A group of rail enthusiasts and business people are writing a compelling business case to convince KiwiRail it can operate the Napier to Gisborne network that was mothballed last year.
The group met at a forum at the Hawke's Bay Regional Council's Napier office yesterday, where it agreed it would work towards establishing a public/private consortium to lease and operate the railway.
The first task of the "Consortium Steering Group" would be to produce a business case for presentation to KiwiRail chief Jim Quinn.
Forum organiser Ken Crispin said the business case would promote the concept of using the track primarily for freight, then for passenger tourism. It would include groups such as the Gisborne City Vintage Rail Trust, which had an interest in using the line.
"It is also important that we work in co-operation with both KiwiRail and other businesses to get the best solution for our community.
"We intend to replicate the overseas success of shortline operations on the Napier-Gisborne rail line," Mr Crispin said.
The major growth of shortline railways in the US was highlighted by Stu Dow, who has more than 30 years' experience in the railways industry and works in Australia.
"Over 550 shortline and regional railroads now operate in 49 states and bring efficient, reliable rail service to thousands of communities that would have otherwise lost their connection to the nation's mainline railroad system," he said.
"These lines have been saved by local businesses and local authorities who have taken action to create profitable shortlines run by hands-on managers who live and work in the communities they serve."
The group said the efforts already made to research available freight users for the Napier-Gisborne line had provided an excellent starting point. Information fed into the recent BERL report confirmed the line could be made viable.
"The success of the Taieri Gorge Railway near Dunedin is an excellent New Zealand example of what local communities can achieve," Mr Dow said.
The chairperson and other members of the Steering Group for Napier Gisborne Railway Consortium will be confirmed shortly.