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Brass fanfare and a tikanga Māori welcome saw Shane Jones descend on Napier on Wednesday via train.
He was all smiles as the first train to travel on the Napier-Wairoa line in six years arrived in Ahuriri.
Driven by local KiwiRail team leader Wayne Kempton, who has been with the company for more than 40 years, Regional Economic Development Minister Jones gave a speech celebrating the return of trains to the mothballed tracks.
Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones riding the train into Ahuriri, Napier.
To applause from a crowd of about 100 people, the train departed Napier for Eskdale about midday carrying a load of ballast - crushed stone which forms the trackbed.
In February, the Provincial Growth Fund committed $5 million for KiwiRail to reopen the line for logging trains and allow a low-speed forestry service to operate between Wairoa and Napier Port.
KiwiRail team leader and long-time local employee Wayne Kempton with Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones.
"Today's ballast drop marks a significant milestone for the project - one of the first to be funded by the PGF," Jones said.
Logging trains were expected to be ready to travel the line by the end of 2018, with work expected to be fully completed within about two years.
Jones praised Hawke's Bay Regional Council and Wairoa Mayor Craig Little for promoting the reopening of the rail line.
Jones waving out of the side of the train as he rides into Napier.
The challenge was now on KiwiRail to identify and promote additional projects, as the Government was "100 per cent pro-KiwiRail".
"To the board member, to the CEO, pony up your proposals because you will be pushing on an open door."
Jones said he knew it had been a "dispiriting time since rail was marginalised in terms of the economic and political narrative" of New Zealand. "KiwiRail - for you - it's springtime."
The event drew about 100 people.
Hawke's Bay regional councillors, staffers, and local iwi also attended Wednesday's event.
Following the departure of the train, Jones said the trip was "symbolic".
The Government had the political will and financial capital to turn commercial proposals into a reality, he said.
KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy said the event was a significant milestone.
The last train on the line reached Napier on December 4, 2012, and was marked by a small protest on the tracks, with staff holding signs saying "you'll be back".
The regional council, KiwiRail and Napier Port had been discussing the reinstatement of the mothballed line for several years.
Tom Skerman, regional council group manager of strategic development, said credit should go to KiwiRail and councillor Alan Dick.
The Mohaka Viaduct, in northern Hawke's Bay, is one of five viaducts along the Napier to Wairoa rail line.
The "vision, perseverance and advocacy for the reinstatement of the service" by the chairman of the council's regional transport committee should be recognised, he said.
KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy said having work trains running was an important part of shifting logs by rail and taking trucks off the road.
KiwiRail estimated it could take up to 5714 trucks a year off the roads, cutting carbon emissions by more than 1000 tonnes.
On the possibility of extending rail towards Gisborne, Jones said he would not shy away from the issue.
"As much as I would like to wave my political wand, at this stage I'll be guided by KiwiRail, and I thought, well if we could achieve a bit of credibility by getting back to Wairoa, and then not give up on Gisborne. But at the same time not make an arbitrary and political decision, because at the end of the day KiwiRail has to run the business.
"But the pūtea is there in the event that a suitable case is submitted by KiwiRail."
This article first appeared on www.stuff.co.nz
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