KiwiRail in talks to revive Wairarapa rail line

The once-threatened northern Wairarapa rail line could be reborn as KiwiRail considers using the track as a Masterton-based East Coast logging hub.

No regular services run on the century-old Masterton to Woodville branch line but it is still open and maintained. Now KiwiRail is looking to use it again after an upsurge in log transport demand.

"There is considerable potential for us to move logs and forestry products on our network throughout the lower North Island," a spokeswoman said.

KiwiRail was in talks with forestry owners about developing new hubs where logs could be stockpiled then transported for export from ports such as Wellington and Napier.

Waingawa – an industrial zone on Masterton's southern fringe – was being eyed by KiwiRail as an inland log port.

New log cradles, which attach to wagons, should arrive later this year, increasing KiwiRail's forestry fleet capacity "considerably," she said.

During summer, the northern Wairarapa line proved its strategic value when it was used as a freight alternative while major work was completed on the main trunk line's north-south junction, between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki.

KiwiRail expected the line to be used sporadically as a backup as the track network was upgraded in coming years.

A Fonterra spokesman said the dairy giant did not use the line and would only consider doing so if its Pahiatua dairy factory were to expand.

United States railway magnate BAllen Brown, whose Railmark consortium unsuccessfully bid for Otago's Kingston Flyer, has also expressed an interest in the line for leisure tourism.

Pahiatua Railcar Society president Don Selby lobbied for the line when – in a round of fiscal tightening – Transport Minster Steven Joyce announced it could be mothballed in March last year.

"I'm pleased they're looking seriously at getting some freight on the line and getting some trains moving again," Mr Selby said.

Down but not out

As part of KiwiRail's $4.6 billion "turnaround" plan to make it sustainable within a decade, a review of the Napier-Gisborne line – which runs a single weekly service – will continue into 2011.

However, no "significant new business opportunities" have been identified on the line. The Stratford-Taumarunui (Okahukura) line remains mothballed but KiwiRail is still keen to talk to potential new customers. Proposals to save the line include coal transport and reinstating the vintage Taranaki Flyer steam train.

The Dominion Post