27 Oct 2017

Northland's rail network to get $800 million upgrade

From Checkpoint, 5:25 pm on 27 October 2017

The government will prioritise the revival of Northland's rail network at a cost of up to $800 million, the Minister for Regional Economic Development says.

The Northland railway line at Otiria. The line from Otiria to Kauri will be mothballed in August.

The Northland railway line at Otiria. The line from Otiria to Kauri will be mothballed in August. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Funds had been set aside to build a rail line to Northport and modernise the line to Auckland as a condition of New Zealand First's coalition deal with Labour, Minister Shane Jones said.

Work would begin as soon as practically possible, he said. 

"I personally would like to see some of my nephews out there with picks and shovels before Christmas but we're not able to meet as a Cabinet until this Tuesday and then we'll be able to lay out the programme for various ministers."

Mr Jones said the cost of the spur line to the port would be up to $200m, and upgrading the rail corridor out of Auckland would cost up to $600m.

Campaign director of Grow Northland Rail, Alby Barr, said he couldn't believe the news and had to phone the New Zealand First office to confirm it.

Mr Barr said it was an "outstanding result for Northland, for rail, for a lot of people".

"Economic development in Norhtland is huge. It's something that as a campaign director you dream of getting a result."

Businesses in forestry, dairy and other heavy products had committed to using the network but the economic gains could expand further than that, he said.

"We've got the largest private engineering firm, Culham, up here. They already do work for Kiwirail for bridge spans... and then we've got a manufacturer up here of concrete sleepers that's been exporting over to Australia. 

"So as much as possible we would like to work with these companies to make sure we create jobs and the opportunity and keep the money in local business."

Mr Jones said he knew many Northlanders wanted to see a better highway to Auckland.

The money for the rail upgrade was stand alone and would not affect any roading projects.