Coal may save railway line

MATT RILKOFF
Last updated 05:00 23/04/2011

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Coal could be the saviour of the Stratford to Okahukura (SOL) railway line.

King Country Mining manager Ben Richardson is confident he will be able to reopen the Tatu State Coal Mine in Ohura before the end of the year and be in full production within 18 months.

Not only will this bring up to 60 jobs but it will also throw a lifeline to the SOL line.

Officially mothballed last July, the line has been closed since November 2009 when KiwiRail decided against spending the money to fix damage caused by a derailment at its northern end.

Since then KiwiRail has said they would only consider reopening the line if they could ensure it would be used enough to justify the millions it would cost to fix it.

On Thursday, Mr Richardson said the Tatu mine could provide that justification, as it had the potential to produce enough coal to warrant up to two trains a day.

"That would be the only way we could get the coal out, so we would definitely use the line and there are quite a lot of things that would go on it if it was open," Mr Richardson said.

KiwiRail spokeswoman Cathie Bell said the possibility of the reopening the line for the Tatu mine had been discussed, but it was not at a point where decisions had been made.

"That's why the line is mothballed, not closed. We're not ruling out new business, but till other people make decisions and make arrangements, we can't say," she said.

But the Ruapehu District Council can and does. Their community and regulation manager, Marion Smith, said that the council was taking a leading role in discussions to reopen the mine and it would provide KiwiRail with a cornerstone customer when it did.

"With the imminent resumption of coal mining at the Tatu Mine council expects that KiwiRail will be confirming their commitment to repairing and reopening the Okahukura-Stratford rail line," she said.

Such a scenario remains the preferred option for the Stratford District Council and its mayor, Neil Volzke.

Coal was the immediate option available to bring the line back to life and until that option closed they would keep working on it, Mr Volzke said. "Of course our preferred option it to have it opened and used as a railway.

"If, in time, the closure does occur that is when we will start looking at the other options for the line and there are plenty of suggestions out there for what it could look like," Mr Volzke said.

Port Taranaki boss Roy Weaver said he was aware King Country Coal was looking for investors to reopen the Tatu State Coal Mine but that there were still a "number of ducks to line up".

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However should those birds do as hoped Mr Weaver said the Port had the facilities to cope.

"It depends on their requirements," he said.

"If is just a small volume we could probably deal with it using our existing infrastructure.

" If there was a high level than we would need to undertake some capital expenditure," Mr Weaver said.

KiwiRail spokeswoman Jenni Austin said that they intended to review their decision to mothball the line in the middle of next year.

She said that KiwiRail would then reassess the costs of repairs to the line and whether they could identify enough business to justify reopening it. Traffic that used to move on the SOL continued to be moved on alternative rail routes through Palmerston North, and Ms Austin said KiwiRail was confident that customers were happy with that route. "In fact, we are looking at increasing the capacity of that line – work that will cost a fraction of that needed on the SOL," Ms Austin said.

- Taranaki Daily News

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