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Youth organisation Generation Zero has joined the chorus of voices criticising the decision by the Government to mothball the Napier-Gisbourne rail line while boosting spending on the local state highway.
"This is a short-sighted decision that risks completely losing a valuable strategic asset for our future. The Government’s narrow focus on Kiwirail’s bottom line misses out on the wider costs and benefits of its decisions to and to local communities," said spokesperson Paul Young.
Calculations by Generation Zero based on Kiwirail’s review of the rail line show that closing it could increase ’s annual oil import bill by around $750,000 in years to come, assuming oil prices remain at today’s levels, and increase CO2 emissions by 1,800 tonnes per year.
"This starts to put the estimated operating shortfall of $6 million in perspective - and that’s before we consider rising oil prices, or the costs of an increase in congestion, car crashes and road maintenance spending due to all the extra trucks on the road."
Kiwirail says it will cost $4 million to repair the line after weather damage in March, and further investment on the order of $6 million per year will be required over the decade for maintenance and infrastructure upgrades.
The Government has refused pleas for assistance from local councils, businesses and residents, but is set to spend $14 million over the next three years on State Highway 2 between Gisbourne and Napier, including an extra $4 million for new passing lanes announced on Monday.
"Gerry Brownlee says he wants rail to "pay its own way", but will these passing lanes pay their own way?" asked Mr Young.
"There is a completely unlevel playing field where some motorway projects are being justified almost entirely on "wider economic benefits" and supposed long-term significance while rail is being held to a narrow, short-term model that ignores anything except for Kiwirail’s bottom line. Let’s see some full and balanced analysis."
"This decision epitomises a short-sighted and risky approach, putting all of the East Coast’s eggs in one basket."
"The rail line had only just been made fully operational at the start of this year and by all accounts business was starting to boom and exporters were singing its praises. The Government should redirect its transport money to re-open the line and give it a fair go for the next few years."
Generation Zero is running an online petition to Gerry Brownlee, ‘Stop New Zealand going down the wrong road’. The petition calls for a rebalancing of transport spending away from the $12 billion Roads of National Significance towards "smart transport choices" including rail freight.
This article first appeared on www.voxy.co.nz
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