Keen response to opening up logging traffic by rail

KiwiRail is beginning work on the much-delayed Napier to Wairoa rail reinstatement this week. The company got NZ$5 million for the project in the NZ Government's regional development announcement last week.

KiwiRail said contractors will start spending that money today, cutting back overgrown vegetation and then moving on to drains and culverts. The first log train is expected to run by the end of the year.

The line has been unused since storms washed out the section north of Wairoa in 2012, ending a Gisborne-Napier rail link that was uneconomic anyway. A plan to revive the southern part of it to carry logs from the Wairoa region to Napier was hatched in 2016, and was supposed to be working by the end of 2017, but stalled due to financial constraints.

Last November, Hawke's Bay Regional Council expressed optimism that the scheme could still work as long as NZ$5 million could be found, and that money has now come from the government.

This was welcomed by KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy. "We have estimated that using the Wairoa-Napier line to move the logs could take up to 5714 trucks a year off the road, and reduce carbon emissions by 1292 tonnes," Mr Reidy said.

In the Taranaki region, one of three regions identified where rail feasibility studies to improve rail connections in are to be undertaken, Port Taranaki says that they have the facilities and infrastructure to make logs-on-rail practical and economically viable.

The focus of the NZ$250,000 rail study in New Plymouth would be on forestry exports, Regional economic development minister Shane Jones last week. Port Taranaki had been in discussions with KiwiRail for the past 12 months about initiatives to develop a rail option for log exports, chief executive Guy Roper said.

Port Taranaki's log volumes have been increasing with exports up 36 per cent in 2016-17, and 63 per cent for half year result to December 31 2017. Last year 486,000 tonnes of logs were shipped from Port Taranaki. The trend was expected to continue as demand from overseas increased, he said.

Port Taranaki had the on-site rail facilities and storage areas and could enhance berth access to maximise operations for rail, Roper said.

"It can be handled now. We have the rail line, storage, land available and exporter interest to quickly and effectively service not just the Taranaki region but the forestry industry in the southern region of the North Island." Bringing more logs to the port through rail would result in increased ship visits and also ease the pressure on the region's roads, he said.

New Zealand Forestry Ltd Taranaki regional manager Cam Eyre? said the industry had been working on how to improve transport links within Taranaki for several years and the government's announcement was a positive sign. "We support the study and believe it would be positive for the industry if costs can be reduced transporting logs by rail from marginal forest areas," he said.

Comment on the Southland feasibility study from industry can also be found here.

Sources: radionz and Stuff.

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