Northern section of Gisborne to Napier rail line up for grabs

The heavily damaged Gisborne to Napier rail line that's lain idle for four years is about to be given a new lease on life.

In 2012 the line was washed out north of Wairoa, removing a vital way to move cargo to and from an isolated part of the country.

The southern part of the line now has the go-ahead to reopen for freight next year, but the big question local producers are asking is - what about the northern part?

Screeching to a halt at Napier Port - for many North Island freight trains, this is the end of the line. The cargo is then loaded onto ships, destined for cities around New Zealand and the world.

From next year, the port can expect even more, with the line going north reopening for business.

"Particularly for the wall of wood that's going to come out of Wairoa and Wairoa North in the next - or starting in the next - few years," says Alan Dick of the Hawke's Bay Regional Transport Committee.

The Gisborne-Napier rail line was mothballed in 2012 after a storm caused damage that was too expensive to fix.

The future of the route was anyone's guess, until KiwiRail and Napier Port came to an agreement in October.

From late next year trains will once again make the 100-kilometre journey from the Port of Napier and back, through to Wairoa. But it's the future of the line from there, through to Gisborne, that's now the subject of some serious debate.

Last month KiwiRail put out a call for groups interested in using the northern part of the line for tourism, but not freight.

"The potential it has is to bring tourism to Gisborne, but the wider potential is when, in timetabling, it's not all tour operators using it, there's potential for freight," says Nikki Searancke of the Gisborne Rail Action Group.

Before the washout, freight trains were operating out of Gisborne many times a week, and local rail advocates say the demand is still there.

"There's still the same businesses there," says Ms Searancke. "They're just loading them on trucks and trying to logistically figure out how they're going to get to market."

KiwiRail says while it will consider the group's plan for freight, it's going to take a lot of convincing.

"I'd have to say personally I think it's going to be a real challenge to get that up and going," says David Gordon of KiwiRail. "The line never made any money when it was in operational condition. People didn't put stuff on the rail."

Before the line has any future use, it needs to be fixed, and that's likely to cost several million dollars. It's a massive barrier, but one many are determined to overcome.

"It's simply a matter of finding $4 to $7 million to fix it up and then business can be away again," says Mr Dick.

KiwiRail hopes to have a better idea of the line's future in February.