6 Sep 2019

Northland rail gets almost $100 million makeover to address 'decades of under-investment and neglect'

8:02 pm on 6 September 2019

The Northland rail line is set for an almost $100 million makeover with the government unveiling plans to upgrade the aging and degraded route.

Regional Development Minister Shane Jones announced the investment at Helensville Railway Station this morning, before embarking on a short train trip to inspect existing strengthening work.

The $94.8m injection - from the Provincial Growth Fund - will go towards improving and maintaining the North Auckland Line between Swanson and Whangārei.

Nearly a third of the 181km track will be replaced or upgraded, particularly worn areas around bends and on steep slopes.

About 50,000 sleepers are expected to be replaced and 50,000 cubic metres of ballast added.

The Treasury recommended the Government fund KiwiRail for one more year while undertaking a comprehensive study to look at closing the rail company.

The funding will "set the right conditions for KiwiRail to grow its freight business", Regional Development Minister Shane Jones says. Photo: Wikicommons

Thirteen tunnels will be repaired and five mostly-wooden and deteriorating bridges will be demolished, with concrete structures built instead.

The funding will also see ditches, drain pipes and vegetation cleared along the stretch of the line. Nine embankments will be widened and stabilised.

Winston Peters and Shane Jones.

Deputy Prime Minister and State Owned Enterprises Minister, Winston Peters, says the line would have become unsafe and been forced to close within five years without today's investment. Photo: RNZ

Mr Peters - who is also State Owned Enterprises Minister - said the line would have become unsafe and been forced to close within five years without today's investment.

He said that would have cut off all rail services for the region.

"That's unacceptable and unfair to the people of Northland. That's why the government is addressing decades of under-investment and neglect in the rail line, to support the future growth of rail in Northland."

Mr Jones said the maintenance work would make the line more resilient to bad weather, making freight services more reliable.

He said the initiative would inject many millions of dollars into Northland, helping stimulate the region's economic growth.

"Not only does it set the right conditions for KiwiRail to grow its freight business, wherever possible KiwiRail will be using Northland based contractors to carry out work.

"It will look to Northland first if they recruit more track staff, as well as sourcing materials in Northland."

Former Far North District mayor Wayne Brown, who is heading the government's Upper North Island Freight Study, said Northland was poised for development.

"Jonesy said it's about fixing our neglected area. That's true as well but in fact this is going to have a big impact on the country because Auckland's not an exporter it's an importer," he said.

"This is going to be a big export region and this is an absolutely essential part of it."

Mr Brown said a revamped rail freight service to Auckland would open up options for businesses to move north.

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