NZ: Stratford - Okahukura Line Mothballed

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Cogload Train Controller

Location: Ooop North
After yet another derailment:

Media Statement
5 November, 2009
For immediate release

KiwiRail postpones repairs to Stratford-Okahukura railway line

KiwiRail will move Taranaki rail freight through Marton and the North Island
Main Trunk Line until it determines what to do about track damage to the
alternative Stratford-Okahukura Line (SOL), Chief Executive Jim Quinn
confirmed today.

Eight Kilometres of railway sleepers at the northern end of the SOL between
Matiere and Okahukura were damaged on Monday night as a result of a
derailment. Currently, one return train a day uses the SOL to move dairy
products, empty containers and general goods between New Plymouth and the
northern section of the North Island Main Trunk.

Over the past year, on the basis of traffic volumes, the SOL has been the
most derailment-prone railway line in the country.

"We've had staff working on the derailment scene," said Mr Quinn. "Their
assessment is that track and sleeper damage is considerably greater than we
had originally envisaged.

"We have to make a decision on when we complete repairs and how much work we
do to bring the line back into good working order. In the meantime, we have
talked to customers and arranged for their freight to be moved through

"Investment in the SOL has been minimal for many years and even maintenance
has been kept to a minimum. Our assessment of the derailment scene indicates
we would need to spend up to $400,000 to repair the damage."

Mr Quinn said spending of $750,000 had already been allocated for this year
to improve the condition of one of the 24 tunnels and significant spending
has been forecast for the next 10 years to bring the line up to standard.

"The amount of traffic using it at the moment doesn't justify continuing
with repair work without a considered look at likely future freight volumes.

"That doesn't mean we have decided to close the line. It simply means that
we need to be sure that investing more than $1 million in the line within
the next 12 months and more money in future years to bring it up to
standard, is justified on commercial grounds."

Mr Quinn said a decision on the line is likely to be made early next year.
Network and freight staff currently working the SOL would be re-allocated to
other tasks.

KiwiRail has recently carried out a review of its business and is due to
deliver a strategic plan for the future of the business to the Government
later this month.
- A user

Get those bicycles ready for the conversion! I understand the Fonterra tonnage is moving through Marton and then onto the NIMT (which thankfully is beginning to perk up a bit).
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
I think that Fonterra will have something to say about that. Incidentally the extra train pair on the NIMT may well screw up the maths being used to justify removing the Ef's from the trunk.
Cogload Train Controller

Location: Ooop North
According to a post on the CBT forum the line is going to be repaired and reopened.  Very Happy

Fonterra pulling the strings....?

Whatever, that is good news. Would it be sensible to can any movements in this years dairy season and spend the cash now to bring the line up to scratch. Or will that dent kiwirails capex budget for the year? I wonder if KR have managed to wring some cash out of the local councils for the upgrade....?
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
I think that it is as yet unconfirmed Cogload although others would be better able to judge. From the amount of traffic that even an optimistic forecast would give the SOL is always going to be a marginal line in terms of profit and loss. I doubt that it will ever exceed 3 trains per day each way unless a major new industry is established in Taranaki. As such Kiwi rail are no doubt correct to pause and take a deep breath before proceeding. However the lines value to fonterra if for only providing a competative market for teh transport of there exports and to NZ's economy as a whole is no doubt much more positive, if only the NATs would see that. If there is an early descion to repair and reopen the line then no doubt Fonterra may well have said something.
alexjc Deputy Commissioner

Sad Fonterra has, but have been contronted with what state the line is really in. Kiwirail wants to restore the line and repair damage. This line seems cursed, when one section is repaired another fails...Years of neglect really taking it's toll.  Got to remember the NIMT is only one step removed from this fate and will carry all north - south traffic for the foreseable future...and yes will have no choice but to close when an enevitable slip occurs.

As a side, could this be a cataylist for pushing through the ECML as the insurance back up that the SOL used to offer? This new line would be not as isolated if at all, as the SOL is now.
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
Sadely of course the SOL saw little work done to it since the early 1960's when it was made fit for the Da class and heavier longer trains than originally under steam days. Everything is worn out, rails sleepers etc and so it needs a massive injection of funds which I do not believe the prsent government is prepared to do unless pushed very hard.

