New Zealand / Environment

Extinction Rebellion blocks train tracks on coal face of climate change protest

17:06 pm on 9 August 2019

Environmental activists put their bodies on the line in Christchurch today to highlight the message that coal is taking a toll.

Thirty Extinction Rebellion members sat on the train tracks in Woolston on Friday. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Nineteen people were arrested and five train services were disrupted when 30 Extinction Rebellion members sat on the train tracks in Woolston, from 10am to early in the afternoon.

About 70 other protesters cheered on from the safety of the railway's grass berm, including people who had taken the day off work and travelled from around the South Island.

Julia Neill said it was about looking towards a sustainable future.

"It's happening bit by bit, but it needs to happen so much faster. Coal - we don't need to dig it up. We've got alternatives," she said.

Harry Seagar, who encountered the protesters while walking through Halgey Park, said he also felt the use of coal was unnecessary and wrong.

"We need to employ a more progressive and forward thinking stance when it comes to how we source our energy. Coal has simply had its time and now it's time for us to move forward and leave coal behind, leave it in the ground," he said.

Although the protest was complete with home baking, bongo drums, onesies and elephant costumes, it was also some of the most drastic action taken by Extinction Rebellion to date.

Today's protest was some of the most drastic action taken by Extinction Rebellion to date. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Speaking from the train tracks beyond a line of police officers, Dave Simpson said it was the most extreme thing he's ever done for climate change.

"I've got two small kids. I've got a seven-year-old and a four-and-a-half-year-old. I need to go look them in the eyes ... and say that actually, we did our best. I've had enough of inaction and I think we just need to draw a line in the sand and start doing stuff," he said.

Another person at the coal face of the protest, Sara Campbell, said she wasn't afraid to get arrested for the cause - as she and 18 others were, when they refused to leave of their own accord at about 2.30pm.

"I knew that's what I was up for when I came here today," she said.

"It's the length that I'm willing to go to, to get some change and stop our coal use."

Four freight trains and one shunt train were halted in total before the arrests were made.

About 70 other protesters cheered on from the safety of the railway's grass berm. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

In a statement, KiwiRail's Chief Operating Officer Todd Moyle said he regretted the inconvenience to KiwiRail's customers.

KiwiRail's COO Todd Moyle. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

"It is simply not safe for people to be on the rail network without permission, whatever their motives," he said.

"Trains are big, fast and cannot stop quickly. People are free to protest outside the rail corridor ... with anyone who is in the corridor without permission we contact police, and it is for them to manage the incident."

But Extinction Rebellion spokesperson Siana Fitzgerald said today's message wasn't necessarily pointed at KiwiRail, but at all companies profiting off the destruction of the climate.

And she said the group would keep up the heat on the issue of coal, with today's event marking the beginning of serious, nation-wide action.

"Activists have been fighting the coal industry in New Zealand for a long time and there have been some heartbreaking losses of New Zealand's ecology to the coal industry. But looking at all the people that we've got now, we're at that point where actually, we do have enough people to tip the balance on carbon," she said.

Police said they were speaking with the 19 people arrested for trespass.

Other Extinction Rebellion members were waiting outside Christchurch Police Station this afternoon for their release, with cups of tea and scones.