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Northland rail rejuvenation

Work is underway to rejuvenate rail in Northland, following significant investment from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund (PGF).

In early September 2019 the Government announced a $94.8 million investment to undertake much needed maintenance on the North Auckland Line (NAL) between Swanson and Whangarei.

This follows a $2.2 million investment to undertake geotechnical and other assessments along the route of a proposed spur line to Marsden Point and Northport, which was completed in early 2019.

The Ministry of Transport has completed a Northland Rail Business Case and an Upper North Island Supply Chain Study is underway which will focus on the respective roles, opportunities and options for Northport, Ports of Auckland and Port of Tauranga.

An improved and extended North Auckland Line and Marsden Spur could play a key role in that.

Northland Rail Timeline 190919 v5

Taking a closer look

Northland’s railway lines are underused at the moment because of their condition. The NAL is around 100-years old, is currently mothballed north of Kauri (above Whangarei) and the whole line has been in a state of ‘managed decline’ until its future was determined.

As a result, rail freight services are too easily disrupted, with at least 70 line outages on the NAL since 2010 – mostly due to slope stability, flooding issues and derailments. Two significant derailments in the last 18 months each closed the line for more than a week and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair.

Currently we run one week-day return service to Auckland on the line, predominantly carrying dairy and forestry freight.

The line has lower speeds than the rest of the network. It also has lower weight limits, and, because of its very old tunnels, it cannot carry the same containers carried elsewhere on the network.


Tunnel investigations

Drilling rigs take soil samples in the Makarau Tunnel on the North Auckland Line in late 2018.

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NAL investment

The Government’s $94.8m investment will enable the line between Swanson and Whangarei to be properly maintained and upgraded, returning it to a standard similar to the rest of New Zealand’s rail network and ensure it remains in operation long-term.

It also sets a solid foundation for KiwiRail to grow our freight services in and out of Northland, helping taking heavy trucks off the region’s roads, and is necessary to support any further rail investment – such as the Marsden Spur or increasing the size of the tunnels to take the larger containers.

The work KiwiRail is undertaking on the NAL includes:

Track, sleepers and ballast ($40 - $50M)

  • 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 ($15 - $20M)

  • These mostly wooden bridges will be replaced with concrete structures due to their deteriorating structural condition.

 Repairs to 13 tunnels ($7 - $10M)

  • 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 ($7 - $10M)

  • 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 ($3 - $5M)

  • 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 ($1M)

  • In recent years, 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 ($2 - $3M)

  • 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.

 This work will:

  • Allow some of the speed restrictions to be lifted, reducing the rail freight journey time to Auckland by approximately 1.5 hours.
  • Make rail services more resilient and reliable, reducing the number of line outages.
  • Where possible, KiwiRail will be using Northland based contractors and sourcing materials from Northland. This will see millions of dollars going into Northland’s economy and help boost the region.
  • If KiwiRail takes on any more permanent staff, we will look to Northland first.

 The spend is shown with a high and low estimates because at this time KiwiRail does not have prices in for some of the works.

 The work is underway, with the majority of it expected to be completed by September 2020.

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Marsden Spur

KiwiRail has held a designation for a 20km Marsden Point rail spur for several years, and we have investigated the design and potential construction methods for the link, as well as costs and timeframes.

This work has fed into the Ministry of Transport’s business case for Northland rail.

The Government has indicated its strong support for the value rail delivers in the regions and the benefits it brings for New Zealand by taking trucks off the road, improving road safety and reducing carbon emissions.

The work we are doing in Northland is one of a number of projects underway to ensure we deliver stronger connections for a better New Zealand.


Proposed route

This map shows the proposed route for a Marsden Point branch line.

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