The scenery along the Napier to Gisborne rail route is "absolutely bloody stunning" and converting it to a cycling trail makes perfect sense, says a group of Hawke's Bay businesspeople.
Spokesman Brian Fisher said the group pushing the initiative was non-political, did not have a name, and was made up of people mostly involved in the tourism industry.
They had prepared a petition which had attracted 400 signatures within a week, asking that their proposition be seriously considered.
The aim was 1000 signatures by June 16, at which time it would be handed to Napier MP Chris Tremain.
It asked that the House of Representatives inquire into the feasibility of developing a cycle pathway using the existing railway corridor between Napier and Gisborne.
The 212-kilometre route would allow travellers to see some of "the most spectacular scenery in the country".
Fisher said the group's members were not "anti-rail" but believed that if it was not going to be used for its original purpose then it would make a great cycle trail.
The line had been closed since March 2012, after washouts destroyed parts of the track.
A feasibility study would determine the likely costs and benefits of the trail.
"The NZ Government has released a number of reports stating the Napier to Gisborne line is not viable and is unlikely to be in the near future for transporting goods from Gisborne to Napier and or vice versa," Fisher said.
"This extremely valuable asset should not be left to deteriorate. Something needs to be done."
The trail would be "more interesting from a tourist's perspective" than the famed Otago Rail Trail, because the Napier to Gisborne route had a far broader range of scenery.
"From farming, open gorges, bush and rivers to sea. It's a hell of a variety."
It was not simply a matter of opening the route to cyclists, he said. The sleepers and rails would have to be removed and the coarse rock replaced or covered over.
"Initially it will be heavy work. It will be a challenge. There are some 79 bridges, 20 tunnels - one of which is 3.2 kilometres long - and maintenance of the 200km trail would be a costly exercise."
But the spin-offs would be worth it, the group believed.
The small towns and marae along the route would develop to service cycling tourists, as similar sized hamlets along the Otago Rail Trail had.
It could be done in "chunks", perhaps the Tutira to Esk Valley section first, Fisher said.
"That would be one of the best sections for Napier folk."
Chris Tremain was expecting the petition and said he backed a feasibility study.
He said that had a rail freight service been reinstated, even at the peak of the expected timber boom as forests on the East Coast matured, there would be only a "marginal" increase in rail use.
He said the Government had "drawn a line, we're not going to re-instate it".
NOT THE END OF THE LINE
Negotiations with the Government over whether the rail line can be reopened are not over, regional councillor Alan Dick says.
On Friday he said he could not provide any more detail at the moment, but those keen to reinstate the rail service between Napier and Gisborne had not given up and "matters will evolve over the next few weeks".
He rubbished Napier MP Chris Tremain's opinion that the line would not be needed to transport timber from the forests to the Port of Napier. "He should know better."
He said half of the timber expected to be milled during the next decade would come from south of Gisborne, much of it from around Wairoa, and would be taken to the Napier port.
If the line was not reinstated, that timber would have to travel by road, making the route from Wairoa to Napier "very, very difficult and dangerous" for the truck drivers and other motorists.
- The Napier Mail