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Rail key to log jam

At Waingawa’s log storage and rail yard: [back row, from left] Southern North Island Wood Council CEO Erica Kinder, C3 area manager Steve Chapple, Forest Enterprises CEO Bert Hughes, Labour MP Kieran McAnulty, Guy Farman of Farman Turkington Limited; [front row, from left] NZ First MP Ron Mark, Forestry Minister Shane Jones and C3 Waingawa site manager Craig Allen. PHOTO/BECKIE WILSON

Waingawa a ‘true inland port’, MP says

Those with “skin in the game” say the Wairarapa forestry industry can continue to grow, but only if rail infrastructure expands with it and employment training is better supported by the Government.

More than five years since the Wairarapa-based logging and trucking companies started carting logs by rail from Waingawa, reducing the number of logging trucks on the road to Wellington, they are asking for more government support to boost their growing industry.

Forestry Minister Shane Jones met key industry stakeholders at Waingawa Rail Hub on Tuesday morning to understand the Wairarapa industry – and told them he needed to know where best to direct his attention.

“I said to the forestry stakeholders to direct my attention to achievable targets – your problems are not unlike other problems in forestry.

“If it’s training and infrastructure, if it’s a need to work with landowners so the value of forest is better understood, direct my attention to them and I will get cracking and seek to deliver them,” Jones said.

Forest Enterprises CEO Bert Hughes told Jones that there was room to grow log volumes by 50 per cent, but labour and rail infrastructure were two key factors holding the industry back.

The Wairarapa train line exists for commuters, and the log wagons work around the commuter services, he said.

“It’s not about the money, no one likes to see log trucks on the road, but capacity is maxed out – we could use another train, now,” Hughes said.

Forest Enterprises has about 140,000 tonnes of wood leaving the region each year, but that could be ramped up to about 210,000 tonnes immediately if there was more rail capacity.

Logs are trucked in from destinations up to 70km away from the yard, Hughes said.

The businesses have six weeks from harvest to process the logs, transport them to Wellington and get them on to a ship bound for China.

Forestry Minister Shane Jones, who was in the region to help launch the Wairarapa Economic Development Strategy on Monday night, said he met the industry stakeholders to understand constraints in the business and to talk the One Billion Trees programme.

Jones said the logging site at Waingawa was “very impressive”.

“There’s a lot of sweat and stress behind what we see but that’s what it’s like running provincial businesses in a provincial economy.”

He is eyeing up from Wairarapa to southern Hawke’s Bay as a prime area for the One Billion Trees programme.

“The fact is we need to get over the line,” Jones said. “No one should doubt whether or not Wairarapa is regarded as an area deserving of government attention.”

He will organise for KiwiRail’s new chairman Greg Miller to meet the companies “to see, touch, listen and learn from people with skin in the game”.

NZ First Minister of Defence Ron Mark said about a decade ago, the region’s three district councils and the Greater Wellington Regional Council formed the Waingawa industrial area with the intention to use rail more.

“It’s a true inland port,” said Mark, a Carterton resident.

Many things could be done to boost the industry, but roads and transport were key, he said.

Mark said the Wairarapa roads, not covered by the New Zealand Transport Agency, were being “hammered” and there needed to be more funding to the district councils to manage that.

Labour MP Kieran McAnulty said hearing the successes and the issues showed him the region’s three MPs needed to work together to improve it.

“By bringing the Minister here to hear what’s holding back growth, what we keep hearing is rail is holding it back, so we just have to do a few things to make it hum.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. Great to read about efforts to ramp up logs from the Wairarapa to the Port of Wellington! I recently passed two trains carrying logs on trip to Masterton (yes I was on rail!). My ideas are even more expensive, but in the long run should easily show the benefits. In NZ two things generally constrain railway operations: Single tracks and short loops. This applies to both freight and passengers in certain places, and the Wairarapa is the prime example in the lower N. Island.
    Lets be bold here: Electrify the line through to Masterton, double the track Upper Hutt to the Rimutaka Tunnel, and continue with double line on to Masterton. Now you can run Matangi units (new build, four car with toilets/food counter) all the way. Now freight: The Class 30 electrics are being refurbished for the Te Rapa- Palmerston North section, why not retrofit them for the 1,500V DC as dual-current? This is common in Europe, in fact new or secondhand could fit the bill. There will not be enough Class 30’s for all that work, so extra locomotives will be needed in any case. Now to fill in the electrification gaps: Bring the 1,500V DC from Waikanae to Palmerston Nth (likely to be cheaper than taking the 25Kva the other way) and finally extend the high voltage Te Rapa to Papakura. You then have the “Electric Trunk” so long mooted! As Hamilton may soon get a commuter service the benefits accrue there as well.
    Funding: Government(taxpayers!) as private industry under our rail model would not contribute, but to complete this work, spread over many years would go out to tender, creating jobs and there are plenty of NZ companies that could do it.

  2. Rail is the best transport option by far. Moving logs in by rail is way more fuel efficient than carting them by road. The Rimutaka Hill is not suitable for log trucks and the Wellington Motorways aren’t either. Hopefully we will see more log trains on the line sooner rather than later, for the benefit of the Wairarapa region.

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