As we have seen of late the Gisborne line lease case is now being looked at by Kiwirail and Hawkes Bay Regional Council and it will not be an easy case. The point has been well made that the peculiar issues facing Gisborne are the lack of a regular coastal shipping container service, apparently because of insufficient volume, the state of the highway going south to Napier, and the seasonal nature of much of the traffic that could be carried to Napier to be shipped or railed around the country. Throw into that the high maintenance costs of the Whareratas section in particular and it is not an easy situation to find a solution for.
I think that in the short term a solution consisting of a container shipping solution from Napier to Gisborne and trains only as far as Wairoa plus the isolated “Gisborne section” for the GCVR is probably a better one for the Regional Council to support as they are the owner of Napier Port and it will not matter how the freight arrives at Napier. Having one ship that only goes between Napier and Gisborne appears to be uneconomic at the present time and something more akin to Pacifica’s services that call at ports the length of the country is more likely to be viable as it would probably be a weekly service year round as opposed to the seasonal chartering of boats for the squash trade and others. If the coastal shipping of containers year round is unviable then rail the full length of the NGL will certainly struggle. Although there is a volume of trade that is not in containers, most of this is logs and Gisborne is able to handle log ships that often load at ports up and down the country, making this trade viable on its own from the port and obviating the need for a rail service to Napier.
Given that one of the proponents of the NGR is a road transport operator, I think they would admit that the principle issue they face is the state of the highway and if the highway was improved sufficiently the arguments would cease. The highway has always been the problem most contributing to Gisborne’s isolation, and one that allowed the Port to be further developed than a lot of provincial ports such as Wanganui, Oamaru and Opua in years gone by. The problem for the railway in its development has been the expensive maintenance needed due to the poor state of the country which it travels through, coupled with the steep terrain and sparse population of the area. Coastal shipping of the freight is not affected by many of the geographic factors that have caused problems with land transport modes, and it is cost competitive with them.