Log carriages at Waingawa. PHOTO/FILE

PAM GRAHAM
pam.graham@age.co.nz

Wairarapa businesses want the option of railing goods north to Napier Port, if it is economic.

The issue of “changing the direction of freight trains” came up at a Business Wairarapa lunch in Masterton this month attended by Small Business Minister Stuart Nash.

JNL Mill manager Paul Jordan said there was a perfectly good rail line from Masterton to Woodville which was not being used.

Nash said the government was investing in KiwiRail and the country needed a rail network that was working well for regional economies.

He said he didn’t think rebuilding Wellington’s CentrePort, which slumped after after the Kaikoura earthquake, was a good investment of money.

Napier Port. PHOTO/FACEBOOK

Napier Port was really gearing up, Nash said.

The port on Tuesday held a briefing in Napier about its initial public offer of shares for sale.

It hopes to raise from $204 million to $234m by selling off 45 per cent of the company.

The shares will be offered at an indicative price of $2.27 to $2.60 a share. Hawke’s Bay residents, ratepayers, port employees and certain iwi entities have the first opportunity to apply for shares from July 23 to August 5. The final price will be set on August 6 and 7.

Chief executive Todd Dawson said the centrepiece of planned investment was a new multi-purpose 6-Wharf, a 350m wharf on the north side of the current container terminal. HEB, which is a member of the VINCI Group, has been engaged as the main construction contractor so that the project can commence shortly after completion of the initial public offering.

Napier Port is New Zealand’s fourth-largest port by container volume. In 2018, the port managed the arrival and departure of more than 680 ships, carrying more than five million tonnes of cargo and more than 100,000 cruise passengers.

The offer document says the port is conveniently located for both cargo owners and shipping lines and is an export gateway for logs and forestry products from Hawke’s Bay, “as well as for some areas in the surrounding regions”. It doesn’t specifically mention Wairarapa.

JNL’s Jordan said there was a rail siding at Woodville and the line between Masterton and Woodville still existed but was not being used. The rail line continues from Woodville up to Hawke’s Bay.

JNL sends two to three trucks of goods a day to Napier Port by road.

He said his company was forced to use “the northern route” more after CentrePort was affected by the earthquake.

It would like the option of a northern rail route from Masterton all the time.

“It broadens the opportunities,” he said.

He said Napier had a good port while Gisborne’s port was hampered by bad weather.

In its latest update the Wairarapa Economic Development Strategy team noted the issue of freight being moved on rail north of Masterton was raised at the Business Wairarapa lunch Nash attended.

“Discussions at that lunch also included calls from industry to consider the rail route north of Masterton as a priority.”

This month, KiwiRail began operating larger log trains from Masterton to CentrePort.

The additional capacity to carry about 100,000 tonnes more logs a year would help reduce the number of truck trips over the Remutaka Hill Rd and down State Highway 2 into Wellington, the state-owned rail operator said.

The Napier to Wairoa line is being reopened by KiwiRail using $5m of funding from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund, and will be used to transport logs to Napier.

When the Times-Age previously asked KiwiRail about a potential cycleway north of Masterton to Opaki, on or near the rail corridor, it responded: “While there are currently no regularly scheduled trains on the line, it is an operating railway network and is maintained and kept available for trains at all times.

“It is used as a freight route and trains do run on the line at times.”