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THE man behind a feasibility study into re-opening the Gisborne to Wairoa rail link has hit back at KiwiRail claims that the work is not justified.
A feasibility study into the reopening of the rail link carried out by Business and Economic Research Limited (BERL) had recommended reopening the line following a suggested business case but last month, KiwiRail boss Greg Miller stated it would cost five times more than suggested to reopen the line, making the proposal “quite high risk”.
However, BERL research director Dr Ganesh Nana is standing by the research.
“BERL delivered its Turanga ki Wairoa line: Feasibility study into reinstatement of the rail line in December last year. Since then there have been numerous comments suggesting we had understated the costs of reinstatement, alongside concerns that freight demand numbers were optimistic,” Dr Nana told the Gisborne Herald.
“These comments and concerns reflect both a narrow view of the future of the region, and a somewhat narrow commercial view of the purpose of the line.
“Tairawhiti is well endowed with natural resources that would be the envy of many parts of the world — not to mention many parts of New Zealand. This region has the opportunity to be a leader in addressing the many challenges facing the 21st century New Zealand, its people, and its communities.
“The ability to plant and harvest a diverse range of products next to farming and forestry activities sets the foundation for a thriving and productive regional economy. However, the current relative isolation of the area acts as a severe constraint on its future development.”
Dr Nana added, as noted in the report, in the absence of reinstatement of the line opportunities to establish higher value processing operations and the delivery of quality services would likely be compromised.
“Further, the role of many whanau and hapu land-holding trusts and incorporations is noticeable as they look to enter activities higher up the value chain. These are precisely the transformations that must be encouraged, rather than stifled, if the country aspires to a diversified, resilient, high-value, productive economy.
Benefits for the public good ignored
“A broader wellbeing perspective reinforces these regional, as well as national, benefits. Reinstatement will reduce the isolation of communities of the districts, while another transport connection will also improve the resilience of the community and its businesses to external events.”
Reinstatement would also see a reduction in the number of serious injury or fatal road accidents.
“Diversified land use across primary industries can enable improved management of land and water, with reinstatement also reducing future greenhouse gas emissions.”
Dr Nana said the commercial imperative to reinstate the line needed to be viewed in the context of the wider public good.
“The wellbeing perspective adopted in our feasibility assessment stresses the broader purpose of the line. Purely commercial objectives ignore the range of public good benefits that accrue from the provision of infrastructure.
“Nevertheless, while a comprehensive business case was beyond the scope of our report, the study team collated and established robust evidence on the engineering costs of reinstatement as well as demand for rail freight services.
“BERL notes that the study team engaged pro-actively with a range of stakeholders including KiwiRail. Senior KiwiRail representatives were part of the study Steering Group and fully participated in testing and scrutinising both the demand and cost estimates.
“Qualified and respected engineering and track consultants were engaged to provide repair costs estimates. Contingencies of between 20 percent and 50 percent were included in these estimates. KiwiRail’s own engineering staff provided reports on the bridges, tunnels and associated structures. The details supporting our estimates are fully available in the appendices to our report.
“Projected freight demands are also fully detailed in our report and accompanying appendices. Our findings highlight the importance of squash, processed timber, meat and apples in the range of products lining up to use a rail freight option were it available. Again, senior KiwiRail representatives on the study steering group participated in subjecting these demands, and subsequent revenue, estimates to robust scrutiny.”
The Covid-19 pandemic had further reinforced the fragility of the country’s business and economic frameworks.
“In contrast, however, the robustness of community frameworks has shone through, with government, iwi, health, business and training supports transcending purely financial considerations.
“Wider wellbeing perspectives are required to replace 20th century business and economic models of behaviour, as the value of community resilience and connections are recognised. Consequently, a one-off spend of the order of $30 million to reinstate infrastructure that can unlock and accelerate a region’s future development and transformation is a legacy well worth leaving to our mokopuna and beyond.”
This article first appeared on www.gisborneherald.co.nz
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