Government investment in Northland rail welcomed by transport industry

The Government’s significant investment to maintain and upgrade the rail line to Whangarei will help get more freight onto trains and open up Northland’s economy, KiwiRail Group Chief Executive Greg Miller says.

 At an event at Helensville Railway Station today, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones announced $94.8 million through the Provincial Growth Fund for much needed work on the 181km line between Swanson and Whangarei.

 The planned work will include replacing or upgrading almost a third of the line, maintenance work on 13 tunnels, replacing five aging bridges, improving numerous drains and culverts, strengthening embankments and making safety and efficiency improvements at the Whangarei rail yard.

 Mr Miller said the line improvements will cut down train travel times and make the line more resilient to weather events.

 “This work will make our freight train services faster, more reliable and much less prone to disruption. It gives more certainty for our customers and will make rail an option for Northland businesses and exporters to get their goods to market.

 “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.

 “Right now 95 per cent of the freight in Northland is moved by road. The improvements to the NAL (North Auckland Line) are the foundation for addressing that imbalance.”

 Don Braid, Group Managing Director Mainfreight, said he was delighted at the investment in the NAL.

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

 Stan Semenoff, former Mayor of Whangarei and head of Northland’s largest transport company also welcomed the Government investment.

 “It’s great to see a revival of rail taking place, following the long-term underinvestment in the rail line. This will be significantly beneficial to the Northland local economy. In particular, we’re looking forward to working with KiwiRail on transport solutions. More widely, we’re looking forward to a future that combines road and rail for the greater benefit of New Zealand. This is the first great step forward.”

Mr Miller said much of the line was at least 100 years old but, for the last 50 years, had gone without the level of maintenance needed to keep it up to standard.

 “The North Auckland Line has been in decline for decades and without this investment would have had to close in the near term. KiwiRail has already had to start strengthening one of the tunnels which could have closed the line within a year.

 “It’s crucial that Northland stays rail connected and I’m incredibly grateful for this Government support which will not only ensure the NAL remains operational but becomes more efficient.”

 KiwiRail currently runs a freight service to and from Kauri, north of Whangarei each weekday.

KiwiRail aims to complete the majority of the NAL work in the next year.



Note to Editors

The planned work on the North Auckland Line between Swanson and Whangarei includes:

Track, sleepers and ballast ($53.1M):

  • Works will target improving track resilience and reducing  wear on track and rolling stock. Approximately 30 per cent - 54km - of the network will be either upgraded or replaced, particularly worn areas where there are bends, turnouts, and steep grades.
  • Approximately 50,000 sleepers are expected to be replaced and 50,000 cubic metres of ballast added.

 Replacing five of the 88 bridges on the line ($16.2M):

  • Mostly wooden bridges, which will be replaced with concrete structures due to their deteriorating structural condition.

 Repairs to 13 tunnels ($7.3M):

  • KiwiRail has begun work strengthening Tunnel 2, north of Helensville, one of the longest on the NAL. This has included installing steel ribs to support the tunnel lining in an area of deformation
  • Work will also be done on the other 12 tunnels, including plaster repairs, crack filling and drainage improvements.
  • As part of the maintenance work on all the tunnels, below ground conditions will be investigated in preparation for later work to lower the ground level in the tunnels (to fit larger, modern shipping containers).

 Clearing drains and culverts ($9.5M):

  • Clearing trackside drains along the 181km stretch of line.
  • A quarter (approx. 237) of the 950 culverts (drainage pipes) on the line are in poor condition and will be remediated as required.
  • Maintaining the drains and culverts is crucial for ensuring the stability of the rail line and managing flood waters during weather events. Many have not been looked at for decades.
  • Culvert and drainage work will protect the track condition, reducing clay and mud build up in the track ballast which makes the track more susceptible to movement.

 Work stabilising the slopes on nine embankments ($4.7M):

  • The work will include drainage improvements and widening the embankments.
  • There will be ongoing monitoring of the embankments to determine if further civil engineering work is required over the longer term.

Vegetation control along the rail line ($0.8M):

  • As the line has been in “managed decline” vegetation clearance has been limited to removing fallen trees and branches from the track.
  • A significant amount of vegetation needs to be cleared from the sides of the track, which will protect the track and rolling stock, as well as improving access to worksites.

 Review and make improvements to the Whangarei Rail Yard ($3.2M):

  • Changes will be made to improve safety, and make freight handling and storage more efficient. For example, disused track that used to go to Whangarei Port could be removed.