Mining may save line from being mothballed

The future of the Napier-Gisborne railway line is bright, particularly if fracking goes ahead on the East Coast, a report on the line's future says.

KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn is addressing Gisborne District Council today about the line's future after a washout swept away a section of line between Wairoa and Gisborne in March.

A decision on whether to repair about $4 million of damage is expected to be made next month.

The report by the council finds that, based on conservative estimates of freight volumes, "not only would the short-term viability of the rail line to Napier be assured, but that the medium and long-term viability of the line is also strong".

The report bases its findings on estimates provided by the companies using the line until the washout.

KiwiRail said last year that the line was running at a loss and threatened to mothball it if freight loadings did not increase this year. Loadings had been improving until March.

The report, which will also be discussed today, considers international studies from Canada, Ireland and the United States, where the closure of railway lines had been linked to various social and environmental impacts, including more road accidents and a population decrease.

It says Gisborne's economy is based on primary produce, with large volumes needing to be sent out of the district.

"Further large-volume commodities may need to be exported from the district if tentative plans to mine mineral resources ... come to fruition. If hydraulic fracturing [fracking] processes were to be used for this, there may be a need to move considerable volumes of water mixed with fracking fluid as well."

Using projected figures based on recent usage, the study says the 212-kilometre line could carry enough freight to exceed the amount required to break even by 500 tonnes.

Mr Quinn said yesterday that KiwiRail had been gathering information "from a range of stakeholders to make the decision on repairing the line".

"Clearly our main focus is the commercial operation of the rail line, but it is important to have these wider community reviews to include in the thinking. We expect to be in a position to make a recommendation to the Government shortly."

The Dominion Post