Sunday, 10 January 2016

Kiwirail review of the Gisborne Line 2010-2012 [4]: Walbran Report on Coastal Shipping

The Walbran Report looked at coastal shipping options for Napier to Gisborne should the rail line cease to operate. Some detailed points:
  • ATR funding in 2003/4 was $168,000 from NZTA plus $52,000 each from GDC and HBRC. This was a one off subsidy for operation of the line.
  • Eastland Port, Port of Napier and Winstone Pulp International (former owner of the Prime mill at Matawhero) commissioned the report to investigate the possibility of coastal shipping  in the region.
  • Depending on volumes carried the cost per container of coastal shipping volume is extremely competitive with rail. Road-only charges are cheaper for 20 foot containers, but more expensive for 40 foot containers. Coastal shipping economies will not be experienced if the volumes are too low.
  • Shipping transport has increased social benefits over rail transport alone, including overall reduction in emissions (lower CO2 but higher particulates). The risk of level crossing accidents being eliminated is also a part of that increase.
  • The report refers to the transport by means other than road of woodchips by Winstone Pulp International from Prime Mill to Tangiwai and Kawerau. It states WPI have found that none of the alternatives were financially viable. This must be the woodchip traffic that has been referred to in previous posts. If it was not viable how is it being included in projections for traffic numbers through Gisborne.

Woodchip traffic from Gisborne to Kawerau: 978 km by rail, 228 km by road.

It has been quite interesting as of today to find a breakdown of the potential volume of freight that allegedly can go onto rail from Gisborne and make the line viable.

It has been claimed in a report to GDC (referred to in my last post) that 250,000 tonnes of freight could be carried from Gisborne to Napier on the line and in fact could have been carried in its last year of operation. Since Kiwirail only carried 44,000 tonnes, the disparity in numbers is hard to understand. Similar numbers to 250,000 tonnes have been cited in BERL's review of the closure decision case to give a more optimistic forecast for the future of the line.

After analysing the report to GDC, a very significant portion of this total is made up of woodchip traffic, estimated at 150,000 tonnes. The report does not state the destination of this traffic, but Kiwirail states that it was Kawerau. One does not have to be a geographic expert to realise that Kawerau is about as far by rail from Gisborne as it is possible to get in New Zealand, while also being about as close by road as Napier.

Kiwirail has cited that the wagons having a 5 day turnaround time was a significant problem for the traffic. Put simply there would have to be multiple fleets of wagons to move 12,500 tonnes per month which is about 600 tonnes a day assuming 5 trains per week on a weekday service. This is about one trainload a day and obviously is a significant volume, but about 5 sets of wagons would be needed. This could well be the reason Kiwirail does not appear to have carried any of the woodchip product in its last year of running the line and why they have not included these in any of their assessments. There seems to be an unwritten assumption this would be a viable traffic for the line.

The distance by rail from Gisborne to Kawerau is as follows, based on known line distances:
  • Gisborne-Palmerston North via PNGL: 390 km
  • Palmerston North-Hamilton via NIMT: 406 km
  • Hamilton-Kawerau via ECMT: 182 km
The total for this route is therefore 978 km.

Road distance: Whilst I do not have any tables I can look up for these distances, copying LINZ highway data to Google  Earth to use their measurement tools produced the following:
  • Gisborne-Kawerau via SH2 to Matawai, Opotiki and Awakeri; SH2 from Awakeri to Te Teko; and SH34 from Te Teko to Kawerau: 228 km.
This is slightly more than four times the distance by rail which would seem likely to wipe out any advantages in carriage by rail.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Why a Pokeno-Paeroa railway line makes no sense

Here is the statement from the 2014 election campaign manifesto where the party's rail policy was explicitly laid out.

5. Auckland-Pokeno-Paeroa-Te Aroha-Tauranga-Whakatane 
A new line to be built along the rail formation between Pokeno-Paeroa-Te Aroha, a new line to be built between Te Aroha and the western portal of the Kaimai tunnel and a new line to be built between Awakeri and Whakatane, all combined creating a shorter and more direct rail route into the Bay of Plenty.

The NZ First party has proposed the government build the previously abandoned Pokeno-Paeroa railway line which Labour completed formation works for in the 1930s but never laid track and bridges into. Much of the completed formation was subsequently taken over for the area's highway or has been redeveloped and therefore the re-establishment of such a project would have to re-establish virtually all of the formation works. To the best of my knowledge no bridge works or station construction was completed at the time so these facilities would all have to be built from scratch.

The main question is why duplicate the East Coast Main Trunk route via Hamilton when there is an extant former rail corridor from Waitoa to Paeroa that would provide a connection from an existing rail line rather than a completely new line, if having rail access to Paeroa were significant. 

So let's have a look in detail at the ideas that somehow we actually need this route given it was already evaluated and rejected more than 50 years ago in the process that led to the Kaimai Deviation being built as the replacement for the old railway line from Morrinsville to Paeroa and through the Athenree Gorge to Tauranga. 

First off it is highly misleading to suggest there is a rail formation just waiting to have tracks laid on it between Pokeno and Paeroa. As I have noted parts of it have certainly disappeared and no bridges and stations appear to have ever been built. Those latter items in particular will swallow up significant amounts of the total cost. 

Now for the route from Pokeno east, this is shown on this set of maps here. From Pokeno to Paeroa is about 65 km based on the 1930s route. Paeroa to Te Aroha on the old route closed in 1991 is 24 km. A new route from Te Aroha to the Kaimai Tunnel portal would be about 22 km based on the route the highway takes. Let's say it joins up at Hemopo. To get to the same location from Pokeno via the ECMT comprises 68 km from the proposed junction to Frankton, and 60 km from Frankton to Hemopo. So for the existing route you have 128 km from Pokeno to Hemopo vs 111 km via the proposed new route. This amounts to a 17 km saving in length which is hardly significant since you are duplicating the line and siphoning off traffic from the existing route. It is favourable to Auckland but not to Hamilton.

There will be claims that this route increases the capacity on one of our few freight lines that actually makes money. Whilst that is true, there are more cost effective ways to do that with the existing route without producing a separate and costly duplicate route. It is possible to increase the speed of trains somewhat, but there are also other ways to do that with existing infrastructure. 

The last part of the proposal is a new railway from Awakeri to Whakatane. This is in fact the Whakatane Board Mills siding and would connect to the existing disused branch line to Taneatua. Just why this is conjoined in a project for an entirely unrelated line to Paeroa is not particularly clear. There is nothing to stop this project from proceeding separately from the Paeroa proposal which it is completely independent from. However it requires a detailed evaluation to see whether the volume of freight relating to the Whakatane mill is significant.

If saving distance on the ECMT is significant about the same distance as the Paeroa-Pokeno line would save can be achieved by a deviation of a short part of the present ECMT at much less cost.