Hillside workshops could be closed: KiwiRail report

Dunedin's Hillside Engineering Workshops will be closed if they are not sold, a KiwiRail report states, prompting a visit to the facility by Labour leader David Shearer.

KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn yesterday bowed to public pressure and released the draft Infrastructure and Engineering Business Plan 2013-15, which had been under a court injunction preventing its publication.

The document detailed KiwiRail's plan to delay track maintenance, cut staff numbers and reduce overall spending by $200 million in the next three years.

It stated Hillside would be closed if a buyer could not be secured.

Last night, Labour's Dunedin South MP Clare Curran said Mr Shearer would make his first visit to Hillside on Monday afternoon.

He would speak to staff about their concerns.

Ms Curran said the "disturbing" report raised questions which KiwiRail had a responsibility to answer.

"We want clarification from KiwiRail about its intentions with regard to Hillside. KiwiRail owes it to Dunedin to let us know what it sees as Hillside's future," she said.

KiwiRail had blocked Hillside from tendering for new work, Ms Curran said.

The company had undertaken due diligence on tenders for Hillside and expected to announce a sale decision within weeks.

Failure to sell would result in everything shut down, except the loco heavy lift maintenance area, which would only remain open until a Christchurch alternative was rebuilt, the report said.

Mr Quinn was not available last night to answer questions about Hillside, and a KiwiRail spokesman said the company would not speculate on an outcome for Hillside until the sale process had been completed.

Mr Shearer and Labour transport spokesman Phil Twyford issued a statement saying KiwiRail was deliberately neglecting its assets to save money, increasing the risk of network failures.

"National is running KiwiRail into the ground," they said.

Mr Twyford said KiwiRail's "irresponsible" plan was prompted by the Government's crippling turn-around plan, which should be scrapped.

Members of the Green Party and the Rail and Maritime Transport Union also criticised KiwiRail and the Government yesterday.

But Mr Quinn insisted the state-owned enterprise was committed to making the national rail network sustainable and would not compromise safety.

During a press conference, he said the report was part of an internal process to identify potential risks in order to mitigate against them, and was proof KiwiRail undertook "careful" and "systemic" planning in relation to the economic situation it faced.

"Reports that we have something to hide because we sought an injunction are really frustrating," he said.

"It is not about us letting the network go at all, we are not taking a slash-and-burn approach. We are committed first and foremost to delivering a safe outcome for the public, and we would close lines rather than take safety risks, but we are nowhere near that," he said.

KiwiRail spent $280 million on the network last year and would spend $262 million in the coming year - part of more than $1 billion to be invested between now and 2015.

Mr Quinn said KiwiRail would not make staff redundant then contract out work, as it made no financial sense.

"This is not about doing stuff a different way; this is about choosing to do less stuff and changing priorities. There is a lot of noise we've got some mad contracting agenda, but that is just a red herring," he said.



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