As for completing the ECML. This would give even more insurance than the SOL for the NIMT as it effectively by passes much more of the NIMT. However it does not provide insurance against a closure of the Milk Route and with the current lack of heavy long distance flows between the Bay of Plenty and Hawkes Bay Wellington is unlikely to be funded currently given the jhigh cost of building the missing link and the steep grades involved.
Tonymercury Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: Botany NSW
Eastern rail link may have future, say Greens
Ray Cleaver 27th May 2010

CLOSING the Stratford – Okahukura rail line is another example of the Budget’s deficit of vision, said the Green Party.
Transport Minister Steven Joyce announced the KiwiRail “Turn-around Plan” last Tuesday before the Budget, which identified the line as one of four that could be closed or mothballed by 2012.

“It’s great that the Government is committed to investing some money in the future of rail freight,” said Green Party Transport spokesperson Gareth Hughes, “but the overall approach to transport spending is very short-sighted and will ultimately make New Zealand even more dependent on costly road transport.”

“The Ministry of Transport states that rail is six times more fuel-efficient than trucks for moving bulk freight. The additional safety, congestion and environmental benefits are substantial. Unfortunately, John Key’s government doesn’t seem interested in analysing the costs and benefits of the transport system as a whole,” said Mr Hughes.

“The narrow focus on rail lines that already achieve high revenues means that some strategically important lines, like the Stratford – Okahukura, may be lost. Oil prices are rising. We need to invest in rail so that it is a viable transport option for moving passengers and freight in the future.”
Mr Hughes said that closing lines or mothballing lines now, instead of investing in maintenance, would lead to higher costs in the future.
The Rotorua to Waikato line was mothballed in 2001 because it needed less than $2 million in repairs. In 2008 when a tourism operator investigated reopening the line they found so many sleepers and tracks had been stolen it would cost about $10 million to repair and reopen the line. The Stratford – Okahukura line is of strategic importance because of the growing dairy industry in the region. There is a safer, more sustainable alternative to long queues of milk tankers on State Highway 3,” said Mr Hughes.

“We should be investing in rail because it is a more efficient, effective and cheaper way to move people and goods than costly motorways. If John Key’s Government wasn’t prioritising the Puhoi to Wellsford holiday highway, which currently carries less traffic a day than an arterial road carries in one hour in Auckland and Wellington, we would have plenty of money to bring the rail network up to speed. We need to invest more in rail to future-proof our economy and quality of life.”
Tonymercury Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: Botany NSW
By JARED SMITH - Taranaki Daily News Last updated 05:00 17/06/2010

Stratford Mayor Neil Volzke has played Taranaki's final cards for saving
the region's historic rail link, but the axe is still expected to fall this

The fate of the Stratford to Okahukura (SOL) line, which has been
unprofitable for decades and closed since November last year after
derailment damage, should be decided at a coming KiwiRail meeting, with
final recommendations to be taken to Transport Minister Steven Joyce.

At yesterday's Regional Transport Committee meeting, Stratford mayor Neil Volzke spoke of his trip to Wellington a fortnight ago with Ruapehu district mayor Sue Morris to meet with KiwiRail officials and then Mr Joyce.

He said they wanted to provide information in favour of keeping the line
open, but the response remained the same.

"The future of the line depends on whether or not there is a commercial
future for it," Mr Volzke said. "They [KiwiRail] need to have a major user -
long term, bulk major user.

"They did point out they are not in the business of social handouts."

The Government has committed $250 million to support KiwiRail's
"turn-around-plan" to increase New Zealand's economic productivity and
growth through rail.

The plan indicates that "minor lines that carry little or no traffic will
only survive if they have proven future and/or an imminent anchor customer."

The four "minor lines" mentioned are North Auckland line, Napier to
Gisborne, North Wairarapa, and the SOL.

Mr Volzke said their party did point out the potential for the dairy, gold,
and forestry industries to still use the line.

In addition, as the turn-around-plan may mean parts of the rail network will have to be closed temporarily for renovations, the SOL line could be used as an alternative to move freight.

He asked KiwiRail officials what exactly mothballing the line would mean.

"It will remain but not in use. They were aware of the decommission costs," he said.

KiwiRail also said the mothball period would only be for a certain amount of time however, and if the line did close, further improvements would be made to the Marton - New Plymouth Line, he said.
alexjc Deputy Commissioner

Sad Mothballing does cost, but only in stripping down and the recommisioning. Where this will happen is removing trackside furniture, crossings sealed over...bridges and tunnels gated...
Although a good thing, all it takes is a couple of years and this line will vanish from the landscape as nature retakes its own.

