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In denial on rail and rivers

When the regional council voted last week to close the railway station at Kaiwharawhara, it was in denial about the fact that the station is in area full of potential for developing rail travel.

As transport economist Neil Douglas pointed out, the station is

alongside the thriving activity centre of Kaiwharawhara where there is warehousing, Spotlight, DIY shops aplenty and some light industrial activity. There is also a new Harbour View residential development which adds some population that the nearby La Cloche French cafe taps into. A good place for a rail station you might think. But you’d be wrong according to the regional council

And Mike Mellor observed:

the station was closed without any notification that a decision was about to be made, without any consultation at all, and without making any contact with those potentially/actually affected

The excuse for closing the station was that the regional council didn’t want to pay to repair a rust-damaged pedestrian overbridge. David Bond didn’t agree about the cost:

Looking at the photo in the engineer’s report, of corrosion at the base of one of the piers, the loss-of-section appears to be restricted to where the iron was in the ground. Above ground the piers look OK. Can this corroded below-ground section not simply be cast into a new reinforced concrete footing which extends a little way up the sound iron? This would be a lot cheaper than all new piers.

Neil Douglas challenged the statistics [1]with which the regional council claimed that the station didn’t have many users.

The study [by Douglas Economics in 2004] estimated the use of Kaiwharawhara at 1,340 ‘ons’ and ‘offs’ per week or 255 per weekday. That equates to 125 people using the station a day (one ‘off’ in the morning and one ‘on’ in the evening). That’s nine times more than the regional council estimate of 14 commuters.

And Brent Efford wrote in KiwiTram 45) that the closure

symbolises the council’s indifference to retaining existing rail access points where they are inconvenient, or to developing new travel markets by extending rail. Completing the rail system to cover the 8% of the public transport spine which is not rail-served (and which has potentially the highest passenger density because it includes the CBD) would raise the patronage of the whole system, maybe by 100%, going on overseas experience. And consider the other lost opportunities: a seamless tram-train service covering the Golden Mile and the rails to the north would put Animates and all the other big-footprint retailers at Kaiwharawhara virtually on Lambton Quay!

Councillors voted to close the station [2]on the same day that they received an officer’s report making the recommendation. No second opinions, no advance notice, no consultation.

Also on the same day, the council received a warning about deteriorating water quality in its rivers, in the report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. The report shows that water quality in Greater Wellington’s region’s rivers could become some of the worst in the country within seven years. [3] But – unlike the station closure – the council is showing no urgency about making a decision. Here are some qualified excuses from regional councillor Chris Laidlaw [4]:

While the result of the models used in the report represent the worst case scenario (predicting an increase of 24,600ha in dairy and a 17% increase in nitrogen load from 1996 levels to 2020) this is a hypothetical exercise and not what is likely to actually happen in the Wellington region. This is based on land that has the potential to be irrigated for dairy, and also based on existing farm practice continuing and on there being no restriction or limits to nitrogen loads. These are very unlikely scenarios given the Regional Council’s community-based approach to the regional planning process. We expect the community, through the whaitua committees, to set limits on nitrogen loads and other practices and ultimately drive an improvement in farm practice.

On the day that the report was released, Campbell Live showed appalling images of pollution in the Waikato River, which has deteriorated – said the reporter – because of lack of political will to deal with the problem caused by the expansion of dairy farming. Is the regional council similarly lacking in political will? Are community committees, with no pressure from the council, guaranteed to bring the best result? One thing is certain: if the council had chosen to involve the community before it made the decision about the future of the Kaiwharawhara station, then travellers would have had the same treatment as farmers, and the result could have been better for the regional public transport network.