For those that know the Napier to Gisborne Railway well it was just a matter of time. Storm damage was one day going to claim this scenic piece of Railway. Cyclone Bola nearly did it in 1988 (killed the passenger train service) but it was saved by one sympathetic Minister of Railways by the name of Richard Prebble. This time it may not be so lucky (at least the Wairoa to Gisborne section anyway) and it seems that the dye may have finally been cast.
The official word from Kiw Rail is that the line is being evaluated to see how extensive the repair work will need to be and how long it will take. More than likely they are quickly doing the financial sums and the "Government" through Kiwi Rail will announce that the line will remain closed for now. A very convenient excuse to do what is likely the inevitable.
This is the same situation that befell the line to Heriot (Tapanui Branch) in October 1978 (The part name sake of Heriot Edievale Enterprises in fact) Its flood damage was evaluated and it was never reopened after the last train ran Friday 13th October 1978. The same day of the rains that brought the once in a 100 year Otago Southland floods in 1978.
Click to download Tapanui Branch Line closure documents here - (sourced some years ago from the public records of the former NZ Railways Department archives)
Also another Minor Line, as Kiwi Rail terms them, the SOL line was mothballed (now effectively closed) after derailment damage in 2010.
It might be a bitter pill to take for rail advocates but this is probably inevitable. Anything north of a couple of million to repair the line will surely seal its fate and would likely be seen as wasteful of taxpayers funds. It would be hard to justify reopening this line on economic grounds if it cost more than that to repair. And all just after the line had gained some new business - Squash out of Gisborne. Oh the irony!
The Gisborne line still carries only less than 50,000 tonnes a year which was about the same as the Heriot line did in the mid to late 1970's before it was closed by flood/storm damage. And from the photos the Gisborne damage line looks a lot worse and more expensive to repair. Also the predominate traffic on the Heriot line in its last few years was fertiliser and log traffic - the same low value commodities as the Gisborne line has carried in the last few years
However this doesn't stop it from being a truly sad outcome. But it may be time we all moved on to make what remains of the New Zealand rail system as viable as it can be. Can it be saved? That's a tough one to answer!
The Kiwi Rail statement is below:
KiwiRail is assessing reinstatement options for the section of the Napier- Gisborne railway line extensively damaged by heavy rain in the region last week.
Considerable damage has been found along the line between Wairoa and Gisborne, with a three kilometre section through the Wharerata ranges just south of Beach loop hardest hit.
KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn says the storm that passed over the region early last week caused three major washouts along a three kilometre stretch – one about 100 metres long, and a second of around 40 metres.
There was also other flooding and slip damage through the general area.
“Parts of the line are so difficult to reach that it wasn’t until Friday that our teams were able to access and see just what damage had occurred,“ he says.
Mr Quinn said it would take some time to complete the necessary evaluation on the re-instatement options for the track.
“At this stage we are continuing to focus on gathering the facts which will form the basis for a decision to be made on how best to proceed. However from what can plainly be seen, the damage is extensive and any repairs would take considerable time to complete.
“The heavy rain also damaged the line south of Wairoa, but these were repaired last week and that part of the line was reopened and rail services to Wairoa were resumed last Thursday.
Mr Quinn says KiwiRail is keeping local customers and councils briefed on the situation.
From the Gisborne Herald - 28 March 2012
Pushing urgent rail repairs
Wednesday, March 28, 2012 • Debbie Gregory THE Gisborne to Napier railway line needs to be repaired urgently say produce growers, transport companies and Gisborne’s Mayor Meng Foon.
There is major damage to the line between Gisborne and Wairoa, with three dropouts, including one 100-metres wide, following a weather bomb that hit the district last week.
“Our businesses are suffering due to a number of slips . . . we need urgent action on all fronts,” said Mr Foon.
He will meet with Anne Tolley in Wellington tomorrow.
“We need the full support of Anne Tolley our local MP along with the Minister of Transport; I have requested an urgent meeting with them.
“We need to know when they are going to repair the railway line as it is urgent to the success of our businesses. A number of produce growers are using the railway line now, but the slip has been a blow to that huge effort by Weatherells Transport.”
Weatherells was behind a co-ordination of Gisborne exporters that lifted the use of the track from once to three times a week. Weatherells had the potential to provide freight for five or six trains a week.
“Winter is coming and the work programme of urgent repairs needs to happen now. I appreciate the huge concern of our businesspeople who use the rail,” said Mr Foon.
He does not want the decision on rail repairs to take too long.
“Rail is the transport of the future and we need to keep this important asset for the betterment of our district,” he said.
One of the main companies that has been using the line is LeaderBrand.
Spokesman Andrew Vette said he was disappointed to hear that the service had been halted.
“The rail programme has been an excellent development for the region and one that has our full support.”
Napier Rail Action Group co-ordinator Richard Sceats said the group was “devastated” with the news of the damage, as things were really progressing well with big increases in tonnage being moved both ways on the line.
“We certainly hope that urgent repairs can be made on this strategic asset.
“After all, if money can be spent on both the Manawatu and Waioeka gorges, surely money is available to reopen this railway line.
“If not does it not mean that every road/railway line will be closed when a slip falls,” he said.
Mrs Tolley said KiwiRail was still assessing the damage.
“It looks pretty major damage. They have had difficulty getting people to the sites to assess it and until then they are saying nothing.”
There was no timeframe for a decision on the future of the line, she said.
The Minister of Transport Gerry Brownlee was unable to meet with Mrs Tolley and Mr Foon tomorrow but Mrs Tolley said she was pressuring for a decision to be made as soon as possible.