Kiwirail are employing 'trainee' trackstaff in the Wellington region, this seems to be in line with massive works plan stated by minister Joyce, but it also means more experianced crews will be sent into 'the bush' to mothball this line and move on to others.
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
It has been reported that the Kiwi Rail board has decided to mothball this line.
Tonymercury Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: Botany NSW
KiwiRail has announced today that the line between Stratford and
Taumarunui is to be 'moth-balled' for at least the next two years. It
has not seen use since a derailment in 2009 and since then the majority
of freight previously carried has been routed from New Plymouth, through
Stratford and on to Marton to connect with the North Island Main Trunk.
The line's survival depends on what freight traffic can be attracted and
particularly the costs of returning it to an operational standard.
Meanwhile the tracks will be inspected regularly for vegetation control
and safety.
Tonymercury Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: Botany NSW
Stratford press

Future of historic eastern rail link still hanging
Ray Cleaver 1st July 2010

IN November last year, a de-railed carriage was dragged some 8 km on the Stratford-Okahukura Line (SOL), causing damage to thousands of rail sleepers, before the train was bought to a halt.

To date the resultant damage has not been repaired and the line remains closed eight months later.

At the time of the derailment it was only being used by one train a day which carried mainly products for the Hawera based dairy company Fonterra .

During the period of closure Fonterra's products have been transported on the Marton line as an alternative route, something that doesn't bother Fonterra.

Meanwhile, the owner of the SOL , KiwiRail, has been considering the options for the future of the line. KiwiRail estimates the cost of repair to be about $1m but says a total of $10m is needed to bring the line up to the required standard for future freight use.
Part of Kiwirail's dilemma is deciding whether this money would be better spent on further improvements to the more user friendly, alternative Marton route.

Over recent months KiwiRail have completed a consultation period with interest groups, including the Taranaki based SOL working party, and received submissions from the public.

Those wanting the SOL re-opened have presented their supporting arguments.

But in reality, the big question remains unchanged. Do these arguments build a sufficiently strong commercial case to justify future expenditure to re-open the line ? KiwiRail says, without a major active user, this is doubtful.

The government budget in May included announcements on KiwiRail that have added to the discussion. The Minister of Transport, Steven Joyce, identified four short haul lines that were under close scrutiny and could face possible closure by 2012. The SOL was one of those identified. If the four identified lines failed to stack up commercially, they would be mothballed.

At the same time he announced a cash injection of $750m, over the next three years was available to KiwiRail for capital expenditure. But this would only be accessible if KiwiRail put forward satisfactory business cases that met the government performance measures and contributed to KiwiRail's future profitability.

Recently a delegation led by Ruapehu Mayor, Sue Morris, and myself went to Wellington and met with senior management of KiwiRail and also with Minister of Transport Steven Joyce.

Our intention was to seek clarification on recent statements by KiwiRail and the announcements in the budget. We also needed to follow up on a letter the mayors of Taranaki had jointly sent to the Minister earlier this year.

The delegation was well received by KiwiRail who briefed us on the present position. Essentially, they are still investigating and developing a business case to justify the retention of the line. They are well aware of its strategic value and future potential, as the SOL supporters have provided solid information on this aspect.

As reported previously, what would add considerable weight to the business case, would be identifying a major long term, bulk freight user as an anchor customer, moving for example: dairy, coal or forestry products. At present that customer is not there.

Whether there is a strong enough business case to prove the line commercially viable without a major user and still satisfy the decision makers, is uncertain.

I asked what the term "mothballed" meant in practical terms. KiwiRail said this would mean not using the line and doing only essential maintenance such as spraying weeds, maintaining road crossings and attending to any health and safety issues.

To me, that sounded awfully like the existing situation.

If the line does become officially mothballed, KiwiRail indicated this designation would not be left in place for an indefinite period into the future.

Mayoral Forum
In February the Taranaki mayoral forum had written to Minister of Transport Steven Joyce noting the arguments for the retention of the line, but also expressing a broader view by seeking some assurances, should the line be closed permanently.

We didn't want to send mixed messages to the Minister but we thought it important to have a Plan B as well.

It is always much more beneficial to have your views considered during the decision making discussion, rather than after the decision is made.

Assurances about future ownership, its designation and potential future uses for the rail corridor were some of the issues raised. There have been some great ideas put forward for future use, should the rail become redundant.

