The government has announced it will be buying land to build a spurline to Northport and Marsden Point and upgrading rail in the Northland region.
Today's announcement comes as ministers are still considering the New Zealand First-backed policy of moving the bulk of Auckland's freight operations to Northport.
State Owned Enterprises Minister Winston Peters and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones today said $109.7 million would be invested into upgrading Northland's rail infrastructure through the Provincial Growth Fund.
They said $69.7m would be spent to lower the tracks through tunnels on the Northland Line between Swanson and Whangarei, reopening the rail line from Kauri and building a container terminal at Otiria.
Another $40m was earmarked to purchase land along the designated route of the spur line to Northport and Marsden Point.
Jones said the investment would allow KiwiRail to secure the land needed for a new rail line to Northport.
"Having this land means that when the government does make its final decision about a future port in Northland, we will be ready to get going," he said.
Last year it was announced $95m of provincial growth funding would be used to undertake maintenance on the rail line to Whangarei.
Peters said this second phase of funding was a game changer, allowing more freight onto rail and help reduce road congestion, road maintenance costs and lower carbon emissions.
"It will also mean that modern shipping containers can be carried through the tunnels on the North Auckland Line," he said.
Mayors back move
In a joint statement, Far North mayor John Carter, Whangarei mayor Sheryl Mai and Kaipara mayor Jason Smith welcomed the announcement.
"These are historic investments, the start of a decade-long economic transformation for Northland to make an ever-greater contribution to the prosperity of the Upper North Island and all of New Zealand," they said.
Carter hoped today's announcement was a sign of good things to come for Northland, and said it was now up to the mayors to tell Northlanders and those in Auckland of the benefits of moving to Northport.
"It's an indication of the fact that we now need to do our part so that then the parliamentarians, particularly during an election year, can do their part and they know they will get the support of the people if they come up with the goods," he said.
He said moving the Auckland's main port to Northport would be good for not only Northland but the whole of New Zealand.
National criticises spend on rail link before port decision
National Party Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop said the government was going about it the wrong way.
"The first thing to do should be to decide if the port is going to move to Northport and then you go about creating the infrastructure to make that happen.
"Instead what New Zealand First has essentially forced on the government is spending $40 million to buy the land for a spurline to Northport, in advance of a decision being made to move the port," he said.
Bishop said if the port did not move, the government would have spent $40 million on a line that was irrelevant.
However, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it showed they were a common sense government.
"It makes sense to connect your port to rail, regardless."
She would not say whether it signalled a move to Northport.