Crucial rail decision awaited
Cabinet is expected to know by the end of the month if proposals to reopen Northland’s partly mothballed railway, and build a new rail spur to Northport, are economically viable.
Officials who have been working on a business case for upgrading the 250km North Auckland line, which extends as far north as Otiria, are due to report by the end of April.
The future of Northport is inextricably linked to the railway line. Without upgraded tracks and a new spur from Oakleigh, a proposal to move Auckland’s container port to Northland won’t proceed.
Currently one train runs daily from Auckland to Kauri and back. The rest of the line was mothballed in 2016, and even the tracks still in use are in poor condition, while the 13 tunnels south of Whanga¯rei are too low for modern container wagons.
The Ministry of Transport, which commissioned the business case for the upgrade and the new spur, is saying little until the report is complete.
Rail and freight manager Erin Wynne said she expected to provide Ministers with advice on the business case, and a range of options, by the end of the month. The business case concentrated on freight, but also examined the potential for rail tourism. Passenger services in Northland were not considered.
Officials had consulted a reference group comprising local businesses, potential rail users, NorthPort, local government and iwi in Whanga¯rei, Moerewa and Te Hana.
Former Far North Mayor Wayne Brown, who led a Ministry of Transport-commissioned study of wider transport links across the upper North Island, which was completed some time ago, said it was “a bit early in the piece” to be talking about moving container freight from Auckland to Northport, but the group had concluded that doing so would be “the best thing that could ever happen to Northland,” albeit a waste of time without rail.