Alternative to Picton terminal back on the agenda says KiwiRail

Clifford Bay, the much talked about but never acted upon alternative South Island rail ferry terminal, is back on the planning agenda at Kiwi Rail.

KiwiRail's chief executive Jim Quinn told a Wellington business audience this morning that KiwiRail was keen on the project for a number of reasons.

"As a champion of productivity, we are interested in reducing travelling time for passengers and freight."

Having the rail ferries discharge at Clifford Bay east of Blenheim near Lake Grassmere "would cut at least an hour off the travelling time from Wellington and would make Auckland to Christchurch a same day journey."

"Taking the ferries out of the Marlborough Sounds would also avoid any risk of environmental damage," Mr Quinn said.

The chief executive of the Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce Charles Finny said that the chamber had supported and campaigned for the Clifford Bay project in the past, but it had slipped off the radar.

"We are pleased to see that it is now back on KiwiRail's agenda," he said.

A spokeswoman for Transport Minister Stephen Joyce said there had not been any recent discussions with Ministers.

Shifting the rail ferry terminal from Picton was first raised in the 1970s, and the Clifford Bay proposal has been around since the mid 1980s.

Some initial planning work was done by the former New Zealand Railways and concept plans were released for a new port with passenger and freight terminals.

Opinion in Picton was divided, with some fearing the loss of jobs while others welcomed an end to large ships operating in the Sounds for environmental reasons.

Although the project has languished in recent years, Mr Quinn said the project was now under consideration again.

Published in the National Business Review of 4 September 2009