ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ
A rail bike tourism venture had replaced locomotives on the Stratford Taumarunui line.
Port Taranaki has the facilities and infrastructure to make logs-on-rail practical and economically viable, its chief executive says.
Regional economic development minister Shane Jones last week announced the start of rail feasibility studies in Taranaki, Kawerau and Southland to improve rail connections in the three regions.
The focus of the $250,000 rail study in New Plymouth would be on forestry exports, Jones said.
More rail/road hubs, such as Smart Road hub, may be needed if the rail network was upgraded in Taranaki.
The funding for the feasibility study is part of the coalition government’s $8.75m handout for regional rail initiatives from the provincial growth fund.
Port Taranaki had been in discussions with KiwiRail for the past 12 months about initiatives to develop a rail option for log exports, chief executive Guy Roper said.
KiwiRail locomotive at Stratford railway station transporting general freight.
“We have been well across this and believe it is important to help drive regional economic growth, supporting the wider region that Port Taranaki services.”
Port Taranaki’s log volumes have been increasing with exports up 36 per cent in 2016-17, and 63 per cent for half year result to December 31 2017.
Last year 486,000 tonnes of logs were shipped from Port Taranaki.
The trend was expected to continue as demand from overseas increased, he said.
Port Taranaki had the on-site rail facilities and storage areas and could enhance berth access to maximise operations for rail, Roper said.
“It can be handled now. We have the rail line, storage, land available and exporter interest to quickly and effectively service not just the Taranaki region but the forestry industry in the southern region of the North Island.”
Bringing more logs to the port through rail would result in increased ship visits and also ease the pressure on the region’s roads, he said.
New Zealand Forestry Ltd Taranaki regional manager Cam Eyre✓ said the industry had been working on how to improve transport links within Taranaki for several years and the government’s announcement was a positive sign.
“We support the study and believe it would be positive for the industry if costs can be reduced transporting logs by rail from marginal forest areas,” he said.
Eyre said the volume of logs carried by rail would need to be high.
Any feasibility study would look at log prices and volume to ensure the rail network was sustainable, he said.
“A study would be a good start to draw a line in the sand on what the forestry industry can, and cannot do.”
Eyre was unsure if a new railhead was established and the network upgraded to carry more logs, whether it would mean less trucks on the road.
“It comes down to how much volume of logs can be transported on rail.
“It has to work cost-wise with the forestry owner, and not every log will go on a train.
“Until we have a robust rail network there will still be trucks operating on the road.”
Road Transport Industry Taranaki regional executive member Tom Cloke welcomed the study and believed it could create more work for the transport industry.
“There’s always been a place for rail but the study would need to look at the infrastructure needed and logistics in setting up a network,” he said.
“Any rail network would need a robust transport system to and from the rail head to load and deliver.”
To be competitive, rail would need to be able to shift a variety of freight, not just logs, quickly and efficiently, he said.
New Plymouth MP Jonathan Young said the study would need to focus on the cost benefit ratio for the Taranaki region.
“What the economic advantage is of putting more logs on rail is the big question mark,” he said.
“It will identify a number of shortcomings such as increased costs from double handling, and associated health and safety issues.”
In a press release KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy said rail helped reduce congestion on roads, cut carbon emissions, made roads safer and lowered spending on road maintenance and upgrades.
A recent study showed the costs savings totalled $1.5 billion, he said.
KiwiRail transported around 25 per cent of the country’s exports and played a critical role in regional tourism, he said.
Fonterra logistics network manager Andrew Cleland said the company worked closely with KiwiRail to ensure the network has capacity to support its transport needs.
“We are interested in the rail feasibility studies and look forward to reviewing the results with KiwiRail in due course,” he said.