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Logs to move down coast via KiwiRail


New proposals may mean that logs will again be moved down the East Coast of New Zealand. What the proposals don’t currently allow for is a reopening of the slip-damaged line to Gisborne and access to the vast hinterland of mature pine trees in the Raukumaras. Source: Forestry Expo

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council is entering into contractual negotiations with KiwiRail to re-establish a Napier-Wairoa rail link.

It has completed a feasibility study on a proposed log freight rail service.

Following a public excluded meeting on 20 April, the regional council decided to enter negotiations with KiwiRail for the rail company to operate a log freight service between Wairoa and Napier on behalf of HBRC.

HBRC says it will also be negotiating with customers who could benefit from a rail service through to Napier and the port.

The funding of track maintenance would be the responsibility of the regional council.

“The Council has taken into consideration the large quantities of timber coming from forest harvesting in the Wairoa District over the next two decades,” said chairperson Fenton Wilson.

“We will be expecting a return on our investment over the life of the resumed service.”

The rail connection was mothballed in December 2012 following major washouts on the line, and the subsequent cost of repairs.

Following this, in 2014, HBRC allocated $5.46 million to potentially underwrite a freight service.

HBRC’s interim chief executive Liz Lambert confirmed to media that the proposal, for which commercial details are not being released, related only to establishing a log transport service from Wairoa to the Port of Napier, with no early prospect of the discussion turning to reopening the badly slip-damaged line between Wairoa and Gisborne.

KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy said in another interview this week that he was expecting a proposal from HBRC, but that to be acceptable the council and any commercial partners would need to bear the whole commercial risk of the line being restored to operability and maintained.

“We want a take or pay arrangement, we won’t take the commercial risk,” he said. “If HBRC is the only customer, then we would expect full cost allocation.”

While the proposal requires KiwiRail backing, it will also need confirmation from forest owners in the Wairoa/Nuhaka region, where large-scale plantation forests are fast coming to maturity, that they will use the service.

Wairoa export log harvests are forecast to treble to a million tonnes by 2020 and increase after that time.

A key reason for the regional council’s decision to underwrite a rail route reopening is its concern to prevent a massive surge in truck volumes on the main highway between Wairoa and Napier.

Forest managers estimate half of the coming volume of logs can move by rail from a log hub at Wairoa.

Lambert held out little hope for the aspiration of Gisborne log-owners and fresh produce sellers to reopen the Wairoa to Gisborne part of the line.

“We are focusing on Wairoa to Napier, no further north, certainly in the medium term.”