Rail corridor mooted as highway for $77m
Thursday, December 4, 2014 by Andrew Ashton and the Wairoa Star
IF Hawke’s Bay Regional Council declines to lease the mothballed Gisborne to Napier rail line from KiwiRail, the council’s former chairman believes a proposal to turn the rail line into a state highway should be considered.
Wairoa farmer and retired politician Rex McIntyre wants today’s politicians in Gisborne, Wairoa and Hawke’s Bay to consider a $77 million proposal to create a road link that he says could save 15 minutes on the trip from Gisborne to Napier, and enable drivers to avoid the Devil’s Elbow section of State Highway 2.
Mr McIntyre, a spokesman for a group of businessmen from Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne, believes an alternative route to SH2 would allow wider loads and bigger freight machinery because it would avoid the rail overhead at Sandy Creek.
The first stage of the project would create 29km of road between Esk and the Tutira overbridge, while the second stage would create a further 3.8km of road around the Putorino area.
The proposal has been backed by the Road Transport Association.
Mr McIntyre said 30 percent of Wairoa-based food processor Affco’s stock came from Gisborne and the East Coast, and the same amount was sourced locally — while 40 percent came from Hastings and Central Hawke’s Bay.
“This new route would give the local employer a great economic advantage.
“The cheaper the road costs, the better the return to the farmer, which secures the Wairoa processing plant’s future.”
The project would also involve a $17 million 186-metre viaduct at Waikare, along with a total of three new bridges along the route.
It would be financed by a $12 levy paid by heavy vehicles at an automatic Waikoau toll bridge.
Mr McIntyre said because fertiliser could no longer be transported by rail, re-opening the line for rail use was not viable and estimated fuel savings from a shorter road between Gisborne and Napier would save all three regions $14.8 million a year.
“Taxpayers’ money would be put to better use on road maintenance, as today we are importing fresh produce rather than frozen and non-perishable goods, so it would be in everyone’s best interest because the roads are faster.
“Over the 43 years of the railway line operating, there was a loss of $150 million, which works out to be $3.5 million a year.”
As a former chairman of the regional council’s road transport committee, he had estimated that it would cost $10 million to bring the Mohaka viaduct up to standard for rail use.
“There are six other viaducts, so that just gives you an idea of the cost.”
However, the road link could also work alongside a cycleway that would benefit all communities between Napier and Gisborne.
The rail line’s owners, KiwiRail, last month agreed to lease the mothballed line to HBRC, subject to a number of conditions.
HBRC expects it to cost about $4 million to repair the line, which was mothballed in December 2012 after storms earlier in the year caused severe damage.
The council has until March 1 to accept the offer from KiwiRail.