By Alex Tarrant
KiwiRail will announce a consultation process to review the future Northland rail early next year, a spokeswoman for Transport Minister Stephen Joyce told interest.co.nz, saying suggestions from pro-rail campaigners the government was poised to announce the closure of Northland rail on December 23 were incorrect.
Joyce is set to respond to a written parliamentary question from Greens MP Gareth Hughes on December 23rd on what date Kiwirail would begin consultation on the future of Northland rail in the new year.
"The idea that the minister is poised to make an announcement [on the future of Northland rail on the 23rd] is incorrect. Kiwirail will start a consultation process on the future of the line early next year," Joyce's spokeswoman said.
"I don’t know where that’s come from," she said.
Labour MP Trevor Mallard blogged about Northland rail on Labour's Red Alert blog, saying Kiwirail was this week "likely to begin consultation on the closure of rail in the far north on behalf of the government".
I’ve got an opinion on this question which is not that popular with friends on both the right and left.
I think the rail link to Marsden Point should be completed. It is probably the key to a decent integrated transport system for New Zealand.
Marsden Point is the best port in the country. Deep water, natural and because it is so far north it saves sailing time for the massive ships that will be servicing NZ in the future.
The road industry hate the idea. Port of Auckland’s owner not impressed. Auckland colleagues don’t agree.
But worth talking about before the options are narrowed.
Hughes was also unaware as to where the idea that the future of the lines would be announced on December 23 came from. An email from the TransitionTowns.org.nz group suggested a December 23 announcement.
"As part of Kiwirail’s turnaround plan these lines are up for review. There’s four of these regional lines which are slated for either closure or mothballing," Hughes said.
"[Kiwirail is] trying to find anchor tenants and I understand they’ll be running consultations on the line’s viability. I understand these consultations are going to be early next year," he said.
Kiwirail's NZ$4.6 billion 'turnaround plan' was announced earlier this year with government to inject NZ$750 million into it over three years.
Chief executive Jim Quinn said the company was responding to a signal by the Government, which owns it, "to focus the scarce capital we get into the most productive areas where the revenue is".
He denied that KiwiRail had an aggressive closure agenda, but expected all four lines to be mothballed by 2012 unless the communities they served could show ways of making them viable in the short-term.
Northland to Auckland rail: Under threat
The Northland rail line that links Auckland and Whangarei, is one of four lines facing closure, as part of Kiwirail’s Turnaround Plan. It’s loss would be a huge tragedy for the region.
The line is a significant community strategic asset that gives the region economic development options now and in the future. While it is not currently being heavily used for freight, the line has potential to be used more in the future. This is especially true if the government was willing to invest the $80 million needed to link the rail line to Marsden Point, New Zealand’s best deep-water port.
Upgrading the rail line and expanding the port could mean more economic development and jobs for Northlanders in the future.
Closing the line will mean more heavy logging trucks on State Highway 1 and also more accidents. Trucks are involved in 16 percent of all deaths on NZ roads, even though they comprise only four percent of the vehicle fleet.
Keeping the line open also gives us another, much more energy efficient way to transport goods if the price of oil continues to rise. Last week the New Zealand price of petrol passed $2 a litre and I think it’s vital we prepare for the end of cheap oil.
A recent Parliamentary report The Next Oil Shock states that another supply crunch is likely soon after 2012, and oil prices will stay high because low-cost reserves are near exhaustion. It warns that the world economy could suffer recurrent recessions as the price fluctuates.
It makes sense to keep the rail line in working order in preparation for future oil price shocks. Ultimately the line’s future is a political decision, and the region can send the Government a strong message to save the line. That’s why I was so pleased to meet with groups in Kaiwaka and Whangarei who are prepared to fight to keep the line open.
(Update adds link, comments from Herald story on turnaround plan in May this year)