9-hour coal train protest creates ‘a positive moment of change’

Nine hours after it began, a coal train protest at the Dunedin Railway Station ended at 4.30pm on Saturday with protesters claiming they had created "a positive moment of change".

They said the railway station — from which the daily northbound coal train leaves — and the happy coincidence of the presence of a large group of people attending the nearby Otago Farmers’ Market had created "a perfect stage for the action".

Dozens of protesters stopped the coal train from running by locking themselves to the tracks at the Dunedin Railway Station shortly before its scheduled 7.30am departure.

The coal train had been scheduled to run from Bathurst Resources’ Takitimu mine in Southland to Fonterra’s Clandeboye milk-processing plant in South Canterbury.

The protest group comprised members of Coal Action Network Aotearoa, Environmental Justice Otepoti and Extinction Rebellion Otepoti/Otautahi/Invercargill.

Environmental Justice Otepoti member and media liaison for the overall protest group Fiona Clements said the protest action had created "a positive moment of change".

"Change yes, but also celebration," she said about the mood of the day, and the aftermath.

Some people did not like disruption, but the protesters had received positive support from many people attending the nearby farmers’ market.

"I feel very positive about the future," she said.

Greater focus had been put on the link between the burning of coal, a fossil fuel, and industrial agriculture, and the output of a Fonterra agricultural plant, she said.

Climate change protesters, some locked to tracks, prevent a northbound coal train from moving...
Climate change protesters, some locked to tracks, prevent a northbound coal train from moving from the Dunedin Railway Station on Saturday. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
A spokeswoman said on Saturday that KiwiRail was aware the freight train had been delayed leaving Dunedin because of protesters.

"We are always concerned for the safety of anyone who trespasses on to railway tracks or into our terminals, and this is being managed by the police," the spokeswoman said.

The daily train, usually carrying about 28 wagons of coal, and some other goods, had been due to pull out of the Dunedin station at 7.30am.

Protesters said that as the train was travelling at very low speed towards the crossing north of the railway station, shortly before 7.30am, a group of flag-carrying protesters advanced close to the tracks to alert the driver.

When the train stopped, another group of protesters locked themselves to the tracks in front of the train, preventing it from moving, and later a group of seven protesters, carrying placards, climbed aboard two nearby coal wagons.

The protest ended peacefully on Saturday afternoon, protesters moving away and police confirming one person, in the protest group in front of the train, had received a warning, but no-one was detained beyond a few minutes, or charged.

A police spokeswoman earlier described the mood and dialogue between police and protesters as "pretty friendly".

One of the protesters, 79-year-old Michael Fay, said he was "simply doing what my conscience demands".

He said he was a veteran of anti-nuclear protests in Britain many decades ago, but was also keen to make a point about fossil fuel.

Ric Carson, a protester helping liaise with the police, said there was plenty to celebrate after the protest.

Despite limited financial resources, the protesters had made their point successfully, he said.

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