KiwiRail gets $94.8m for Northland upgrade

Article – BusinessDesk

By Gavin Evans

Sept. 6 (BusinessDesk) – The government will provide $94.8 million to upgrade the rail link from Auckland to Whangarei.

The planned work will include replacing or upgrading almost a third of the 181-kilometre line between Swanson and Whangarei. It will include maintenance work on 13 tunnels, replacing five ageing bridges, strengthening embankments, improving drains and culverts and a series of safety improvements at the Whangarei rail yard.

“This work will make our freight train services faster, more reliable and much less prone to disruption,” KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller said in a statement.

“It gives more certainty for our customers and will make rail an option for Northland businesses and exporters to get their goods to market.”

KiwiRail currently operates one freight service to and from Fonterra’s Kauri plant north of Whangarei. The line is subject to speed restrictions and the tunnels on the route limit the size of container that can be railed.

The government-owned rail operator is currently testing the feasibility of building a 20-kilometre spur line from Oakleigh to Northport at Marsden Point. That work would make no sense without the rest of the link to Auckland also being restored.

Funding for the restoration work, to be completed during the coming year, is from the Provincial Growth Fund. Just over $53 million will be spent upgrading tracks, sleepers and ballast. Another $16 million will be spent replacing five mostly wooden bridges with concrete structures, and $7.3 million will go towards repairing 13 tunnels.

Miller said the Northland line, much of it 100 years old, had been under-funded for the past 50 years and faced closure near-term.

As a result, about 95 percent of Northland’s freight is currently moved by road. Upgrading the North Auckland Line provides the foundation for addressing that imbalance, he said.

“Transporting more freight on trains will reduce congestion on Northland roads, road maintenance costs and transport emissions for customers. Wherever possible we will be looking to use local contractors and materials so that Northland sees direct benefits from this work,” he said.

Mainfreight managing director Don Braid said the rail investment is long overdue.

“Mainfreight looks forward to working with KiwiRail to establish a new set of freight services in and out of the Northland region.”

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