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Government chalks up another rail failure

26 September 2006

Government chalks up another rail failure

Hot on the heels of the Government's Overlander debacle, the intention of the Government agency Ontrack to raise its charges on the Napier -Gisborne freight line has been a factor in putting that service at risk of closure, Green Party MP Sue Kedgley says.

"The current rail operator Toll has signalled it will pass those costs onto the line's main user Ravensdown, which has said its own likely response would be to shift its freight onto trucks. Reportedly, these may well be trucks also owned by Toll.

"By some estimates, that will mean eight or ten extra trucks a day on Highway 2, between Napier and Gisborne, posing real dangers to road users on what is already a narrow and difficult route.

"The regional economic impacts could well be severe. Prime sawmill in Gisborne is a major user of the rail line, and the line enables it to get its high value and bulky sawn lumber out for subsequent shipping to the US West Coast. There are no suitable shipping options via the Port of Gisborne. At a time when a wall of wood from East Coast plantings is reaching maturity, the regional impact could be devastating.

"One underlying factor helping to create this disastrous outcome has been the inadequate Government funding for Ontrack, which has helped set off a chain reaction that has now left the rail freight service in jeopardy.

"This is incredibly short-sighted. Public money and government charges should be working to encourage alternatives to road use, and not serving to divert people and freight away from rail, and onto our roads.

"The Government's transport policy is also hurting the economy as a whole. This week's trade deficit figures showed how oil imports are expanding the trade deficit and only our high interest rates seem to be staving off a collapse of the currency.

"There is a viable alternative. By fostering public transport and alternatives to road use, we can start to get our addiction to foreign oil under control, and thus give our exporters some relief from the high interest rates that are cancelling out the benefits of the declining dollar.

"Saving the Napier-Gisborne freight line would in line with that approach. It would be an investment in a modern, forward looking transport policy, one fully conscious of the current economic and environmental costs of our addiction to imported oil."


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