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Rail Plan will Cut Provinces from Network

Rail Plan will Cut Provinces from Network

KiwiRail’s Government-directed 10 year TurnAround Plan to turn our Rail Network into a financially self-sustaining business sounded quite rational when launched soon after the May budget 2010. Emerging after one year of closer scrutiny, are some concerning factors regarding possible closure of the Network’s branch lines. These Minor lines at present enable NZ’s rail network to provide nationwide coverage to our provinces.

Under Step 4/ of the Plan, many negative factors emerge relevant to the Stratford-Okahukura line ( serving Taranaki province)and the Masterton-Woodvllle section( Wairarapa Region.) KiwiRail needs reminding of past emergencies on the Main Trunk when due to derailments/disasters, weather problems or major renewal/repair works, these “Feeder lines” provided vital detours bypassing trouble sections so trains could keep operating. Closing the 217km Gisborne to Napier section would force hundreds of extra logging trucks onto the already busy, steep and windy Gisborne to Napier highway.This railway traverses possibly the best coastal scenery in the North Island,so closure would bar the East Coast region from ever becoming a future TransScenic tourist route and halt benefits from the existing tourist excursions which often use the line. Also under Step 4, the whole Auckland to Northland Provincial network is threatened with closure even though NOT a minor line. At 281km, the longest extension of the Main Trunk and classified a Secondary Main line. Possible rationale for its inclusion seems vague.

Much of Turnaround Plan's Step 4 ( minor lines) directly CONFLICTS with some Key Goals of the overall Turn-Around package.

1/ The first aim on the cover page states: “Customers need an efficient reliable NETWORK to serve business and meet FUTURE growth.” - Yet, closing branch lines only constricts the Network distancing Rail customers further from the nearest railhead.

2/ Transport history has proven once customers from closed lines need trucks to a more distant railhead, freight will stay on trucks instead of being trans-shipped to Rail.

3/ Uncertainty caused by negative closure threats,often unsettles existing rail clients and can hasten customers to switch modes. Surely more positive tactics from KiwiRail would be conducive to improving and promoting future freight growth?

4/ Had KiwiRail more carefully researched client numbers returning to re-opened “mothballed” branch lines they would have found hardly any! History shows (as do 3 pages of closures on KiwiRail’s own website) virtually no “mothballed” lines ever re-open.


It proves once a Railway is CLOSED it’s gone for ever and KiwiRail talk of “ mothballing then re-opening” is disingenuously optimistic.

5/ Disturbingly for the North Island, should TurnAround’s Branch closures proceed, little will remain of NZ’s once extensive National Rail Network !

Besides gifting freight to truckers, amputating branches from the network precludes Tranz-Scenic ever developing potential new Rail Tourism opportunities.

Some Provinces  will be blocked from gaining incidental benefits from Heritage railway Excursions, which will disappear.

This makes mockery of KiwiRail’s pg. 2 TurnAround statement, (1/ “KiwiRail needs a Real connected network to grow its business,”) as closing branch lines further fractures existing Networks.

Commitment by Government and KiwiRail to Step 4’s 'Main trunks only' plan, shows misunderstanding of the basic functioning of Railway Networks and relevance of branch lines to the whole system.They fail to comprehend the purpose of 'feeder'branches is to provide loading/ unloading facilities close as possible for their clients,to avoid double-handling or road transfers and to add value to the whole network.

Policy analysts of successive governments and railways themselves, have failed to take on board earlier blunders which culminated in the privatising ( in 1990 ) of our railways, almost bankrupting them. Blindly they followed the freemarket deregulators mentality for 'quick profits' with no regard for consequences.

Sidings were uplifted, loading staff sacked, equipment sold, stations closed, land, buildings and assetts stripped.

Not surprisingly, as staff and loading facilities disappeared,so did customers who moved to road transport.

Some Branch lines were closed simply by declaring them 'uneconomic'- notwithstanding that ALL roads are uneconomic - if maintenance and Social,Health and Environmental costs are factored in.

These freemarket railways centralised on cities and deserted most of the provincal stations ( wagon lots also) as being “uneconomic” favouring big-city, big business BULK clients. More prudent freight operators touting for customers(ie.KiwiRail) should be eager to grasp all potential trade.

Utilizing hindsight, KiwiRail’s wiser business agents need to become more receptive towards new initatives and perhaps decentralise to provincial bases, thereby becoming accessible to and more conversant with regional markets. This 'proactive approach' may prove more effective in GROWING branch business than outdated manning distant city 0800 phones waiting for business to 'appear'.

Unfortunately both freight and passenger rail services to most regional towns have closed, thereby denying  CHOICE of mode.

If solely reliant on road,one wonders HOW Provincial NZ will cope with the increasing oil prices predicted by the International Energy Agency?

  That Central Government is quietly burying the oil issue urgently needs to be exposed by media and our elected representatives.

The Minister of Energy's statement(21/6/10),“ new fields/unconventional sources will ensure demand is covered,” reveals that they are oblivious to the IEA’s advice, is contrary to the October 2010 Parliamentary Research Paper “The Next Oil Shock?”,  and the suppressed documents: The Bolland Report and the Ministerial Briefing on Oil Prices and Transport Sector Resilience .

Succesive Governments' failure to legislate 'hedging' NZ against Oil shocks other contingencies and their inability to correct past mistakes is unbelievable.

  In what the International Energy Agency is calling the 'post peak oil age' , as other governments around the world are expanding/re-opening railways, our government is closing them down !

Reliance on the 'All transport eggs in one basket' (road) approach of KiwiRail’s flawed TurnAround Step 4 urgently needs  review.

Failure to repeal will see Provinces cut from our National Railway network forever!

William Gordon Bonetti.( December 2011)

REFERENCES : 'KiwiRail Turn Around Plan' (May 2010)

  1. BusinessCouncil for Sustainable Development; Paper on “FutureFreight Solutions” (April 2011)

  2. Ministry of Transport; Independent advice on the Costs and Benefits of Rail Freight,  John Bolland Consulting Ltd.(April 2010)

  3.Parliamentary Research Paper The Next Oil Shock? (Clint Smith 2010)

( See www.saveourrailnorthland.org.nz  for links to these documents )