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20th September 2020

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Palmerston North

Residents feel railroaded by KiwiRail freight centre plans

KiwiRail’s road and rail freight centre is planned for Railway Rd, just beyond Palmerston North Airport.
SUPPLIEDKiwiRail’s road and rail freight centre is planned for Railway Rd, just beyond Palmerston North Airport.

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Residents living in the path of KiwiRail’s planned freight centre near Palmerston North are reeling as they realise the effect it will have on their properties and lives.

“Our lifestyles haven’t just been thrown under a bus, they have been thrown under a 1.5-kilometre-long fully laden freight train,” said Parrs Rd resident Maree Woods.

She said people in the area between the airport and Bunnythorpe were used to trains going past, but not to shunting yards operating around the clock.

Woods was also worried about traffic patterns once Railway Rd, a busy route from the city to Bunnythorpe and Feilding, was absorbed into the railway yards.

The site for the 2.5km-long KiwiRail centre was announced by Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones in Palmerston North on Thursday.

The planning and land acquisition needed for the development were being paid for from a $40m Provincial Growth Fund grant.

KiwiRail held information sessions about its plans before the Covid-19 lockdown, but delayed the announcement of the site until last week.

A ground-level view of the proposed KiwiRail road and rail freight centre.
SUPPLIEDA ground-level view of the proposed KiwiRail road and rail freight centre.

Roberts Line resident Dee Wallace was one of about 70 people who received letters on Wednesday telling them their properties would be affected.

She had to wait until the formal announcement to find out what the effects would be.

“We are going to be looking straight at it from across the road.”

Her family had for 13 years lived in a 1903 villa that was the original farmhouse in the area.

They had spent a lot of time and money restoring it to its original character.

“It is our forever home.”

Her children, and children she looked after under home-care arrangements, had grown up enjoying the rural lifestyle, being able to feed a calf and pat the sheep.

“It’s actually very peaceful.”

As well as the freight centre itself, it was likely a new access road for trucks would join Roberts Line just outside their gate.

Wallace said she understood the development would create jobs, eventually, “but at what expense?”

KiwiRail’s road and rail centre will transform a semi-rural area into a huge industrial park.
WARWICK SMITH/STUFFKiwiRail’s road and rail centre will transform a semi-rural area into a huge industrial park.

Clevely Line resident Tarsha Isles said she believed the KiwiRail development would be a great thing for Palmerston North, but the implications for her family were devastating.

They would lose their home of seven years.

Isles Construction, in which she is a director, had only recently moved a new home into the area.

Her parents Desma and Bob Isles moved into their house just before Christmas and still kept a watchful eye on the family home they built 33 years ago.

“So we are actually losing three houses.

“It’s still very fresh.

“I’m shocked and devastated, but I understand this is a really important thing that needs to happen.”

Kairanga-Bunnythorpe Rd resident Aaron Fox will be living about 500 metres away from the centre, which would transform a semi-rural lifestyle area into “a huge operation on the doorstep”.

He said he did not oppose progress, but was shocked by the lack of consultation.

Fox said city mayor Grant Smith and city councillors should be standing up for locals, to make sure their interests were protected.

“Let’s make sure it works for everybody.”

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones was in Manawatū on Thursday to announce initial funding for the rail yards.
WARWICK SMITH/STUFFRegional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones was in Manawatū on Thursday to announce initial funding for the rail yards.

Fox said promises the development would create hundreds of jobs and attract billions of dollars of investment should be questioned.

“At the moment people are talking about a lot of zeroes. I wonder what story book they are reading.”

KiwiRail’s investment and capital transactions general manager Olivia Poulsen said visits had started with the owners of the 70-odd properties that would be affected.

About 40 properties were likely to be bought. The other 30 would be neighbours and some of their land might be needed to create buffer zones to manage the effects of the centre beyond the boundaries.

“Our intention is to minimise land acquisition as much as possible.”

Public consultation would influence the final design.

KiwiRail expected to lodge an application to designate the land by the end of September.

KiwiRail gets $40 million for new Manawatu freight hub

KiwiRail received a $40 million commitment from the government's Provincial Growth Fund. Photo / File
KiwiRail received a $40 million commitment from the government’s Provincial Growth Fund. Photo / File

KiwiRail is accelerating work to relocate its Palmerston North operations out of the city as part of plans to develop a regional hub to better handle freight flows throughout the lower North Island.

The company has just received a $40 million commitment from the government’s Provincial Growth Fund to help it with the planning process for the project and for land purchase.

Acting chief executive Todd Moyle said the yet-to-be determined site could potentially cover 60 hectares, some of which would be leased to freight forwarders.

It would also need to be long enough to cater for freights trains that can be a kilometre in length, and have sufficient space to support maintenance infrastructure and materials storage.

Palmerston North is KiwiRail’s key staging point for domestic, imported and exported freight in the lower North Island. Rail freight comes and goes from the north, Wellington, Taranaki and Hawke’s Bay.

About 2.4 million tonnes moved through the current facility in the past year and that is expected to grow.

“This project leverages the region’s strengths and will be fully integrated into the other large investments being made in the regional transport system, including the new Manawatu Gorge road,” Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones said.

“This is a future-focused investment”, with freight tonnages expected to increase by 60 percent during the next 20 years.

Moyle said KiwRail would have invested in the hub, given its strategic importance, but he said the PGF funding had enabled the company to accelerate the work.

“The PGF focus on the regions allowed us to move the freight hub right up our priority list. Without the possibility of PGF funding it would have remained a low priority.”

The main trunk rail line originally ran through Palmerston North. It was diverted around the city and the current rail yard established in 1964 on what was then the city’s north-western outskirts, but is now surrounded by urban development.

Moyle said the firm will start reviewing potential sites immediately. That includes land inside the city’s North East Industrial Zone near the existing rail line and the city’s airport. Once potential sites have been identified there will be a process to designate the land for rail use.

Moyle said purchasing land and planning work could take up to three years. Construction would take another two years.

He said the inter-modal rail and road hub needs to be near the city so it can be easily accessed by distribution companies and other businesses. It also needs to connect well with the airport, a freight ring road being planned by the New Zealand Transport Agency and the proposed replacement road for the Manawatu Gorge.

Moyle said KiwiRail would relocate from the current location over time, allowing the existing land to be used for business and housing.

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