Rail upgrade north of Whangārei aligned with Marsden Point Rail Link

The project to reopen the rail line north of Whangārei will remain on hold while design work on a new rail link to Marsden Point is carried out so the two projects can be aligned.

KiwiRail Chief Planning and Asset Development Officer David Gordon says the Government- funded project was initially paused as KiwiRail engaged with hapū along the route. Then in early 2023 KiwiRail resources had to be redirected to the massive job of reopening the rail line south of Whangārei, which was badly damaged in extreme weather events.

“It now makes sense to align our plan to reopen the currently mothballed line between Kauri (just north of Whangārei) and Otiria with plans for the Marsden Point Rail Link. The link would mean forestry and other export goods the Far North produces would have direct access to Northport, without having to go all the way to Auckland or Tauranga’s ports. The alternative of rail-freighting from Otiria to Whangārei and then road-freighting to Northport is less efficient – combining the two means rail could offer an Otiria to port service.

“We are currently working on the detailed design of the 19km spur line to Marsden Point, including work to reduce its initial estimated cost of close to $1 billion. The Kauri - Otiria rail upgrade will be wrapped into that wider project. We expect to provide information to the Government by mid-2025, so it can consider funding to build the Marsden Point Rail Link.

“We have purchased a lot of materials for the rail upgrade to Otiria, such as locally made concrete sleepers and imported rail, and they will remain in place around that part of Northland for use later. In the meantime we will shortly be making interim fencing and safety improvements at our Otiria rail yard, after feedback from the community.”

“We remain committed to building a rail network that will serve Northland well, helping reduce road congestion by getting more freight on to rail, helping New Zealand meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets.

“We have already upgraded the line between Swanson and Whangārei, including lowering the track in 13 tunnels so that modern shipping containers can be railed into and out of the region for the first time. We have also upgraded the line north of Whangarei to Kauri, to support rail movements for Fonterra, and are making changes at our Whangarei rail yard to allow greater train capacity and reduce flooding risks. These are all important steps that could be built on in the years ahead.”

Since 2019 $173 million was invested by the Government to upgrade the operating rail line between Swanson and Whangārei to take larger, heavier freight trains. This work was completed and heavy trains started running just before the January 2023 weather event hit.

The weather event left more than 200 damage sites along the 180km line, some of which were further damaged in Cyclone Gabrielle. Repair work is largely complete and track testing is underway. The line to Kauri is expected to reopen in late July.

$90 million was allocated to upgrade the line between Whangarei and Otiria and build a container terminal at our existing Otiria rail yard. KiwiRail has completed some of this work, including upgrading the line to Kauri to take heavier trains, track and container terminal upgrades at our Whangarei yard to support increased train capacity. We are currently doing work to improve drainage and flood management in the yard, which will help protect the surrounding community.