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    An exciting proposal - but Tranz Rail could be wanting to keep its monopoly
    Shadbolt whistles up civic role in railway
    21 OCTOBER 2000


    Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt says local government could make a big "splash" in defence of jobs and community development by taking over Tranz Rail's passenger services.

    The company's intention to sell its passenger operations and close uneconomical rail lines from Napier to Gisborne, and from South Waikato to Rotorua, is worrying the Government and the Mayors' Taskforce for Jobs.

    Mr Shadbolt fears Tranz Rail might close passenger services as well and asked Associate Economic Development Minister Phillida Bunkle at a taskforce meeting if the Government would back such an ambitious project.

    "Usually central Government does the big issues and we do the little issues but what if we decided to to something quite bold that created a bit of an international splash?"

    Phillida Bunkle said such a proposal would be exciting, but Tranz Rail wanted to keep its monopoly while getting local bodies to take on under-capitalised ventures.

    Taskforce convener and Christchurch Mayor Garry Moore said the land under the railways remained in public ownership, "which is our leverage."

    Dunedin Mayor Sukhi Turner, whose council has refurbished its central railway station for $4 million, said it would be a shame if long-distance train passengers stopped arriving.

    Auckland leaders have yet to join the taskforce, but have been trying to wrest control of a lease to the region's southern and western rail corridors from Tranz Rail for $65 million, and Manukau Mayor Sir Barry Curtis applauded the suggestion. He acknowledged the country was looking askance at that sum, which the public agency Transfund is hesitating to subsidise.

    East Coast and Rotorua leaders are focusing on the pressing threat of lines closures, which Tranz Rail said could happen in six to 12 months.

    Napier Mayor Alan Dick and his Gisborne counterpart, John Clarke, say closing the line while the East Coast is set to double its timber harvest in the next five years would put intolerable pressure on the state highway linking them.

    And Rotorua Mayor Grahame Hall said Tranz Rail had been remiss in not capturing enough of the 1.3 million annual visitors to his district.

    Tranz Rail spokesman Fred Cockram said it had put considerable effort into marketing the Geyserland Express service. He said the company was looking for professional operators to take over.

    Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton, who is heading a project to assess the East Coast's regional development needs, is promising more money in the next budget for essential infrastructure.

    His economic adviser, John Lepper, said the Government saw the need to cope with the "wall of wood coming down the road" as extremely important "and one solution has to be the rail."