13 Jul 2017

Critics query viability of Māori Party's 'IwiRail'

11:05 am on 13 July 2017

The Māori Party's ambitious plan to resurrect rail in the regions is being questioned, with critics worried it is doomed to fail.

Freight Train, Reid McNaught

Freight Train, Reid McNaught Photo: KiwiRail

Its IwiRail scheme would reinstate moth-balled lines - beginning with the Napier-Gisborne route - and look into setting up new tracks.

It wants the government to put up an initial $350 million to get it off the ground, with iwi and local investors also contributing.

The Hawke's Bay Chamber of Commerce said such a scheme would need a robust business case to prove it was viable.

And chief executive Wayne Walford said he was not convinced.

"At the moment, the main trunk line between Auckland and Wellington isn't economically viable. The government has to top it up every year.

"I'm not sure how a regional line is going to be economical."

He questioned the cost of fixing the Napier-Gisborne line, saying the track north of Wairoa had been seriously damaged.

"And then will there be enough freight? Will there be enough passengers? Because you don't want to be offering jobs to people if they haven't got a future."

Federated Farmers Gisborne-Wairoa president Charlie Reynolds said he liked the idea in principle "so long as it's money not wasted".

"Certainly private money will make sure that there's more profitability in the line, rather than taxpayers continuously financing the operation.

"As for iwi, they certainly [play] the long term game, so any money they put in, they'll make sure it returns a profit back to their shareholders."

But both Mr Reynolds and Mr Walford said they'd prefer the government invest in better roading.

"There's a good amount of support for turning the rail corridor into a road network," Mr Reynolds said.

"My position would be a one-way road all the way north from Napier to Gisborne."

Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox.

Marama Fox said the Māori Party had done the figures on its Iwirail plan and they stacked up. Photo: RNZ / Craig McCulloch

The Māori Party estimated it would cost about $6.5 million to fix the Napier-Gisborne line.

Co-leader Marama Fox insisted they had "done the figures" and it stacked up.

"We have to be profitable otherwise it makes no sense," she said.

"We've talked to the producers in the Gisborne region... they believe that we can get a profit off the lines by helping them get their produce to market."

She said the scheme could inject $1 billion into the regions and boost tourism and job creation.

Gisborne Rail Action Group spokesperson Nikki Searancke said local iwi were already lining up to get on board.

"At the moment, iwi are very concerned about their assets and how they'll be used in future. This is a win-win for them."

Transport Minister Simon Bridges described the policy as "interesting" and said he wanted to take a closer look.

"It does have to be value for money. It does have to stack up. It does have to be an economic proposition."

NZ First candidate Shane Jones said the policy to resurrect regional rail was unrealistic and farcical.

He said the Maori Party figures did not stack up, and the party should "stick to kapahaka" and leave serious politicians to do the work.

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