We also sought a commitment to further spending on improving Taranaki's other road/rail infrastructure.

Minister Joyce was very understanding of the issues affecting the future of the SOL. He re-iterated the KiwiRail standpoint, saying that they are a commercial organisation and are required to make sound commercial decisions. No surprises there.

Overall, the Ministers comments were encouraging and I remain optimistic that whether the SOL is re-opened or closed permanently, there will be some salvageable long term options and benefits for our region.

It is not known when any formal decision will be announced.

SO what's happening re the future of the historic rail line from Stratford through Eastern Taranaki? Stratford District Mayor Neil Volzke has been involved in the process of trying to keep the line open and he submitted the following.
Tonymercury Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: Botany NSW
Stratford Press

All aboard the Whanga Express?
Ray Cleaver 15th July 2010

POSSIBLE ideas for the mothballed Stratford-Taumarunui rail line are still emerging, with a new suggestion of running the historic Taranaki Flyer steam engine between Stratford and Whangamonona.The 50-tonne iconic steam engine once ran from New Plymouth to Wanganui on a regular basis and at present volunteers are working towards fully restoring it to its former glory.

Transrail announced recently the line will be mothballed for at least two years and the long term future of the track is uncertain.
The 88-year-old express was a familiar part of the landscape in days gone by. The big AB locomotive came off the tracks in Hawera in 1956, and lay buried for 46 years before being dug up in 2002.
The Taranaki Flyer Society is restoring the train in a Stratford goods shed, and project manager Harry Hessell said while the restoration could take five to seven years, they are already looking at possible options where the train could run.

"If we could get a dedicated line we would have quite a tourist attraction on our hands. It could be a great boost for Central Taranaki."

"There are three tunnels and five bridges on the 61 km line to Wanga. We could hire carriages and sell refreshments.

"It would be amazing if we could get the use of a section of the line or even buy a section.

A unique dedicated tourist rail line giving a back county experience would be the very popular. There could be other activities such as bush walking or kayaking as well."

The idea is just a suggestion at this stage and while it is too early for the society to make any approach to KiwiRail, they are working with others to help find a future for the eastern Taranaki line.
We still have a long way to go but the eastern track looks attractive," Mr Hessell said.

He cited the Rotorua-Ngongotaha Rail Trust, which was gifted a disused line from KiwiRail.

"You never know, we might be able to do some such deal here," he said.
A $11,000 grant from Taranaki Electricity Trust last week will go towards boiler restoration and the purchase of more tools for the project.

A group called the Friends of AB745 has been set up, for people who want to follow the restoration process, even if they are not working on the loco.
ChrisJBrady Beginner

I'd like to inject another idea for this line: speeder-riding. This is a high adrenalin activity involving the riding of jiggers along disused rail-lines. Its a great sport in the US and Canada. See: and and etc. The moth-balled line would be a great tourist attraction and keep the infrastructure for when (and if) the line is ever brought back to normal use. CJB.
alexjc Deputy Commissioner

Sad A good idea but sadly, totally unfeasable as OSH and HSSE (bla bla bla...) regulations would stifle any attempt to operate on this line.  The line is isolated for most of it's length and a potential accident would be difficult to attend.

Kiwirail is hoping mother nature will finish this line off over time so to close it completely. KR's focus is on the Main Trunk and getting that line up to at least minium 21st century standards.
millsy Station Staff

Kiwirail is hoping mother nature will finish this line off over time so to close it completely. KR's focus is on the Main Trunk and getting that line up to at least minium 21st century standards.
- A user

I Crying or Very sadCrying or Very sad  Sad really. The SOL should really be right up there with the likes of the panama canal and the channel tunnel in terms of engineering achivements. The line was carved out of some of the worlds most challenging terrain with picks, shovels and pack horses, and now KR are going to kick all those men in the teeth by just leaving it to rot.

Disgraceful really. KiwiRail will grow to regret their actions
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed

I Crying or Very sadCrying or Very sad  Sad really. The SOL should really be right up there with the likes of the panama canal and the channel tunnel in terms of engineering achivements. The line was carved out of some of the worlds most challenging terrain with picks, shovels and pack horses, and now KR are going to kick all those men in the teeth by just leaving it to rot.

