Kiwirail Mothball Provincial Line -More Closures Ahead?
KiwiRail has decided to mothball the rail line between Taranaki and the Waikato.
As a consequence of the closure, milk product sourced from Fonterra farms in Taranaki and bound for Tauranga will now travel hundreds of kilometres further, via Marton rather than directly from Stratford.
Jon Reeves, a spokesperson for the Campaign for Better Transport, says this could be the thin edge of the wedge, with more line closures to come. KiwiRail has recently carried out a review of its business and is due to deliver a strategic plan for the future of the business to the Government later this month.
KiwiRail CEO Jim Quinn says that repairing the line in the wake of a recent derailment, at a cost of $400,000 cannot be immediately justified, “given that only one return train uses the line a day at present.”
Kiwirail insists the decision does not mean it is closing the line – at least not yet. Mr Quinn says: “”That doesn’t mean we have decided to close the line. It simply means that we need to be sure that investing more than $1 million in the line within the next 12 months and more money in future years to bring it up to standard, is justified on commercial grounds.”
Mr Quinn said a decision on the line is likely to be made early next year. Network and freight staff currently working the SOL would be re-allocated to other tasks.
The Campaign for Better Transport says that as a country we are supposed to be focussed on improving the efficiency of freight and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions so that it doesn’t make sense to delay the decision on reopening the line until next year. Mr Reeves says the real reason the line has little use at present is that the track is in such poor condition.
“It has been so run down over the last decade that trains are barely capable of using it. If the line was fixed to a suitable standard then freight and passengers could take advantage a direct link between Taranaki and the Waikato.”
There have been at least seven reported derailments in the last year on the rail link, which runs from Stratford to Okahukura, just north of Taumaranui. Eight kilometres of railway sleepers at the northern end of the SOL between Matiere and Okahukura were damaged on Monday night as a result of a derailment.
Currently, one return train a day uses the SOL to move dairy products, empty containers and general goods between New Plymouth and the northern section of the North Island Main Trunk.
Over the past year, on the basis of traffic volumes, the SOL has been the most derailment-prone railway line in the country. ”We’ve had staff working on the derailment scene,” said Mr Quinn. ”
The Kiwirail staff assessment was that track and sleeper damage is considerably greater than we had originally envisaged. ” We have to make a decision on when we complete repairs and how much work we do to bring the line back into good working order. In the meantime, we have talked to customers and arranged for their freight to be moved through Marton.
“Investment in the SOL has been minimal for many years and even maintenance has been kept to a minimum. Our assessment of the derailment scene indicates we would need to spend up to $400,000 to repair the damage.”
Mr Quinn said spending of $750,000 had already been allocated for this year to improve the condition of one of the 24 tunnels and significant spending has been forecast for the next 10 years to bring the line up to standard.
“The amount of traffic using it at the moment doesn’t justify continuing with repair work without a considered look at likely future freight volumes.”
Mr Reeves says the group agrees with the need to close the line temporarily so that the necessary repairs can be carried out safely “but we would like to see a commitment from KiwiRail and the Government to reopening the line as soon as possible.”
Mr. Reeves acknowledged that the final bill for bringing the line up to standard could well be over a million dollars, but said that this amount was “peanuts in comparison to the billions being spent on roading infrastructure in this year alone.”