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.