KiwiRail started major work replacing bridges, improving tunnels and upgrading Northland Line between Swanson and Whangarei.
The project envisages track upgrade, the replacement of five bridges, and the lowering of the tracks in 13 tunnels to allow hi-cube shipping containers to be carrier on the Northland Line. Reopening the currently mothballed northern part of the Northland Line between Kauri and Otiria and building a container terminal at Otiria and land procurement along the rail designated route between Oakleigh and Northport/Marsden Point are also part of the project.
The domestic company United Civil Construction won the contract to replace two of the bridges, and all the ballast materials for the track upgrades are being supplied by Clements in Whangarei, and Busck.
The project has received NZD 204.5 million (USD 133.2 million) investment from Provincial Growth Fund to revitalize the Northland rail which will improve journey times, resilience and reliability. When complete, trains will be able to pull hi-cube containers on the Northland Line.
“The work will be completed in stages, with the first objective being able to carry hi-cube containers through the tunnels between Whangarei and Auckland by Christmas. Being able to carry hi-cube containers will also allow freight that can currently only come in and out of Northland by road, to instead go by rail,” said Greg Miller, the CEO of KiwiRail.
Northland Line is around 100-years old but, for the last 50 years, had gone without the level of maintenance needed to keep it up to standard. The line is facing disrupted rail freight services, with at least 70 line outages on the Northland Line since 2010, mostly due to slope stability, flooding issues and derailments. Currently, KiwiRail runs one week-day return service to Auckland on the line, predominantly carrying dairy and forestry freight.
The freight volumes in the Northland are expected to increase from 18 million tonnes a year to 23 million tonnes by 2042.