Disgraceful really. KiwiRail will grow to regret their actions
- millsy

Whilst I would agree that kiwi rail and the government will undoubtable regret allowing this line to fade away if that is indeed what happens I must ask you just when do you think this line was built. Most of the work was done using mechanical means as the era of picks and shovels had long past although revived temporally in the 1930's to a limit extent to soak up the unemployed.
alexjc Deputy Commissioner

Smile Yeah this line was orginally the Toko Branch, untill the 1930 depression forced it through as a Makework sceme...The idea as a shortcut to Taranaki from Auckland...It is rugged and full of slow speed curves, and far too many tunnels and bridges. Not too many full big picture vistas, just mainly boring back blocks rolling hills farm land.

The project kind of killed off the East Coast Main Trunk, as we know, the better choice. As WWII intervened and killed off any chance of continued rail development...
millsy Station Staff

It's been more than a year since that derailment occured that caused the line to be mothballed.

Seeing as there seems to be no real will from anyone, aside from an e-petiton and a few lettersto the editor, for the line to be re-instated, its just a matter of waiting for the final closue in 2012.

If the line was going to be saved, it would have happened this year, and with the events on the west coast, I doubt that there would be much of an appetite to exploit the coal reserves in the Ohura/Tangakarau area.

Hopefully a heritage operation can step in and save at least the the Stratford-Whangamomona/Tangakarau section, turn it into a tourist route, like the TGR.
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
Hppefully not Millsy. Whilst I can understand Kiwi Rail preferring to spend the money bringing more traffic to the Auckland Wellington Christchurch route for the moment as it is where the greatest potential increase in traffic and therefore income is, hopefully later they will reinstate this line.

It is now commonly beleived that within the next decade oil production will fall below demand and that will result in rapid increases in teh cost of oil. This is why so many Governments are now investing in rail transport rather than road transport. At present I believe Kiwi Rail are keeping the line clear of vegetation which will enable them to quickly reinstate the line when they have sufficient money to do so. Hopefully!
jayrailnz Chief Train Controller

Location: Cromwell Otago NZ
I have revisited this site,and see the logic of the mothballing if there is no near future for its reinstatement.Whats the latest?
Like Millsy,I too when exploring this system found the engineering challenges that faced the builders to be mind-blowing especially for a small country.I  have the FH Roberts Compendium of Railway Construction Part I Taranaki,it details the massive tackling of the curves and mountains.Swizterland like
I visited area in 2007 and saw only one milker,though the rail bed looked reasonable.I'm wondering what the weekly services were then?
I read there was a derailment,when so and any details out there?
I viewed a Independence day train on DVD "Off the Rails",what a great trip that must have been (what Date ?)
ah the hopes we have.
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
Indeed it is a very scenic line even if it lacks such things as spectacular viaducts. Apart from coal and timber there is not likely to ever be any traffic generated along the length of the line to warrent its retention. Its potentual for the future is traffic between Taranaki and the Waikato and beyound. At present Kiwi Rail seems to be content carrying this traffic, or such as they retain, via Marton.
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
A national rail preservation group has set its sights on the Stratford-Okahukura Line in a bid to save it from extinction.

The 142-kilometre-long network is all but closed because it needs $10 million in repairs to bring it back to an acceptable standard.

But The Way Forward co-ordinator Alan Preston said the railway's closure was not a foregone conclusion.

He said the Central Taranaki rail network was in the same boat as small lines across the country and worried groups needed to band together

"By co-ordinating our efforts with other affected and concerned parties we will have a better chance of ensuring that the Stratford-Okahukura line will continue its role as a strategic component in Taranaki's transport infrastructure."

The line has been closed since November 2009, after a serious derailment damaged 9.5km of track.

It had been operating as a freight-only line at that time.

KiwiRail has signalled the line that links Taranaki with the North Island main trunk line near Taumarunui will remain mothballed, at least until 2012.

KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn says 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.

Taranaki Flyer Society trustee Peter Hancock said uniting on a national level was a "brilliant idea". "The issue is political so the more voices we have the better."

He said the key was rising fuel prices which would make rail the obvious transport choice in the future.

He said tracks like the Stratford- Okahukura line needed to be maintained because eventually the Government would need them again.

Anybody keen on more information can go to
jayrailnz Chief Train Controller

Location: Cromwell Otago NZ
Seems there are very positive vibes from the Taranaki group,so well-organised community opinion needs feeding in. Its a must to preserve.
At least there are rails/track signals in place,not like trying to go for a  Rehab of a ghost line.
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
Yes and at least it keeps the line intact until such time as Kiwi Rail and all find a use for it again.

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