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Stratford-Okahukura Line to remain moth-balled

30 June 2010 12:12PM

The Stratford-Okahukura Line (SOL) that links Taranaki with the North Island Main Trunk Line near Taumarunui will remain moth-balled for at least the next two years, KiwiRail Chief Executive Jim Quinn confirmed today.

The line is one of four minor lines' identified for review because they carry limited traffic and do not meet their operational and capital costs.

Mr Quinn says KiwiRail needs to act in a commercial manner. Minor lines that carry little or no traffic will only survive if they can prove their worth or have an anchor customer waiting in the wings.

"We've worked with the local community and customers over the past six months but have been unable to secure freight traffic that can underpin the line's viability," Mr Quinn said.

"A wide range of community interests have worked with us and I'd like to acknowledge their input in helping us reach this decision.

"Community leaders in the Taranaki-King Country area have raised the prospect of new business with us. Moth-balling the line means if opportunities arise to make the line viable then we can take advantage of those."

In the meantime KiwiRail will undertake regular inspections to monitor safety and manage vegetation. The decision to moth-ball is not expected to have any impact on KiwiRail staffing levels.

Mr Quinn said the line would not be moth-balled indefinitely.

"If we can't identify enough business to justify keeping the line open, we'll take another look at our options. If the best option is closure, we'll look for an alternative use for the land but we will retain the rail designation."

He said one of the most common submissions made during the review was the SOL's value as an alternative to the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT). In practice, outages on the NIMT have generally been brief and capable of being managed.

Almost all freight traffic which previously ran on the SOL continues to be moved on alternative rail lines and KiwiRail remains confident that it has the opportunity to grow business in the Taranaki area.

Services on the SOL were suspended in November 2009 after a derailment seriously damaged 9.5 km of track. Given the costs involved in repairing the damage and improving the condition of the line, and the limited revenue it generated, KiwiRail chose to suspend services and review the line's future.