
He says the Government’s announcement that it will spend an additional $4 million on passing opportunties between Napier and Gisborne is little consolation.
"I am also concerned to confirm that this is not to be funded from our already fully allocated R (Regionally collected) roading funds."
Alan Dick is calling an early meeting of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Transport Committee to formulate a response and hope to have a representative from KiwiRail present.
"It is a most unfortunate, at a time when our region is considering ways to increase prosperity that we have to face the setback of this heavy blow."
This article first appeared on www.voxy.co.nz
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