Opinion: KiwiFail -- Why no one's using Northland's rail
Here's a tale of Northland companies which want to use the local railway, a state-owned rail operator that says 'no' before complaining about a lack of demand, and a rail line that’s been left to rot and rust.
Earlier this week, I revealed KiwiRail hasn't renewed the contract for its sole customer on its rail line north of Whangarei.
It means from September 1, the 50km track to Otiria won't be used -- it'll effectively be mothballed.
KiwiRail and the Government vehemently reject suggestions the line is about to be permanently scrapped -- but take one look at it, and you'd wonder how trains manage to even stay on the tracks.
I've been on museum railways that are in better condition.
The sleepers are rotting. Some of them aren't even attached to the rail steel anymore because the bolts have fallen off.
The bridges shake and squeak just from me walking on them.
Level crossings across State Highway 1 don’t have barrier arms.
The line is bumpy and buckled.
Trains can only travel on it at snail's pace.
And it gets worse.
Both KiwiRail and Transport Minister Simon Bridges say there’s a "lack of commercial demand", and that’s the reason why the line's in such a state of disrepair.
Well, I'm no expert, but I managed to find two companies that want to use the line:
So two customers, the ball's in KiwiRail’s court.
KiwiRail says 'no'. No to Marusumi because it wasn’t prepared to pay enough. 'No' to Northland Milk because its containers couldn’t fit through tunnels, and KiwiRail lacks the proper wagons.
Yet Simon Bridges still talks about a "lack of commercial demand" for a line that’s "there and ready to be used".
He also claims the 1600 tonnes of logs can fit onto 14 trucks, rather than 150 estimated by lobby groups.
It seems a pretty bad business model to tell your customers to pay top dollar for a product that’s been neglected for decades.
Here's an idea KiwiRail -- upgrade the line, make it efficient, fix the bridges and tunnels and you’ll have customers pouring in.
No one is going to invest in your services if you’re not going to invest in the product you're offering.